When LeBron James left the Miami Heat for the Cleveland Cavaliers that changed the Eastern Conference. The Heat still have Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade so they will still be good next season. The Chicago Bulls added Pau Gasol, Doug McDermott and Nikola Mirotic. There are still moves to be made this off season but the Eastern Conference will be a lot more competitive next season.
Let’s start with the Cavaliers. They won free agency because they landed the best player in the world LeBron James. They also added the number 1 pick Andrew Wiggins. I don’t know if Wiggins will be traded for Kevin Love but for now I will type as if he’s staying with the Cavs for the season. Anthony Bennett looks good in summer league. He’s healthy, slimmer and he looks a lot more comfortable playing the game. Without LeBron the Cavs won 19, 21, 24 and 33 games. LeBron won 60+ games in his last two seasons with the Cavs. So we know the Cavs will be much better with LeBron, I can see them winning 55 games in LeBron’s return season.
The problem with the Cavs is that they are really young. Since LeBron left they haven’t played a meaningful game in January let alone April or May. We don’t know how these young players will respond on the road against the Pacers, Bulls or the Miami Heat. Kyrie Irving can knock down a big shot late in the game but can he control the offense and execute in late game situations? From what I read David Blatt is a really good coach but he is a rookie when it comes to the NBA. He has won titles and coach of the year awards but now he’s dealing with a very young team. LeBron makes this team much better but the youth and inexperience will hurt them during a playoff run.
The Miami Heat went to four straight finals then they lost LeBron James. They won’t be as good as they were last year but they still got Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade, along with Mario Chalmers and Chris Anderson. They added Luol Deng, Josh McRoberts and Danny Granger. I know those are not the biggest names but they will help this team. It’s not a big sample size but when Bosh played without LeBron he got more shots and scored more points. Coach Spoelstra will have to change the style on both offense and defense because LeBron allowed him to do so much. The Heat will be a good team; they have a nice group of veterans that can still compete in the East.
The Wizards lost Trevor Ariza but they got a very good veteran in Paul Pierce. Pierce will be a leader for the Wizards in that young locker room. The Wizards did not look very good down the stretch in playoffs against the Pacers. Pierce can be the go to guy down the stretch while taking pressure off of Wall and Beal. They are looking to add Kris Humphries who is a serviceable backup big man. The Wizard tasted the playoffs last year and they will be better this season. Pierce will teach Wall and Beal what it takes to win in the playoffs.
The Pacers had the best record in the Eastern Conference but lost to the Heat once again in the Conference Finals. I don’t know what happen to this team but they fell apart. Now they have lost Lance Stephenson to the Charlotte Hornets. Lance led the league in triple-doubles and he was the wildcard the Pacers needed. The Pacers already have trouble scoring the ball, now they are losing Stephenson who scored 13.8 ppg. I don’t know who the Pacers will find to replace such a valuable player but they will need more from their All-Stars Paul George and Roy Hibbert. Paul George claims he wants to bulk up and play more physical so he can finish in the paint more. He needs to be more assertive and stop fading in games. He started the season on a hot streak and people were claiming he was a superstar. He only averaged 21.7 ppg, he needs to do a lot more for this team if they want to make another conference finals. This team still has veterans and will be competitive but I can see them getting knocked off early in the playoffs if they don’t find a good replacement for Lance.
With all the moves that have been going on I think the Bulls are the best team on paper. If everyone is healthy they have the best team in the East right now. Tom Thibodeau will make sure the Bulls play at a high level every night. Their defense will be one of the best in the NBA and the addition of Pau Gasol, Doug McDermott and Nikola Mirotic will help the worst scoring team in the league. The Bulls amnestied Carlos Boozer to make those moves.
The Bulls really needed outside shooting and adding McDermott gives them that threat. Mirotic is a stretch floor, sometimes compared to Ryan Anderson. He didn’t have amazing numbers in the Euro league but he did shoot 50% from the field and 46% from beyond the arc. The Bulls have size, defense, experience and now shooting. All of this won’t matter if Derrick Rose can’t stay healthy. He is the key for the Bulls if they want to make it to the NBA Finals. Without him the Bulls will still make the playoffs but they will flame out in the 1st or 2nd round. Rose does not have to be in MVP form but he needs to be in attack mode and able to take over games when they need it. Team USA training camp will help him even he does not make the team.
The Eastern Conference won’t be as good as the Western Conference but they will be a lot better compared to last season. The storylines will be even better in the East. We are all excited about LeBron’s return to Cleveland and we want to see what the Heat can do without him. The Bulls are better and the Wizards are up and coming. Expect to see a competitive fight from multiple teams for the top spot in the East.