The Eastern Conference went through major changes this off-season with the majority of the teams in the conference getting better. The top six seeds are up for grabs as there are six very talented teams. Each of these teams has an X-Factor that will play a large role in how well these teams do and if they do not play up to par. So, who are these X-Factors and how will they determine their team’s success?
Boston Celtics: There are multiple players to be considered for this including Marcus Smart, Jayson Tatum, and Kemba Walker. But with the loss of Gordon Hayward, Jaylen Brown has a lot on his plate. Jaylen has not been an amazing playmaker in the past and now needs to become a primary playmaker after the loss of Hayward. Brown each season has shown drastic improvement from his jump shot to his ball handling. He is a potential All-Star and the addition of his passing would be huge for Boston.
Brooklyn Nets: On paper, Brooklyn may have the most talented roster in the league. Brooklyn made multiple moves to improve their depth. But how well Brooklyn does in the playoffs will lean on Caris LeVert’s development. LeVert will need to make the jump and be the third scoring option. He has shown flashes in his young career and if he can make the jump to a borderline all-star, Brooklyn will be in great shape.
Philadelphia 76ers: Philadelphia’s dynamic duo of Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons may be questionable in some eye’s but there is no doubt the amount of talent they have to lead a team with the right pieces. After a disappointing season, Philly retooled their team trading Josh Richardson and Al Horford and firing Brett Brown, and replacing him with Doc Rivers. In return, they got two shooters in Danny Green and Seth Curry, who are crucial to remedy the Sixers spacing. But there have been times where these guys have been streaky shooters, especially with Green in the playoffs.
Toronto Raptors: Toronto didn’t have the greatest off-season with the losses of Serge Ibaka and Marc Gasol. Someone that doesn’t want to repeat what happened in the playoffs is Pascal Siakam. Siakam had an amazing regular season but was terrible in the playoffs. As their best player, Siakam needs to transfer his regular season success to the playoffs for the Raptors to have a chance at another ring.
Milwaukee Bucks: Milwaukee is the favorite in the East to make the finals after a disappointing bubble run. Two-time MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo recently resigned on a supermax contract taking off a lot of pressure on the Bucks this season. This off-season, Milwaukee made major changes to their roster which included trading Eric Bledsoe and multiple first-round picks for combo-guard and former All-Star Jrue Holiday. If the Bucks want to make the Finals, the Bucks need Holiday to do what Bledsoe could not: perform in the playoffs.
Miami Heat: It looks like Miami will lean on the development of their young guys while hoping for their vets to continue to contribute. Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo formed a formidable duo and Tyler Herro and Duncan Robinson are amazing young scorers who are lethal when they get hot. After re-signing Goran Dragic, Miami showed they trust the floor general despite his age. When Dragic plays well, Miami is a force to be reckoned with. If Dragic declines due to age next year, Miami will suffer and will not be able to make another run to the Finals.
Photo: Kevin C. Cox