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The Eastern conference has been full of surprises in the absence of LeBron James. The Heat were the ultimate victors last season, and they didn’t have a star-studded core, but one that was poised and young. While the Heat were the young stars, there are three other young cores that everyone should keep an eye out on for next season. 

Chicago Bulls

Key Young Core Stars:
Coby White, Zach Lavine, Lauri Markannen, Wendell Carter JR., Daniel Gafford, and the 4th pick. 

Last season the Bulls had the worst coach in the entire league. Jim Boylen was atrocious. Though Billy Donovan is not a great coach, anything is an upgrade over Jim Boylen. This Bulls team has also encountered injury problems in the past, especially to the likes of Lauri Markannen. 

However, the Bulls have the offensive talent to snag the 8th seed next season. Their defense is lacking, but they have plenty of individual shot creators. They are looking for a playmaking point guard, so they can use the 4th pick to draft Killian Hayes, or they can head to the free agency list and attempt to sign Jeff Teague or Goran Dragic. 

Unless they make any massive moves this offseason, I have the Bulls finishing in the 8-10 seed placement in the East. 

Atlanta Hawks

Key Young Core Stars:

Trae Young, John Collins, De’Andre Hunter, Cam Reddish, Kevin Huerter, Bruno Fernando, and the 6th pick. 

As a Hawks fan, there are plenty of areas that they can work on, such as defense, backup playmaking, generating offense from the bench, etc. However, the Hawks have an excellent young core, and their rebuild has been very organic. All the Hawks really need is just time to develop.

Atlanta has the pieces needed to make a playoff run, but they have experienced multiple interruptions, including the Collins suspension, and the massive trade, but they now have the pieces as previously stated.

Re-Signing Teague is a priority, and drafting a defensive piece is what I would do as the Hawks GM. If they don’t draft a defensive-minded prospect, a score-first mentality type guy would be acceptable. Isaac Okoro and Deni Avdija are two prospects that I would love the Hawks to have, and their young core is already tenacious, full of talent, and will shock people next season. 

I strongly believe the Hawks can make it to the playoffs next season, with a 9th seed floor. 

Cleveland Cavaliers

Key Young Core Stars:

Collin Sexton, Kevin Porter JR., Darius Garland, and the 5th pick. 

The Cavs are in a, well, unique situation. They have a good mix of young players and gritty vets, but they don’t have a player to surround this team with. LeBron left, and no one has really filled in his shoes. (Although it’d be pretty tough to fill in a presence that LeBron possessed.)

The Cavaliers have a lot of talent within the team, but they also have a lot of unique financial problems. There are also a lot more questions for this Cavs team compared to the other two squads. Do they resign Drummond or Thompson? How do they attack the draft?

I don’t believe the Cavs will make it to the playoffs next season but will see a much improved season from Garland, and their young big 3 have a tremendous year. 

The Bulls, Hawks, and Cavs will most likely compete for the 8th seed. I’m leaning towards the Hawks, but I wouldn’t be surprised if the Bulls compete as well. For the Cavs, I expect a 9th-11th seed finish for them, as they just need another season or two before I count them as a playoff contender. 

Photo Credit: The Athletic