After months of preparation, we are finally entering the final stages of the NBA Pre-Season. All thirty teams are making their final adjustments ahead of the new NBA season starting and this year’s Championship looks wide open.
Many pundits and experts believe that this year’s champion will come from the Eastern Conference with both the Boston Celtics and Milwaukee Bucks set to battle it out for supremacy. Ahead of what is bound to be another roller coaster of a season, we spotlight the contenders and pretenders in this year’s Eastern Conference.
It’s no secret that last year was a huge disappointment for the Milwaukee Bucks. The NBA Champions from 2021, the Bucks had a loaded squad that looked set to contend once more. Topping last year’s Eastern Conference heading into the playoffs, the Bucks bowed out of the Playoffs in meek fashion, losing 4-1 to the Miami Heat in the first round.
With rumors circling around the future of Giannis Antetokounmpo, the Bucks front office was quick to act and displaced Head Coach Michael Budenholzer and replaced him with Adrian Griffin. In a further effort to appease Antetokounmpo, the Bucks were responsible for the biggest trade of the summer as they landed seven time All Star Damian Lillard from the Portland Trail Blazers.
Pairing Antetokounmpo with Lillard looks formidable, and it wouldn’t be a surprise to see the Bucks win the Eastern Conference for the second year in succession.
Similarly to the Bucks, the Boston Celtics will head into this NBA season with plenty to prove. With Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown flourishing into a dynamic duo, the Celtic’s 2023 season was abruptly ended when they fell to the Miami Heat in the final game of the Eastern Finals.
In a bid to win an 18th Championship, Brad Stevens has had a busy summer. Out has gone Marcus Smart and in his place has arrived the solid duo of Jrue Holiday and Kristaps Porzingis. Brown also extended his stay in Boston by inking the biggest deal in NBA history which will see him earn $304 million over the next five years.
Simply put, this Celtic’s squad has been built to win now and anything else will be regarded as a huge failure.
Whilst many betting sites believe that the Philadelphia 76ers have a bit to find with both the Bucks and Celtics, it’s important to remember that heading into last season’s Playoffs it was the 76ers that were tipped to win it all. Defeated by the Boston Celtics in the final game of their seven-game Playoff series, it would turn out to be the final straw for legendary coach Doc Rivers who was subsequently replaced with outgoing Raptors coach, Nick Nurse.
Much of the 76ers hopes will rest on the shoulders of Joel Embiid and they will hope that the man who has just declared himself available for Team USA for the 2024 Olympics will be able to replicate the form that saw him win the 2023 MVP title.
The Toronto Raptors head into this year’s NBA season under a bit of a cloud due to an ongoing court case with the New York Knicks – with the Knicks accusing the Raptors and new coach Darko Rajakovic of “stealing proprietary information”.
Whilst all that background noise certainly won’t be beneficial to Rajakovic, who will be leading a team for the very first time, it is also all change on the court.
Most of the 2019 Championship winning team have departed to pastures new, with only Pascal Siakam left remaining on the roster. Fred VanVleet has been shipped to the Houston Rockets and in his place has come veteran Dennis Schroder – much is also expected of Scottie Barnes who won the 2022 Rookie of the Year. Last year the Raptors fell in the Play-In tournament and if they can go one step further this year that would have to be considered a major success.
It seems a long time ago that the likes of Steve Nash, Kevin Durrant, James Harden and Kyrie Irving were pounding the boards of the Barclays Center.
Once billed as a team destined to win an NBA Championship, the 2023/2024 squad are currently tipped to finish towards the bottom of the Eastern Conference and will need to produce something special if they are to make the post season.
Much of the Nets hopes will rest with Mikal Bridges, but whether he has the consistency to lift his team beyond their pre-season expectations remains to be seen.