LeBron going to the Lakers is no surprise to anyone who has been visiting this website for a year. But after the thrill of LeBron in purple and gold has worn off, the situation in the Eastern Conference might make your stomach queasy. This is how the Eastern Conference playoff race looks on July 3rd.
1. Boston Celtics: Took LeBron to seven games in the Eastern Conference Finals without their two best players, Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward. Boston could still lose Marcus Smart, who is an important role player, but there isn’t a guy the 76ers could add – I’m assuming Kawhi Leonard isn’t going anywhere but the Lakers – to put them over Boston. In the East, 65 wins is seriously attainable.
2. Philadelphia: The 76ers had a rough start to free agency, losing two cogs in their late-season run to 52 wins, shooters Ersan Ilyasova (to Milwaukee) and Marco Belinelli (to San Antonio). But they still have two of the five best players in the East, and let’s see what happens with JJ Redick. Hope you haven’t written off Markelle Fultz yet; he’s still only 20. If they don’t win 55 games, it’ll be a letdown.
3. Milwaukee Bucks: Slightly disappointing 1st round playoff exit and they don’t have much wiggle room in free agency to improve. Out goes Jabari Parker, who at least had potential; in comes a shooter in Ersan Ilyasova. Khris Middleton is probably an All-Star in the East. If Tony Snell gives the Bucks more, and Thon Maker takes the next step, 50 wins is possible.
4. Toronto Raptors: LeBron is gone, anything is possible, right? Well, not really. Will they win 59 games again despite getting a new coach after the embarrassing sweep against LeBron in the playoffs? That doesn’t seem likely, though the talent is certainly there. I can see a dip back down to 50 games as they tinker with lineups – more minutes for Delon Wright, Fred VanVleet, Norman Powell – and perhaps fewer shots for DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry, both of whom they tried to trade this offseason.
5. Indiana Pacers: Didn’t get Aaron Gordon, and they won’t sneak up on anyone this year, but with Victor Oladipo leading the way, this is a 45-48 win team. I don’t get the Doug McDermott addition, given his defensive liabilities, but that’s a big difference than having Lance Stephenson out there.