Kawhi Leonard leading the Toronto Raptors to an NBA championship was one of the most iconic moments of the 2019 sports year so far. In just one season, he took the Raptors from Eastern Conference laughingstock to the top of the mountain. After winning his second NBA Finals MVP award, Leonard opted to head home to Los Angeles to play for the Clippers.
Where does that leave the rest of the Eastern Conference? Today we will look at FiveThirtyEight’s Eastern Conference predictions for the top five seeds in the East and make our own pick to come out of the East.
5. Toronto Raptors
We were very surprised to see the Raptors here ahead of the Brooklyn Nets, as the loss of Leonard brings them back to square one. Pascal Siakam can still be an excellent player in Nick Nurse’s offense, but with an aging pair of vets in Kyle Lowry and Marc Gasol, we would be surprised to see the Raptors win more than 45 games next season.
4. Miami Heat
Can Jimmy Butler have that much of an impact on the Heat? We think so. Butler fits right in with the culture of the Heat organization. Pat Riley and Erik Spoelstra bring a championship pedigree to the table and combined with Butler’s intensity the Heat will be a tough out in the playoffs.
Goran Dragic is still a very capable playmaker, and Justise Winslow is a solid contributor. Miami should be close to 50-wins and should secure a top-four seed.
3. Boston Celtics
Last season the Boston Celtics had championship aspirations, but chemistry issues forced them to finish as just the No. 4 seed in the East. Kyrie Irving’s leadership qualities (or lack thereof) were exposed, and Gordon Hayward’s insertion into the lineup didn’t go as planned.
Irving has departed for Brooklyn, and the Celtics engineered a sign-and-trade with the Charlotte Hornets to land Kemba Walker in exchange for Terry Rozier.
Walker was an All-Star starter this past season for the Hornets, and he has the leadership and clutch ability to make the Celtics a strong contender for the Eastern Conference crown.
2. Milwaukee Bucks
The league’s No. 1 seed last season ran into a buzz saw in the Eastern Conference Finals. After getting out to a 2-0 lead against Toronto, the Bucks were quickly dispatched and lost the next four.
Giannis Antetokounmpo should be one of the front runners for MVP next season after posting 28 points and 12 rebounds per game last year. Although the team traded away Malcolm Brogdon, they will be a formidable out in the Eastern Conference playoffs.
1. Philadelphia 76ers
The 76ers traded away Jimmy Butler for Josh Richardson, and while that is a downgrade, the real upgrade is at the power forward position. After tormenting Joel Embiid in the playoffs in 2018, and during this past regular season, Al Horford agreed to a four-year deal with the Sixers. He will be able to play his natural position of power forward, after playing out of position at center for a majority of his career.
He brings leadership, playmaking, and toughness to the frontline. Our only concern is their perimeter shooting, as Butler and J. J. Redick were the main deep threats. Unless Ben Simmons decides to start shooting outside of the paint the Sixers will be limited offensively, but we have to agree they should be the team to beat in the East.
Who do you think will win the East?
Are you going with FiveThirtyEight and picking the Philadelphia 76ers to win the East? If you are looking for more great content from around the league, be sure to check out our NBA section.