The balance of power continues to shift in the NBA, as Kawhi Leonard’s decision to join the Clippers makes the league a lot more interesting.
At the beginning of 2018-19, many seemed to believe the road to the NBA Finals ran through Boston. Then Milwaukee posted the best record in the league just a year removed from being seventh in the Eastern Conference.
But it was the Raptors who dethroned the Warriors in the end, and now they’ll have a new look without their superstar. Plenty of other teams are hungry for glory and now is the perfect time to strike.
Here are three teams that could now take over the East:
The Eastern Conference is now wide open, but the Bucks are ahead of the pack. After all, they retained two All-Stars — one being reigning MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo.
Milwaukee underwent a serious transformation under Coach of the Year Mike Budenholzer last season. Antetokounmpo has put up historically strong numbers in the paint, but the Bucks were also among the league leaders in 3-point attempts.
Eric Bledsoe, Khris Middleton and Brook Lopez will likely be constants, but it remains to be seen how the chemistry will be after losing Malcolm Brogdon.
Milwaukee simply has the centerpiece every other team wishes it had in Antetokounmpo, so there’s no reason to count them out just yet.
The 76ers may have lost an All-Star caliber player in Jimmy Butler this summer, but they’ll be just fine.
Philadelphia was one circus buzzer beater away from reaching the Eastern Conference Finals this past year and are bringing back plenty of talent in 2019-20. The 76ers flipped Butler to the Heat in exchange for Josh Richardson and lured Al Horford away from the Celtics, giving them what might be the best defensive lineup in basketball.
Small Ball? Philadelphia has never heard of it, as the shortest wingspan on its current roster is 6-10.
The 76ers’ starting group will likely feature Richardson, Tobias Harris, Ben Simmons, Al Horford and Joel Embiid. And then there’s second-year guard Zhaire Smith, who was voted the most athletic player in the 2018 NBA Draft by his peers but missed most of last season due to an unfortunate allergic reaction.
Philadelphia has size, playmaking, strong defense and four players that could get legitimate All-Star consideration in the coming season. Embiid’s questionable health could be a factor, but getting a versatile big like Horford that can fill in if he goes down will definitely keep the 76ers in contender conversations.
Even if Kevin Durant can’t play until 2020, the Nets should be better this year. They lost D’Angelo Russell, but Kyrie Irving can be a considerable upgrade if the pieces come together just right.
Both Russell and Irving are high-usage guards, but Irving is more efficient and poses the kind of threat that makes every player on the opposing team watch him when the ball is in his hands.
Brooklyn added veterans in DeAndre Jordan and Garrett Temple that should pair nicely with returning pieces like Spencer Dinwiddie, Jarrett Allen and Joe Harris, who was one of the most prolific 3-point shooters in 2018-19 — converting 47.4% from beyond the arc.
But the wild card is Caris LeVert, who arguably was the Nets’ best player before a leg injury sidelined him last November. The 24-year-old guard was establishing himself as Brooklyn’s go-to guy and now he’s had a whole summer to recover after showing flashes of his potential in the 2018-19 playoffs.
Adding Durant to a group like this could prove to be lethal and would certainly make the Nets a force to be reckoned with.