The NBA offseason saw huge roster shake-ups for many of the Eastern Conference’s hopeful playoff contenders, while the Toronto Raptors and Cleveland Cavaliers maintained the status quo. It begs the question: which new-look team seems poised to challenge the Eastern Conference’s elite?
Here are the only eight teams capable of challenging the Raptors and Cavaliers, ranked from least likely to most likely earning a spot in the Eastern Conference Finals:
8. Miami Heat
Last year: 45-37, No. 3 seed, lost in EC Semifinals to Toronto
Major Additions: Dion Waiters
Major Losses: Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh
Argument For: Hassan Whiteside has emerged as one of the league’s premier centers. Whiteside is a throwback big, who relies on heavy touches in the paint and offensive rebounding for the majority of his scoring load. So far this season, the Heat have relied on him as their primary source of offense and his stats have responded; he is averaging 17.9 points, 14.7 boards, and 2.6 blocks in 32 minutes a game. Goran Dragic and the new $50 million man, Tyler Johnson, are responsible for a combined 30 points per game at the point guard position for a Miami team that has a significant scoring gap to fill.
Argument Against: The Heatles Era in Miami is officially over and Chris Bosh’s NBA career is in jeopardy. He has battled a dangerous medical condition that causes blood to clot in his lungs for the past two seasons, and though he is hopeful that he will someday play again, his career with the Heat is done. Pair that with the departure of former face of the franchise and future Hall of Famer, Dwyane Wade, in free agency, and the Heat have lost their two best players, and their shot at contending this season.
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7. Milwaukee Bucks
Last year: 33-49, No. 12 seed, missed the playoffs
Major Additions: Tony Snell, Matthew Dellavedova, Malcolm Brogdon, Mike Beasley, Thon Maker
Major Losses: OJ Mayo, Jerryd Bayless, Michael Carter-Williams, Greivis Vasquez
Argument For: In the middle of last season, Head Coach Jason Kidd declared that 6-foot-11 freak athlete Giannis Antetokounmpo would be the Bucks' point guard going forward. The first 8 games of this experiment in the new season have yielded bountiful results. The Greek Freak has averaged a Westbrook-like 20.6 points, 8.6 rebounds, and 5.4 assists to go along with 2 blocks and 2 steals a game. Former Duke swingman Jabari Parker looks ready to make a leap this season and has averaged 19.5 points a game in the early going.
Argument Against: The Bucks lost a key starter when 3-and-D wing Khris Middleton had surgery to repair a torn hamstring this summer. Middleton will miss the majority of this season and the combination of Tony Snell, NBA journeyman Michael Beasley, and rookie Malcolm Brogdon may not be enough to replicate his impact on this team. The Bucks are young and talented, but are likely still a season or two away from taking the East by storm.
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