Days are numbered here, probably not as few as we all would like but little by little we are eking out an existence without NBA basketball. Teams are set pretty much and so it makes sense to start thinking about how the league will shake out, and in this case we're talking the East. As always on DBB on 3 we asked our staff three questions on a topic. This week we've got a mountain of responses for you. So grab a cup of coffee and dig in. There's some good stuff here for the basketball-starved walking dead.
#1: Please predict the storyline that will dominate the headlines in the East this season.
Glenn Metzger (GM26): It's gotta be LeBron James, right? He's signed for two years now, so there won't be any drama about him leaving, thus I am going with: "LeBron has a mysterious injury/ailment that nags him all season, leading to dramatic antics on the court and clandestine travels to far off places like Miami to
visit his friends receive treatment."
Steve Hinson: Hacking. It already emerged last season and as the Pistons improve, the focus on it will intensify.
Michael Snyder (Mophatt1): The ascension of Kyrie Irving as a superstar. With Irving doing the heavy regular season lifting, LeBron James can conserve his body for another late season run.
Lazarus Jackson (Lazchance): The new-look Boston Celtics, with IT/Bradley/Crowder/Horford/Noel (Noel for two Brooklyn picks, Marcus Smart, and RJ Hunter) shutting down everyone defensively, rebounding the crap out of the basketball at both ends, and flowing well enough offensively to make people question if Cleveland's 2016-17 Finals appearance is so preordained.
Sean Wheeler (Hypnowheel): The Cavs will struggle to stay atop the East standings for much of the season, due to a few factors... LeBron playing fewer minutes to save strength for the playoffs, a natural backslide after winning a 'ship, and Cleveland's thin and aging bench.
Kevin Sawyer: The disappointing Knicks, struggling in spite of a return to all-star form by Derrick Rose, and what that means for Carmelo Anthony, and whether the psychological struggle of playing on the league's biggest stage, combined with the legend of Phil Jackson, takes too great of a toll on a player, and whether Melo should be traded for Harrison Barnes since a change of scenery might do him some good.
Ryan Pravato (Prava88): The New York Knicks. They will contend for a top 4 spot in the East all season long -- and all non-Knicks fans will finally (actually) boycott ESPN by the first of January 2017. Sheesh though, I haven't even watched ESPN in a few years, maybe it's not that bad anymore?
Kenneth Wallace (revken): Champion Cavs stay on top, but there's a fierce battle below them for the runner-up spot between Boston, Detroit and Toronto.
Devin Jones: Cavs? It's gotta be the Cavs. It's the Eastern Conference we're talking about, and it's LeBron James we're talking about. There will always be headlines and drama..."Is Kyrie MORE Valuable Than LeBron?"..."Do the Cavs Have a Championship Hangover?"..."LeBron, Please Stop Subtweeting Kevin Love Again."
Jamie Delaney: Hardly can call this a prediction. The Cleveland Cavaliers and their defense of the NBA Title. What to watch for is if Irving continues his offensive dominance that was on full display in the NBA Finals and what the hell happens to Kevin Love. Love was abysmal most of last year's regular season and playoffs, do they really drag him through another year? Does Love bring more to the table than what the Cavs could get for dealing him? Is JR still shirtless?
Jordan Bellant (jdbell20): The "secret genius" of the Cavaliers strategy for the season. Resting LeBron, turning the team over to Kyrie, moves at the trade deadline to shore up the bench. I can see the team winning 55 games or so, but everyone will still consider the Cavs favorites to win the East all season long.
Ben Gulker: The Cavs, especially if they look a little bit worse during the regular season than they did a year ago - which seems likely given their loss of depth on the bench. Kevin Love trade rumors from multiple sources inbound!
Sean Corp: The Boston Celtics will be connected to a trade for every possible superstar, disgruntled or otherwise, through the trade deadline. There will also be endless arguments about whether, say, DeMarcus Cousins is REALLY worth such and such picks plus Jae Crowder plus whatever the hell else. I admire Boston's asset allocations but I already find this completely insufferable.
David Fernandez: Other than the played out "a LeBron James lead team sits atop the East" headline (that's been pretty much a given since 2007), the most intriguing story-line has to be the new look Boston Celtics. They're going to be damn good from the start, and will be looking like a better contender to the Cavs come the post-season, than any team last year. Will they be able to acquire another All-star to make them a true threat to knock off the Cavs? Gotta go with Boston.
#2: Given the current predictions for how the Eastern Conference will shake out which team will out perform the expectations this season?
Glenn Metzger (GM26):Going off of these predictions, I am going to say Miami. I think they will play better basketball without Wade, and especially if Bosh comes back they could be anywhere in that 4-8 mix. (I'm not counting on it. Stay alive big guy.)
Steve Hinson: The Raptors. They've improved each of the past six seasons and another step forward will put them at the top of the conference.
Michael Snyder (Mophatt1): New York. They're not exactly the Super Team Derrick Rose believes they are but they will compete. Chicago has been the butt of off season jokes but Rondo, Wade and Butler are too smart to be a pushover.
Lazarus Jackson (Lazchance): The Charlotte Hornets lost Jeremy Lin, Al Jefferson, and Courtney Lee, three of their best eight players. Somehow, Steve Clifford will have those guys ready to go at the end of training camp and they remain a playoff team.
Sean Wheeler (Hypnowheel): The Pistons. While teams like the Bulls or Knicks could outperform if they stay healthy and gel quickly, I'd say the Pistons could surpass even the modest 4th-5th seed consensus pretty easily if they simply maintain their Tobias Harris Era pace from last year.
Kevin Sawyer: The Hornets. They "lost" Al Jefferson, which only frees up minutes for the emerging Cody Zeller, but the real difference is going to be a healthy Michael Kidd-Gilchrist. Having him back adds a huge piece. This isn't a sexy team, but the prognosticators have them taking a step back. I don't see it.
Ryan Pravato (Prava88): The Cleveland Cavaliers. Yeah, no really. The Cavs will win the title, again beating the Golden State Warriors' even dreamier dream team.
Kenneth Wallace (revken): I think Detroit will most outperform expectations, as we build on last season's strong finish.
Devin Jones: I love the Celtics this year, and think they will win the Eastern Conference. Partially because I think the Cavs will be on auto-pilot until the playoffs, but mainly because I love they way they play (in addition to adding Horford). They remind me of the Goin' to Work Pistons a bit. All Jae Crowder needs to do is let out his cornrows into a 'fro.
Jamie Delaney: The Bucks are an intriguing basketball experiment right now given the length in their lineup. I'm curious to see Giannis continue his development, Jabari getting a second full season under his belt. Delly adding some defensive depth. Malcolm Brogdon has serious Draymond Green "2nd round draftee that breaks out" potential. And Thon Maker? This is a fascinating roster that could easily steal an 8th seed from the Knicks.
Jordan Bellant (jdbell20): If they can figure out an early season rotation, it's the Philadelphia 76ers. I can actually see them in the playoff picture early in the season (first 25 games or so). They will end up winning close to 30 games, but that's a huge improvement! My guess: They trade Jahlil Okafor and end up starting Nerlens Noel, Dario Saric and Ben Simmons together in the front court.
#3: Given the current predictions for how the East will shake out this season which team will under perform?
Glenn Metzger (GM26): I'm going to go with Cleveland. I still think they'll be the #1 seed in the East, but they lost several contributors off the bench this summer that they didn't replace with equal talent. I can see them taking a turn toward the dysfunctional this year.
Steve Hinson: Larry Bird has been a terrible executive for years, with Frank Vogel covering for his rosters' lack of talent. After firing Vogel, this is the year Bird starts his Dumars-esque tailspin.
Michael Snyder (Mophatt1): Toronto. A good team but their ceiling is still the Eastern Conference Finals. With the core of their team coinciding with Cleveland's strangle hold on the EC and the rise of Boston and Detroit, their window is closing.
Lazarus Jackson (Lazchance): This is tough, because of the wide variety of likely outcomes for teams like Indiana, Detroit, Atlanta, Washington, Miami, Milwaukee, New York, and Orlando. Out of that group, I think Atlanta underperforms this year, but not poorly enough to miss the playoffs.
Kenneth Wallace (revken): I think Indiana will under perform due to their coaching and personnel changes.
Devin Jones: I have a hard time seeing the Rep-tars getting the two seed again this year with Boston, Detroit, Atlanta, Charlotte (and dare I say the Knicks??) all continuing to emerge in the East. Back to hockey you go, Canada. *wipes single tear from Drake's face*
Jamie Delaney: I'm seeing some predictions with Atlanta Hawks as high as a 6th seed in the 2017 playoffs. This is laughable. You're telling me that a starting lineup of Schroder (first year as a starter), Korver (aging), Bazemore (solid), Milsap (solid), Howard (LOL) is giving them 45+ wins? Hard pass.
Jordan Bellant (jdbell20): I think the Pacers are vulnerable for a major step-back. I don't like the roster, I don't trust the starting five to stay healthy, and I don't see how they win close games (without Superman performances from Paul George). Nate McMillan is likely a one-and-done coach, the sacrificial lamb for Larry Bird.
Ben Gulker: The Knicks. And it should be really fun to watch.
Sean Corp:The Indiana Pacers. I just don't see it. They downgraded at point guard, they don't have much perimeter shooting, they lost a great defensive center in Ian Mahinmi. They totally remade their team to play faster and then fired Frank Vogel to hire Nate McMillan, whose teams historically play among the slowest paces in the NBA.
David Fernandez: Looking at the landscape across the East, the Raptors will be one team to drop in positioning from last season. They won't be the two seed, and they'll struggle to get to the 50 win mark, after coming off an impressive 56 win season last year. They lost Bismack Biyombo and didn't bring in anyone new that will match his productivity.
If you're an NBA junkie for real you will have read every single word of that overflowing of off season goodness provided above. If not, well...no judgement. Or maybe some? Your thoughts below. Let them be many.