2016-17 NBA Eastern Conference Outlook

There was a point during NBA Finals game four that would be lost by the  Cleveland Cavaliers and their star player LeBron James.
The Cavs were about to go down 3 games to 1 to the Golden State Warriors during the 2016 NBA Finals.
No team had ever come back from a 3-1 deficit and for most part that was the death knell for all NBA teams up to this point.
During a time out Le Bron sat motionless staring straight ahead seemingly oblivious to everything going on around him.
It was at this point that LeBron may have stared into the figurative abyss and his own soul to summon that which was needed to overcome an opponent with a 73-9 record, the expectations of a title starved city and a short tempered undersized power forward calling him every name in the book.
LeBron then executed  the systematic deconstruction of a proud championship team in this order:
1. He stepped over a fallen Draymond Green as slowly as he could and waited for the result.
2. He promptly explained to the media and (Commissioner Adam Silver)
of how offended he was by the verbal onslaught used by Draymond during the game that resulted in a subsequent game five suspension.
3. He finally orchestrated a tempo controlling pace utilizing the size advantage held by by the Cavaliers.
After it was over Cleveland got their Title, the Warriors, maybe their last shot and Lebron ? The vindication of a turbo-charged push through doubt and fear and possibly a challenge to Kareem Abdul Jabbar as the GreatestOf All Time.
Can LeBron repeat? To pull that off he will have to go through a much improved Eastern Conference so without further ado let’s look at the best of the  rest as we breakdown the Eastern Conference contenders in order of finish.
1. Cleveland Cavaliers: Please see the above.
Toronto Raptors: 56-26 Last season:
 Last seasons record 56-26 (franchise best).  This is the team that took the Cavs to six games in the conference finals and that was with ever improving center Jonas Valanciunas hampered with a bad ankle. Guards DeMar Derozan and Kyle Lowry are veteran All Stars providing big numbers and leadership.
The team lost backup center Bismack Biyombo to free agency but should rebound with the solid work of top shelf and underrated GM Masai Ujiri.
The Raptors are a gritty defensive minded team that will give Cleveland all they can handle for a second straight year.
3.  Boston Celtics: 48-34 Last season:
If there were ever a team that Nick Fury would be proud of it would be this one.  Top five head coach Brad Stevens has assembled a team of leathernecks reminiscent of some of the throwback teams of the 60’s and 70’s.  There used to be a term, I believe it was junkyard dog and most teams had one maybe two.
This Celtic team has at least six starting with Jae Crowder, Avery Bradley, Al Horford, Marcus Smart, Gerald Green (yeah, I said it) and rookie Jaylen Brown. The C’s have chemistry and toughness to augment an absolutely relentless defense.
The challenge in last years playoffs was scoring (11th in points per possession) and a key injury to guard Bradley that turned out to be devastating.
New for this year is Horford (15.2 ppg) and promising rookie Jaylen Brown ( for whom coach Brad Stevens said ” is going to be really good”)
No this Celtic team is not good enough to win the NBA title this year.  But they are good enough to win the east.
4. Indiana Pacers: 49-33 Last season:
Some are projecting this Pacers Team to win the eastern conference and they may well be in the conversation but first they will have to prove that they can pull together some newly acquired firepower.
Jeff Teague (15.7 ppg) joined the Pacers from the Hawks to help fulfill team president Larry Birds vision of a higher scoring offensive team.
Joining Jeff are Big Al Jefferson(10.1ppg), Thaddeus Young(15.1) and the return of promising second year center Myles Turner(10.3ppg)
NBA All Star and team leader Paul George (23.1ppg and 7.0 rpg) looks to seriously challenge his rival LeBron James for the conference title.
Paul just may have a point if the pacers can capitalize on upgrades at the point guard and back up center.
5.  New York Knicks  32-50 Last season:
Team president Phil Jackson has managed to finally put some realistic pieces around star forward Carmelo Anthony (21.8ppg) who with second year potential All Star Kristaps Porzingas (14.3 ppg) and new trade acquisitions have given Melo maybe the most talent he has had to work with yet.
The new teammates include Derrick Rose, healthy and in a contract year, Joakim Noah a former NBA defensive player of the year, Brandon Jennings and defensive stalwart Courtney Lee.
Noah and Lee give the Knicks starting lineup some sorely needed defensive balance and in Noah’s case mentoring for young star in the making Porzingas.
 New head coach Jeff Hornacek is faced with the task of melding this collection of players with his desired fast paced attack while attempting to utilize the triangle offense.
Oh yeah, the much maligned Triangle offense which seems to gain a new group of detractors weekly. Here’s the deal.
  Horace grant was on the money recently when he said the offense requires intelligence.  It’s not an easy offense to learn but the payoffs are worth it because when ran correctly the triple post offense can force defenses to keep up and identify match ups while offensive players are constantly moving based on the position of the ball.
Will the players buy in or will you have hold outs who for whatever reasons choose to lean on a more conventional pick and roll attack.
One thing is for certain and that is this shapes up as a truly interesting year for long suffering Knick fans and for this franchise who could very well face Indiana in the 1st round of the 2016-17 playoffs.
6. Milwaukee Bucks 33-49 last season:
The Milwaukee Bucks are in full rebuilding mode while developing their two cornerstones Gianianis Antetokounmpo (16.9 ppg 7.7 rpg) and forward Jabari Parker(14.1 ppg 5.2 rpg), both 21 years old.
Joining the Bucks is recent free agent signee Matthew Delavedova from the Cleveland Cavaliers.  Delavedova will back up Giannis at the point in light of the recent trade of Micheal Carter-Williams.
The 2016 NBA draft netted the Bucks 6-2″ point guard Malcolm Brogdon out of Virginia and 7-1″ forward Thon Maker out of the South Sudan.
The Bucks will make the playoffs this year on the strength of their young promising players.
7.  Detroit Pistons 44-38 last season
The Pistons look to build on last season which saw them making the NBA playoffs only to lose to the Cleveland Cavaliers in the first round.
Coach and team president Stan Van Gundy has earned respect around the league for his ability to turn around franchises and he is pinning his hopes on key player Andre Drummond a 6-10″ center who last season averaged  (16.2 ppg and 14.8 rpg ).
Drummond is joined by promising point guard Reggie Jackson(18.8 ppg) who for this year will be backed up by lightning quick Ish Smith.
The Pistons are on the right track but until they develop their weak bench expect a 7th place finish and between 46 to 50 wins.
8. Chicago Bulls, Washington Wizards, Charlotte Hornets tied for 8th:
After trading guard Derrick Rose the Chicago Bulls had to make a decision;  Do we rebuild or do we give the fans some semblance of hope that we can contend for the conference? The entire choice rested on the decision to keep or trade guard/forward Jimmy Butler.
Once the team decided to keep Jimmy the task became to put the most competitive team around him that you can
Guard Rajon Rondo was obtained for a year and to top it off future Hall of Fame guard Dwayne Wade was brought in to provide in equal parts credibility and leadership.
Can this team contend? Well, the 3pt shooting percentages for Jimmy Butler 31.2, Rajon Rondo 36.5 and Dwayne Wade 15.9%.
Pencil them in for 40 wins.
Who will win the East?
It’s hard to believe that this NBA season could surpass the last one in terms of excitement but  with a new influx of talent in the conference Cleveland will have their hands full.
However, at the end of the day don’t bet the mortgage money against the guy hellbent on re-writing history.
Welcome back LeBron.
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