The Eastern Conference is still the NBA's junior varsity. Aside frombeing the best player in the world, it has little to brag about compared to the West. Still, the race for the final few playoff spots should be exciting.
Just like in the Western Conference, quite a few teams seem like locks for the playoffs, barring major injury. The , , and will have to falter to miss out on home court advantage in the first round. A healthy team could join those three as one of the East's elite. The may have lost , but are still dangerous with . The could vie for a top-five seed after snagging . The , despite an embarrassing first-round sweep in 2015, are likely to stay in the playoff hunt.
After that, a handful of teams could emerge as playoff contenders. Theand filled out the final two spots last season, but a new contender could emerge from what appears to be a group of six viable playoff contenders.
Why they will make the playoffs: The Celtics did it last year with a roster that didn't seem capable of making a run, thanks to great coaching from Brad Stevens and a team that bought into his system. After making upgrades to the roster this offseason, Stevens has an even better team to work with.
NBA Finals, he proved he still has some game. He'll help the Boston frontcourt immediately. The Celtics are deep in the backcourt with young talent -- . Boston leads the charge of Eastern Conference playoff contenders.ended up riding the pine for most of the ' run to the title, but when given a chance in the
Why they won't make the playoffs: Can the Celtics overachieve again? The roster may be a little better this year, but so are the rosters of the teams they'll be battling. Stevens has proven to be a great coach, but he'll have to work his magic to keep the Celtics on the upswing.
Why they will make the playoffs: Stan Van Gundy has assembled a roster that fits his coaching style. He has a big man in who, at just 22, is oh-so-close to being a star in this league. Van Gundy has surrounded him with shooters and players who can get to the hole.
After cuttingin December, the Pistons went on a run and looked like a playoff-quality team. Those postseason ambitions were derailed when they lost to an Achilles injury. He'll be back next season and so will , whom the Pistons acquired at the trade deadline and signed to an extension this summer. With the additions of , and lottery pick Stanley Johnson, the Pistons won't miss Monroe as much as originally thought. The Pistons showed flashes of brilliance under Van Gundy's system. If they can stay healthy and consistent, they're ready to make the jump into the Eastern Conference playoff race.
Why they won't make the playoffs: Drummond still isn't a superstar, unlikewhen Van Gundy took the to the Finals. The Pistons need Drummond to turn into an unstoppable force and he's not there yet. Whether Jackson and Jennings can coexist remains to be seen. Despite the improvement after losing Smith last season, the Pistons still were a long way from making the playoffs.
Why they will make the playoffs: playing position-less basketball -- there is much talk of George playing power forward. The Pacers are rebuilding, but in the East, they still have the tools to make a run to the playoffs.is back. If he gets back to the level he was before the freak injury that derailed his 2014-15 season, then the Pacers have a game-changer. Plus, they added and appear to be joining the trend of
Why they won't make the playoffs: Indiana lost plenty this offseason, especially in the frontcourt withand leaving. After years of playing a defensive-minded style, there is no guarantee that this new small-ball system is going to work. George may never be the same player he was before his injury, though it was a good sign that he returned to the court for a few games last season.
Why they will make the playoffs: Charlotte cut its losses by getting rid of. stuck around for the final year of his contract, came over from Portland, has improved each year and is a clutch point guard. The roster pieces are there as long as the players can mesh.
Why they won't make the playoffs: The Hornets are in a similar place as last year -- capable of making a jump, but with no guarantees. If they get off to a slow start, talk of Jefferson leaving in the offseason could pick up steam, leaving the Hornets looking to make a trade. This is a volatile roster, one that could blow up quickly if things aren't going well.
Why they will make the playoffs: The Magic will need to make the biggest jump of all of these teams, but it's feasible that their young roster takes the next step this season. The dynamic backcourt of and could develop into one of the best tandems in the league, and big man quietly averaged 19.3 points and 10.9 rebounds per game last season. Bringing in to coach the inexperienced team could certainly help. He has experience in leading big turnarounds, taking the Bulls from 23 wins in 2004 to 47 in 2005.
Why they won't make the playoffs: Despite the talent, Orlando has only shown flashes of brilliance. The Magic only won 25 games last season, and making the jump to 40 is no simple task. For reference, the Magic won 20 and 23 games in 2013 and 2014, respectively.
Why they will make the playoffs: Brooklyn gave the top-seeded Hawks a scare in the first round of last season's playoffs, and despite lettinggo to the , it still has the players to challenge (this is the East, after all.) Williams will be missed, but was steady as a backup last season. is one of the best big men in the East and still has it on the offensive end of the court.
Why they won't make the playoffs: The Nets were lucky to make the playoffs last season and are now without Williams -- despite not being at the level he once was, he's still a solid NBA point guard. Depth is going to be an issue for Brooklyn, which will count onas a backup to Jack. Despite making a run last season, it seems unlikely that the Nets will return to the playoffs in 2016.
Why they will make the playoffs: Everything that could go wrong did go wrong for the Knicks last year. But if Carmelo Anthony can stay healthy, he gives New York a chance to win every game it plays. The additions of Robin Lopez and Arron Afflalo will help the defense transform into a professional unit, and Kyle O'Quin and Derrick Williams should help provide some depth. Also, Derek Fisher will now be in Year 2, and the team as a whole will be more familiar with the triangle offense.
Why they won't make the playoffs: For one, it's hard to imagine them usurping any of the other teams on this list. More problematic, though, is Carmelo's health -- he's getting up there in age and has a lot of miles and hits on him -- and the team's lack of a secondary scoring option.