It has been awhile since I published my Trending Upwards/Downwards/Neutral for Upcoming Season for the Western Conference. I’ve finally been getting to work on the Eastern Conference Edition. I will repeat some of my introduction in the Western Conference Edition in case you did not read it. Some factors go into my decision on whether teams are trending upwards, downwards, or neutral. My decision on what trending grade they receive, deals with how much better they will be from last year to this year. None of my trending decisions will factor on success in a couple years. It deals with, ‘will they improve from last season?’
*stats come from ESPN.com*
Celtics were a 48-34 team, 5th seeded team last season. The Celtics were led by point guard Isaiah Thomas (22.2ppg, 6.2apg, 3.0rpg, and 1.1spg on .428% from the field, .359% from the three point line, and .871% from the free throw line in 82GP). He was their heart and soul. The Celtics players play well together. Most of their core guys, like Avery Bradley, Jae Crowder, Amir Johnson, Kelly Olynyk, Marcus Smart, and Tyler Zeller are still on the team. With the 3rd pick in the NBA Draft, they added Jaylen Brown to this team. He needs some time to get adjusted to the Celtics but may get situated after a couple of months, if given minutes. Celtics added Gerald Green, who averaged 8.9ppg and 2.4rpg on .392% from the field, .323% from the three point line, and .783% from the free throw line in 69GP for the Miami Heat last season. The biggest acquisition for them is the infusion of Al Horford onto their team. The 30 year old center averaged 15.2ppg, 7.3rpg, 3.2apg, and 1.5bpg while shooting .505% from the field, .344% from the three point line, and .798% from the free throw line in 82GP for the Atlanta Hawks. While the Celtics struck out on bringing Kevin Durant to their team, Horford is a robust second choice. Celtics only lost Jared Sullinger to the Raptors and Evan Turner to the Portland Trail Blazers. The additions outweigh the subtractions and the Celtics will have a great season.
So while the roster may be better than last year’s roster, it won’t show up much on the Team Records page. They’ll be among the worst in the Eastern Conference. Surely, they will improve some though right? Let us do some comparisons to find out. Let’s start with PG. Starting minutes last year were taken mostly by Jarrett Jack and Donald Sloan. Without looking at shooting percentages, Jack averaged 12.8ppg, 7.4apg, 4.3rpg, and 1.1spg in 32.1ppg. Sloan averaged 7.0ppg, 4.4apg, and 2.8rpg in 21.6mpg. The presumed starter this year, Jeremy Lin, averaged 11.7ppg, 3.2rpg, and 3.0apg in 26.3mpg as a backup to the playoff bound Charlotte Hornets. Seeing how neither Jarrett Jack nor Donald Sloan were brought back to the Brooklyn Nets, I would give the advantage to Jeremy Lin, who should see some of his numbers jump up with more responsibility. On to shooting guards. Wayne Ellington started 41 games for the Brooklyn Nets last season, putting up averages of 7.7ppg, and 2.3rpg in 21.3mpg. While the presumed started didn’t put up great scoring numbers (5.8ppg), Rondae Hollis-Jefferson put up solid numbers elsewhere with 5.3rpg, 1.5apg, and 1.3spg in 21.2mpg. Also, Ellington is gone so the 21 year old Jefferson has likely been handed the reins. Advantage: Rondae. The last comparison will be at power forward between Thaddeus Young and Trevor Booker. Bojan Bogdanovic and Brook Lopez were the starters last year and will likely be the starters this year for small forward and center. This comparison is the only comparison in favor of the previous starter. Young averaged 15.1ppg, 9.0rpg, and 1.5spg in 33.0mpg. Young was shipped off to Indiana so, even with those stats, he was expendable. Booker averaged 5.9ppg and 5.7rpg in 20.7mpg in backup role to Derrick Favors in Utah. So while Young got the advantage, he also had 12.3mpg more than Favors. I believe the bench depth has increased as well this year. So, again, while the Nets will not improve much in the standings – they will be a better ball club this coming year.
New York Knicks
“They’re saying us and Golden State are the super teams…” – Derrick Rose (cbssports.com). Ummmm, quick question Rose? Who says that? While no doubt, ON PAPER, Knicks look to be a good team. They should be no where near being compared to the Golden State Warriors. I mean, come on and use logic here. Stephen Curry is a 2x-MVP. Kevin Durant is a former MVP. Klay Thompson and Draymond Green are both All-Stars and are among the best of their positions. Derrick Rose is a former MVP who has struggled to stay on the court since his MVP season. Joakim Noah has been battling his own injuries these past seasons too. Carmelo Anthony is an aging superstar. Kristaps Porzingis is a largely unproven player compared to these other aforementioned players, even with his impressive rookie year. But what if? If Rose and Noah can stay healthy, they can help this team be a potential playoff caliber team. Can they make a deep run? Doubt it. I do not feel like they have enough bench depth to do so. Brandon Jennings is not enough bench depth. Neither is the combination of Lance Thomas, Kyle O’Quinn, Justin Holiday… I think you catch my drift. Will they be better than the 32-50 record they put up last season? Certainly.
The highlights of Ben Simmons play in Summer League is exciting to see if you are a 76ers fan. Simmons has talent, there’s no doubting that. Sam Hinkie is gone so things may be looking up for the 76ers. Let’s face it, 10-72 is hard to do. It really seems hard to be that bad. Can they get even worse? Let’s not test them. I don’t think so though. Jahlil Okafor’s name still swirls around in the trade market. Okafor could quite possibly be traded this season. You still have two centers in Joel Embiid and Nerlens Noel that are not exactly floor spacers, which will make it hard to play them together. Seeing how Noel was drafted 1st round, 6th pick in 2013 and Embiid was drafted 1st round, 3rd pick in 2014 (and by the way, he still has not suited up one game for them). Wouldn’t it make sense to trade one of them? Embiid’s value is probably low. What if you trade Noel and Embiid’s injury problem gets worse? Anyway, speaking on next season, 76ers have some questions to answer. They’ll be better this coming season than last, I don’t doubt that. They have addedsome veterans now that can help mentor this young team. Jerryd Bayless, Gerald Henderson, and Sergio Rodriguez are the mentors that they brought in this offseason. Just because they are mentors, doesn’t mean they cannot still play either. Another interesting prospect, in Dario Saric, is finally coming to the 76ers from overseas. Saric was drafted 1st round, 12th pick in the 2014 draft. The 76ers aren’t completely talent stricken. They are trying to put the pieces of this puzzle together. Maybe we will get respectable basketball from Philadelphia soon.
Toronto Raptors were a very solid regular season team, going 56-26, which was good enough for the 2nd seed in the Eastern Conference. Even with Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan struggling mightily, they were able to pass the Indiana Pacers and the Miami Heat to eventually lose to the Cleveland Cavaliers in the Eastern Conference Finals. To elaborate on Lowry and DeRozan’s shooting struggles in the playoffs, we will compare some of the stats. Lowry put up 21.2ppg on .427% from the field, .388% from the three point line, and .811% from the free throw line in the regular season. Those numbers fell to 19.1ppg on .397% from the field, .308% from the three point line, and .750% from the free throw line in the postseason. DeRozan averaged 23.5ppg on .446% from the field, .338% from the three point line, and .850% from the free throw line in the regular season. Those numbers dropped to 20.9ppg on .394% from the field, .154% from the three point line, and .813% from the free throw line in the postseason. To have a more successful postseason, they need better from them. The Raptors will have another great regular season, especially with young guys, like Norman Powell, getting offseason work as they prepare for a possible increase in minutes and responsibility. Toronto only bolstered their roster by signing Jared Sullinger this offseason. Sullinger put up averages of 10.3ppg and 8.3rpg in 23.6mpg for the Boston Celtics last season. His numbers dipped in the postseason due to him seeing less minutes, which is why his value dipped as well this offseason. If he does not work out in Toronto, oh well. Maybe he will use his lack of interest from teams in the offseason as motivation to work out and get better. Toronto would appreciate the extra help.
After the excitement I endured as the Chicago Bulls signed Dwyane Wade came to rest, I tried to think about it and make sense of it. After Noah and Rose were gone, Bulls management said that they wanted to go towards young and athletic as a direction for their roster. After saying that, they proceeded to sign PG Rajon Rondo, 30, and SG Dwyane Wade, 34, to deals. What happened to being young and athletic? Now, we have a starting lineup composed of Rajon Rondo, Dwyane Wade, Jimmy Butler, Taj Gibson/Nikola Mirotic, and Robin Lopez. In a league that is preferring three pointers, this starting lineup will be among the worst in three point shooting. Rondo is a career .289% three point shooter, although he shot .365% last season in the regular season. Wade is a career .284% three point shooter and shot .159% from there last season. Butler is a career .328% three point shooter and shot .328% from their last season. Floor spacing will be an issue. Defenses will collapse in more if they know Dwyane Wade’s kick out option on the drive will be Rajon Rondo or vice versa. If I were the Bulls, I would have to start Nikola Mirotic to have someone that can help space the floor better. Taj is not that person. As a team that was looked at to be a rebuilding team, adding Rondo and Wade to the mix just made this a confusing roster. That means that next year will be a confusing season. Maybe their idea is containing players like Wade and Butler can attract another free agent to sign here. I’m not so sure even Bulls management has a clue to where this Bulls franchise is heading.
The Kyrie and LeBron show dominated in the Finals when they unleashed themselves. They learned how to dominate on the court together right there. They understood how to play together right there. That is dangerous for the rest of the NBA. Factoring in that they did not really lose anyone significant helps. I know Dellavedova and Mozgov are gone but I do not blame the Cavaliers for not wanting to spend that kind of money on those kinds of guys. J.R. Smith remains unsigned but most expect him to resign with the Cavaliers. Chris Andersen is no stranger to playing with LeBron James and was signed to a one year deal this offseason. He’s older but can still contribute in manageable minutes. Trading for Bulls Mike Dunleavy, I believe, was a very underrated move and helps shore up bench depth. Dunleavy was a starter for the Bulls at SF and he was not spectacular, but he was still good. In his first season with the Bulls, he shot .407% from the three point line. Last year, enduring the injury filled season for him, he shot .394% from the three point line. He averaged 9.4ppg and 7.2ppg in those seasons. I like this trade for the Cleveland Cavaliers. Cavaliers will be on top of the Eastern Conference yet again, when the regular season concludes.
Their biggest move this offseason was retaining Andre Drummond to a 5 year deal worth around $130m. Drummond, 23, put up averages of 16.2ppg, 14.8rpg, 1.5spg, and 1.4bpg in 32.9mpg on .521% shooting from the field and .355% shooting from the free throw line. In 4 games in the postseason, he averaged 16.8ppg, 9.0rpg, and 1.5bpg in 32.8mpg on .519% shooting from the field and .324% shooting from the free throw line. The Detroit Pistons were among the 4 Central Division teams that made the playoffs, finishing the season 44-38 (8th seed). Drummond and Reggie Jackson (18.8ppg, 6.2apg and 3.2rpg in the regular season on .434% shooting from the field, .353% from the three point line, and .863% from the free throw line; 14.3ppg, 9.3apg, and 1.5spg in the postseason on .455% shooting from the field, .167% shooting from the three point line, and 100% shooting from the free throw line) were, arguably, the two most important players on the team last season. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope (14.5ppg, 3.7rpg, and 1.4spg in the regular season on .420% shooting from the field, .309% shooting from the three point line, and .811% shooting from the free throw line; 15.3ppg, 4.3rpg, and 1.8spg in the postseason on .440% shooting from the field, .444% shooting from the three point line, and .714% shooting from the free throw line) and Marcus Morris (14.1ppg and 5.1rpg in the regular season on .434% shooting from the field, .362% shooting from the three point line, and .749% shooting from the free throw line; 17.8ppg and 3.3rpg on .468% shooting from the field, .389% shooting from the three point line, and .870% shooting from the free throw line) were beyond helpful pieces as well. Stanley Johnson got his first season under his belt and will look to improve from here on out. Pistons will look to incorporate Tobias Harris more efficiently into the Pistons offense. Harris averaged 14.7ppg and 6.7rpg on .469% shooting from the field, .335% shooting from the three point line, and .831% shooting from the free throw line. He went on to average 14.5ppg, 9.5rpg, and 3.0apg on .457% shooting from the field, .333% shooting from the three point line, and .923% shooting from the free throw line. We’ve focused on the starters for much of this paragraph already. We should also look into their acquisitions, this offseason, that increased their bench depth. The brought in their backup for PG Reggie Jackson in Ish Smith. In 29.6mpg for the Philadelphia 76ers last season, Smith averaged 12.6ppg, 6.5apg, 4.0rpg, and 1.1spg. He shot .411% from the field, .329% from the three point line, and .693% from the free throw line. They increased their PF depth by signing Jon Leuer. The 27 year old averaged 8.5ppg and 5.6rpg in 18.7mpg last season for the Phoenix Suns. He shot .481% from the field, .382% from the three point line, and .762% from the free throw line. Lastly, the Pistons brought in a center to join Aron Baynes and Andre Drummond. Boban Marjanovic was brought in from the San Antonio Spurs. The 7’3″, 290lb Boban is a freak of nature with ginormous hands. He didn’t play many minutes in San Antonio; only averaging 9.4mpg in the regular season. He averaged 5.5ppg and 3.6rpg. The Pistons look ready to build upon their very solid season.
Most of the Pacers’ starting lineup contains new faces. Only the SG and SF remain. Starting as the new PG next season, will be Jeff Teague. Teague averaged 15.7ppg, 5.9apg, and 1.2spg for the Atlanta Hawks last season. He shot .439% from the field, .400% from the three point line, and .837% from the free throw line. His postseason performance was not too spectacular. He averaged 14.5ppg and 6.1apg while shooting .380% from the field, .250% from the three point line, and .846% from the free throw line. Hawks were ready to move on and give Dennis Schroder his shot so here Teague is now playing for the Indiana Pacers alongside Monta Ellis and Paul George at SG and SF. Starting at PF will be Thaddeus Young. Young, 28, put up averages of 15.1ppg, 9.0rpg, and 1.5spg for the Brooklyn Nets last season. He put up percentages of .514% from the field, .233% from the three point line, and .644% from the free throw line as well. The player manning the center position will also be new. That player will be Al Jefferson. Jefferson, 31, put up averages of 12.0ppg and 6.4rpg while shooting .485% from the field and .649% from the free throw line in the regular season for the Charlotte Hornets. He upped most of those numbers to 13.3ppg and 6.1rpg while shooting .506% from the field and .692% from the free throw line in the postseason. Veterans like C.J. Miles, Rodney Stuckey, Lavoy Allen, and Aaron Brooks will back up these positions and provide depth. 2nd year player Myles Turner will be a huge key for them next season too. Pacers love Turner. Turner will look to improve and provide a spark off the bench for the Pacers next season. Pacers are looking to build on that 45-37 record that was good enough for the 7th seed last season. Looking at the roster, it seems to be better than last year’s, which should help them build upon their record from last year.
Well, the Bucks season did not go as planned. Two years ago they surprised and went 41-41, making the playoffs as the #8 seed. They added Greg Monroe to this team and people thought this team was going to make some noise this season. They did not. Instead, they finished the season 33-49, which put them at 12/15 in the Eastern Conference. One season after signing Greg Monroe, he is readily available in trade talks. Now, once again, they should not make the playoffs this coming season. Giannis Antetokounmpo will be experimented more as a point guard by head coach Jason Kidd. The Bucks still have Jabari Parker and an underrated Khris Middleton on their roster. They signed stretch 4, Mirza Teletovic, as well as point guards, Matthew Dellavedova and Jason Terry. None of those moves really increase the win total much for next season but they do add depth to this bench that needs it. The Bucks also added Thon Maker and Malcolm Brogdon in the draft. The development of Giannis, Jabari, and Khris will be key. This trio of Giannis, Jabari, and Khris is scary and long. The length of them can overwhelm teams. Both Khris and Jabari are 6’8″, while Giannis is 6’11”. The future and the present is bright for this team but they are not completely ready to make noise in the playoffs just yet.
Hawks will look different somewhat different next season. Teague is no longer manning the point guard spot. He’s no longer even on the team. Schroder has taken that spot. Also, Al Horford is no longer manning the center spot. He is also no longer on the team. Dwight Howard owns that spot now. Teague, as the starter for the Hawks last season, averaged 15.7ppg, 5.9apg, and 1.2spg in the regular season. He shot .439% from the field, .400% from the three point line, and .837% from the free throw line. His postseason performance was not too spectacular. He averaged 14.5ppg and 6.1apg while shooting .380% from the field, .250% from the three point line, and .846% from the free throw line. Schroder, as the backup to Teague, averaged 11.0ppg and 4.4apg in only 20.3mpg for the regular season. He shot .421% from the field, .322% from the three point line, and .791% from the free throw line. He received 19.1mpg in the post season and averaged 11.7ppg and 3.6rpg while shooting .452% from the field, .343% from the three point line, and .846% from the free throw line. They saw enough from Schroder and enough from Teague that they were ready to move on from Teague and give Schroder his shot.Then, Howard came home. He was born in Atlanta. Howard is no longer the player he was back in his Orlando Magic days. Some of the people in this world have not come to grips with that. That does not mean he’s any less capable. He’s just not there athletically, like he was. He’s not a better option than Al Horford. He might strive in Atlanta though. In Houston, Harden was a ball dominant player. Howard is also a ball dominant player. Looking at Atlanta, there really is not a ball dominant player. He fits in well with Paul Millsap, whom can stretch the floor with his shooting. Howard put up averages of 13.7ppg, 11.8rpg, 1.6bpg, and 1.0spg in the regular season for the Houston Rockets. He should fit better with the Hawks. Hawks retained Kent Bazemore, who started to explode for the Atlanta Hawks last season. Hawks brought in veteran Jarrett Jack to backup Schroder. Hawks still have a good starting 5 in Schroder, Korver, Bazemore, Millsap, and Howard with solid bench depth in Jack, Sefolosha, Splitter, Scott, and even Humphries. As a Hawks fan, you should not be panicking too much with the departure of Horford and the trading of Teague. Hawks might not improve too much but they certainly will not drop off, explaining why I have them as neutral.
I see the Hornets staying about the same as they were last season. The Hornets resigned Nicolas Batum this offseason to a 5 year deal worth around $120m and Marvin Williams to a 4 year deal worth about $54.5m. Some of the Hornets losses include: PG Jeremy Lin, SG Courtney Lee, and C Al Jefferson. They replaced backup PG Jeremy Lin (11.7ppg, 3.2rpg, and 3.0apg in 26.3mpg) with Ramon Sessions (9.9ppg, 2.9apg, and 2.5rpg in 20.3mpg) and Brian Roberts (4.0ppg and 1.1apg in 9.2mpg). They replaced Courtney Lee (9.6ppg, 2.6rpg, 1.1spg in 29.5mpg) with Marco Belinelli (10.2ppg, 1.9apg, and 1.7rpg in 24.6mpg). Lastly, they replaced Al Jefferson (12.0ppg and 6.4rpg in 23.3mpg) with Roy Hibbert (5.9ppg, 4.9rpg, and 1.4bpg in 23.2mpg). They still have their most important player; Kemba Walker. Walker put up 20.9ppg, 5.2apg, 4.4rpg, and 1.6spg while shooting .427% from the field, .371% from the three point line, and .847% from the free throw line in the regular season. The Hornets finished the season, 48-34, good enough for the 6th seed in the East. On top of everything I have stated, another factor that will help the Charlotte Hornets is Michael Kidd-Gilchrist returning from injury. Michael missed all but 7 games last season. He will help and be a key piece for the Hornets when he returns from injury 100%. Another year of development for Cody Zeller, as I am sure he will see more responsibility with Al Jefferson’s departure. Hornets should still be good next season.
The Miami Heat finished last season with a 48-34 record, good enough for the 3rd seed in the Eastern Conference. I’ll just start off with the negatives and then focus on the positives. Chris Bosh’s status is in the air. We still are not sure if Chris Bosh will ever play again. That alone is a huge hit to the Miami Heat. Add that on to the fact that Dwyane Wade got fed up and left the Heat for the Bulls hurts the Miami Heat even more. Now, let’s focus on the positives. Hassan Whiteside resigned with the Miami Heat on a 4 year deal worth $98m. Whiteside averaged 14.2ppg, 11.8rpg, and 3.7bpg in the regular season for them. He then averaged 12.0ppg, 10.9rpg, and 2.8bpg in the postseason. He is going to have to be a main focal point for their offense alongside PG Goran Dragic. Pat Riley did his best to put together the most competitive team he could due to the circumstances. Amar’e Stoudemire retired and Luol Deng left for the Lakers. Deng’s departure means more responsibility for 2nd year man Justise Winslow. Wade’s departure could mean more minutes for Josh Richardson as well. Heat matched the offer sheet for Tyler Johnson, therefore, retaining his services. The Heat acquired a lot of players this offseason as well. They signed Derrick Williams, Dion Waiters, James Johnson, Willie Reed, Beno Udrih, and Wayne Ellington. They acquired Luke Babbitt through a trade with the New Orleans Pelicans. Now, while the team will still be competitive next season; I think it is safe to say that the Miami Heat will not be the 3rd seed once again.
I was tempted to give them a downwards trending grade. I really was. In a move I did not see coming, they shipped off Domantas Sabonis, Ersan Ilyasova, and Victor Oladipo to the Oklahoma City Thunder for Serge Ibaka. Serge Ibaka could potentially be a one year rental. He may leave after this season when his contract is up. Yet again, maybe he will stay. Maybe he will stay and mentor Aaron Gordon and help make this team more competitive. Trading Victor Oladipo away means more minutes and responsibility for Evan Fournier, whom they resigned this offseason, and Mario Hezonja, going into his second season this season. The Magic also signed SF Jeff Green and C Bismack Biyombo this offseason. Biyombo will likely move into the center position as the Magic are potentially shopping Nikola Vucevic. Don’t be shocked to see Vucevic eventually get traded off of this team leaving Biyombo to start alongside Ibaka with Gordon to receive more minutes with Vucevic’s trade. The team still has young PG Elfrid Payton to run this offense. This team went 35-47 last season, putting them at #11 out of 15 in the Eastern Conference. Magic are still far off from making the playoffs it seems. Looking at the teams that finished above them, I do not see a team that they are better than currently. Possibly the Washington Wizards, but I doubt it. Looking at the teams that finished below them last season, the Knicks stand out as a team that will pass the Magic in the standings. Magic should be stuck in the bottom of the standings once again.
Bradley Beal got PAID this summer. He received a 5 year, $130m contract from the Washington Wizards this offseason. That ensures that the backcourt of John Wall (19.9ppg, 10.2apg, 4.9rpg, and 1.9spg on .424% from the field, .351% from three point line, and .791% from the free throw line) and Bradley Beal (17.4ppg, 3.4rpg, 2.9apg, and 1.0spg on .449% shooting from the field, .387% from the three point line, and .767% from the free throw line) stays together. Beal is getting some necessary rest as he endured injuries most of the season for the Wizards. Wall is also progressing nicely from offseason surgery. The Wizards brought in some help this offseason in Ian Mahinmi (9.3ppg, 7.1rpg, and 1.1bpg), Jason Smith (7.2ppg and 2.9rpg), Andrew Nicholson (6.9pp and 3.6rpg), and Trey Burke (10.6ppg and 2.3apg). Wizards are hoping either Otto Porter Jr., or Kelly Oubre Jr. break out this season to provide help at the SF position. Wizards did enough to ensure that they will be just as good as last season. Whether or not they will improve enough to make the playoffs remains to be seen. I do not think that is the case for the Wizards. They should finish right around where they were last season.