Will the Sixers be the kings of the Eastern Conference?
With LeBron James departing for Los Angeles, the Eastern Conference is open for the taking. The scene is similar to the mid-90s when Michael Jordan retired and the finals were up for grabs.
Although the winner in the east will still have to face a Western Conference powerhouse, the Sixers have a great chance of making it. The Cleveland Cavaliers are no longer a threat in the East, at least not a serious one.
Boston and Philly are the favorites in the east. Fans of both teams have not seen what the Celtics will be like in full form. Last season the Celtics lost their best two players and still made it to game seven of the Eastern Conference Finals.
If the Sixers are serious about making it past Boston this season, they shouldn’t be stacking any more future assets. Losing Mikal Bridges in the draft might have been a costly mistake. Zhaire Smith still has loads of untapped potential but Bridges would have played a crucial role for the team.
Some fans think Boston could defeat the defending champion Golden State in seven games:
A healthy Boston Celtics team will beat the golden state warriors in 7 in the 2019 NBA finals. Gg
— Nick Marracello (@nick_Marracello) July 28, 2018
Will Leonard make Toronto a serious threat?
In the north, there is a serious question mark floating over the Toronto Raptors. After trading star DeMar DeRozan for former finals MVP Kawhi Leonard, the Raptors could be one of the best teams in the Eastern Conference.
Regardless of the situation, Leonard was in with the San Antonio Spurs, he could be one of the top players in the east this season. He did announce earlier in the summer that either team in Los Angeles is his preferred destination.
This may cause locker room and on the court problems, however, Leonard is a once in a lifetime talent who could be the leader the Raptors have been missing for years.
Although the Raptors don’t have a big man who could stop Joel Embiid, they might not need one if their new addition plays even remotely like he did two seasons ago.
ESPN analyst Stephen A. Smith believes Kawhi might even return to Toronto after his contract expires next season:
— ClearColor (@Clear_Clr) August 1, 2018
Irving, Hayward, and Tatum might be unstoppable
The Eastern Conference just got a lot scarier this past season. Jayson Tatum emerged as an elite level defender and scorer who has a similar mid-range game to Kobe Bryant.
Gordon Hayward hasn’t seen more than a few minutes of action with Boston after suffering a season-ending injury in the first quarter of the season opener. He was one of the top free agents last summer and signed a deal with the Celtics after averaging 21.9 points per game.
Kyrie Irving wasn’t set for free agency till 2019, however, Cleveland made a risky move and traded him anyway. Irving was an absolute star for Boston and was easily a top point guard in the NBA. His 24.4 points and 5.1 assists per game was just the firepower Boston needed to propel themselves in the Eastern Conference.
Boston should scare Philly the most, especially with their bench depth. Terry Rozier and Jaylen Brown headline a ferocious attack for the second rotation. The Sixers will have their hands full if their young bench is outplayed by Celtic veterans.
Celtics Pulse tweeted a picture of Jayson Tatum and asks if he is already better than Hayward:
— Celtics Pulse (@celtics_pulse) August 3, 2018
The east should fear ‘the process’
Philly is no slouch in the Eastern Conference. They have an impressive young core that leaves teams shaking in their sneakers. Even Boston and Toronto should be afraid of ‘the process’ this season.
Embiid and Robert Covington were both named to all-defensive teams while rookie Ben Simmons won the rookie of the year award. These are great achievements for a team that used to tank every year.
It looks like building through the draft was the best possible option for Philly, despite the time it took. Although trading Bridges in the draft wasn’t the best move for the team, they still have potential to win the east.
Rookies Smith and Landry Shamet will have major responsibilities coming off the bench. They definitely have the talent to produce but they will need the leadership of veterans to see their season through.
‘The process’ will be in full swing this season, especially with Markelle Fultz ready to play valuable minutes. If the team can build at all from last season, the Sixers may just find themselves in the NBA finals.
Featured Image: Keith Allison via Flickr
All stats via Basketball-reference.com
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