Team-by-team guide: Eastern Conference

Jay Asser 09:15 28/10/2015
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Another NBA season, another year of the Eastern Conference running through LeBron James. 

Washington, Milwaukee, Indiana, Miami, Charlotte, Detroit and the New York Knicks are all expected to fight for a play-off berth, while Brooklyn, Orlando and Philadelphia round out the bottom.

– NBA WESTERN PREVIEW: GSW still got plenty to keep at Bay

– NBA EASTERN PREVIEW: James to shine for Cavs once more

BOSTON CELTICS

Head coach: Brad Stevens
Star man: Isaiah Thomas
Last season: 40-42, seventh in conference, lost in first round of playoffs
Key ins: Amir Johnson, David Lee, Terry Rozier (rookie), R.J. Hunter (rookie), Jordan Mickey (rookie)
Key outs: Brandon Bass
Strengths: Boast incredible depth with reserves that come in waves which should allow them to wear down opponents over the course of a game.
Weaknesses: Continue to lack star talent on the offensive end where they have few playmakers.
Verdict: They can earn a top-four seed if they resemble the team from the second half of last season.

BROOKLYN NETS
Head coach:
Lionel Hollins
Star man: Brook Lopez
Last season: 38-44, eighth in conference, lost in first round of playoffs
Key ins: Andrea Bargnani, Thomas Robinson, Shane Larkin, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson (rookie)
Key outs: Deron Williams, Mason Plumlee, Alan Anderson, Mirza Teletovic
Strengths: Have two go-to scorers in Brook Lopez and Joe Johnson for key scoring situations.
Weaknesses: With Deron Williams gone, point guard is a major question mark.
Verdict: In a hopeless situation with the team headed for the bottom and their draft picks owed elsewhere.

NEW YORK KNICKS
Head coach:
Derek Fisher
Star man: Carmelo Anthony
Last season: 17-65, last in conference
Key ins: Robin Lopez, Derrick Williams, Arron Afflalo, Kyle O’Quinn Kristaps Porzingis (rookie), Jerian Grant (rookie)
Key outs: Andrea Bargnani, Tim Hardaway Jr, Shane Larkin
Strengths: Have a star in Carmelo Anthony who can still carry the team offensively for stretches.
Weaknesses: Reliance on the Triangle offence and failing to recognise its drawbacks could be their downfall.
Verdict: They’re certainly improved from the dumpster fire of last season, but even with a better cast somewhere in the 35-win range seems like their ceiling.

PHILADELPHIA 76ERS
Head coach: Brett Brown
Star man: Jahlil Okafor
Last season: 18-64, 14th in conference
Key ins: Carl Landry, Kendall Marshall, Nik Stauskas, Jahlil Okafor (rookie)
Key outs: Thomas Robinson, Ish Smith
Strengths: Frontcourt of Nerlens Noel and Jahlil Okafor is young, exciting and clearly the nucleus of the franchise.
Weaknesses: Have by far the least amount of talent in the entire league with only a handful of players who would be on NBA rosters outside of Philadelphia.
Verdict: It’s another year of bottoming out and tanking for the 76ers as they brace for one of the worst records again.

TORONTO RAPTORS
Head coach:
Dwane Casey
Star man: Kyle Lowry
Last season: 49-33, fourth in conference, lost in first round of playoffs
Key ins: DeMarre Carroll, Luis Scola, Cory Joseph, Bismack Biyombo, Delon Wright (rookie), Norman Powell (rookie)
Key outs: Amir Johnson, Lou Williams, Greivis Vasquez, Tyler Hansbrough
Strengths: Backcourt of Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan can score and get to the free throw line at will.
Weaknesses: Dropped off defensively last season and allowed opponents to shoot at a 45.9 per cent clip.
Verdict: Suffered turnover with role players and it’s hard to see them taking another step forward.

CHICAGO BULLS
Head coach:
Fred Hoiberg
Star man: Jimmy Butler
Last season: 50-32, third in conference, lost in conference semi-finals
Key ins: Bobby Portis (rookie)
Key outs: Tom Thibodeau (head coach)
Strengths: Retained the team from last year, which is one of the most talented in the East.
Weaknesses: Point guard depth could hold them back and the toll of minutes played under Tom Thibodeau continues to be an issue.
Verdict: Offence should improve but a lot has to break right for them to reach the Finals.

CLEVELAND CAVALIERS
Head coach: David Blatt
Star man: LeBron James
Last season: 53-29, second in conference, lost in NBA Finals
Key ins: Mo Williams
Key outs: Shawn Marion
Strengths: Their trio of stars forms arguably the best offensive unit in the league.
Weaknesses: Staying healthy will be paramount and they’re already dealing with key injuries heading into the season.
Verdict: There isn’t any team in the East that can stop them, but they’ll still have a difficult time beating the West in the Finals.

DETROIT PISTONS
Head coach:
Stan Van Gundy
Star man: Andre Drummond
Last season: 32-50, 12th in conference
Key ins: Marcus Morris, Ersan Ilyasova, Danny Granger, Steve Blake, Aron Baynes, Reggie Bullock Stanley Johnson (rookie)
Key outs: Greg Monroe, Caron Butler
Strengths: Were tied as the top offensive rebounding team last year.
Weaknesses: Defence will be tested.
Verdict: Stan Van Gundy can get them in playoff contention, but the coach has his work cut out in shaping the team.

INDIANA PACERS
Head coach:
Frank Vogel
Star man: Paul George
Last season: 38-44, ninth in conference
Key ins: Monta Ellis, Chase Budinger, Jordan Hill, Myles Turner (rookie)
Key outs: David West, Roy Hibbert, Luis Scola
Strengths: Spacing should be much improved with Paul George at power forward.
Weaknesses: After losing their defensive anchor in Roy Hibbert, centre is a wild card.
Verdict: George can vault them if he returns to his pre-injury self, but they’re another one of the teams in the middle of the East jumble.

MILWAUKEE BUCKS
Head coach: Jason Kidd
Star man: Greg Monroe
Last season: 41-41, sixth in conference, lost in first round of playoffs
Key ins: Greg Monroe, Greivis Vasquez, Rashad Vaughn (rookie)
Key outs: Jared Dudley, Ersan Ilyasova, Zaza Pachulia
Strengths: Versatile, long players allow them to switch constantly on defence.
Weaknesses: Lack outside shooting and spacing.
Verdict: Their young core could make a leap, but they’re still not true contenders yet.

ATLANTA HAWKS
Head coach:
Mike Budenholzer
Star man: Al Horford
Last season: 60-22, first in conference, lost in conference finals
Key ins: Tiago Splitter, Tim Hardaway Jr
Key outs: DeMarre Carroll
Strengths: Ball movement and fluidity on offence creats great shots.
Weaknesses: The loss of DeMarre Carroll hurt the continuity of the starting lineup and his production will be hard to replace on both ends of the floor.
Verdict: It’s tough to see them winning 60 games again, but they can still be as good while finishing as a lower seed in the East.

CHARLOTTE HORNETS
Head coach:
Steve Clifford
Star man: Al Jefferson
Last season: 33-49, 11th in conference
Key ins: Nicolas Batum, Jeremy Lin, Frank Kaminsky (rookie)
Key outs: Michael Kidd-Gilchrist (likely out for season to injury), Lance Stephenson
Strengths: Always disciplined and sound on defence and rarely turn the ball over.
Weaknesses: Have limited offensive firepower and outside shooting.
Verdict: Always well-coached and solid enough to creep into the playoffs, but have a very limited ceiling that doesn’t go beyond the first round.

MIAMI HEAT
Head coach:
Erik Spoelstra
Star man: Chris Bosh
Last season: 37-45, 10th in conference
Key ins: Gerald Green, Amar’e Stoudemire, Justise Winslow (rookie)
Key outs: Shabazz Napier
Strengths: Have one of the best starting fives in the East with plenty of pedigree.
Weaknesses: Health and decline due to age is a major concern.
Verdict: They’re a strong squad on paper, but there are a lot of variables which are likely to hold them back from challenging at the top of the conference. The second round of the playoffs is as far as they can go.

ORLANDO MAGIC
Head coach:
Scott Skiles
Star man: Victor Oladipo
Last season: 25-57, 13th in conference
Key ins: Shabazz Napier, Jason Smith, C.J. Watson, Mario Hezonja (rookie)
Key outs: Kyle O’Quinn
Strengths: Defence should improve under Scott Skiles, who can utilise a cast of long, athletic players.
Weaknesses: Have few shooting threats which means the floor on offence will be cramped.
Verdict: They’re very young and while Skiles can stimulate individual growth, the team as a whole is too raw right now to make much noise. Another bottom-five finish in the East should be expected.

WASHINGTON WIZARDS
Head coach:
Randy Wittman
Star man: John Wall
Last season: 46-36, fifth in conference, lost in conference semi-finals
Key ins: Jared Dudley, Alan Anderson, Gary Neal, Kelly Oubre (rookie)
Key outs: Paul Pierce
Strengths: Backcourt of John Wall and Bradley Beal is the nucleus of the team and creates much of the offence.
Weaknesses: Unreliability of wings following Paul Pierce’s departure in free agency.
Verdict: There’s a wide range of possibilities for them, anywhere from reaching the conference finals to losing in the first round. Somewhere in the middle is most likely.

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