The day has come that we all have been secretly waiting for, the day that LeBron James no longer plays in the Eastern Conference. Reggie Miller once said, “take Michael Jordan away from the Bulls and what do you have?”
Well take LeBron away from the East and, now, you have equal opportunity. There are a few teams that have been nipping at the heels of LeBron-led teams, but they could not get over the hump.
With The King no longer in the East, here are the teams that could take advantage:
5. Philadelphia 76ers
Do you trust the process? The process may be something to believe in. The 76ers young core of Ben Simmons, Joel Embiid, and Dario Saric took them to the playoffs, a place they had not been to since the 2011-2012 season. When Embiid, Simmons, and Markelle Fultz all get healthy enough to play a full season, or close to it, the 76ers could be a dominant force.
4. Milwaukee Bucks
Milwaukee is led by a potential MVP award winner in Giannis Antetokounmpo who improves his play every year. The Bucks took the Celtics to the limit last year in the playoffs and that should serve as a source of confidence for this young crop of players. Khris Middleton is a steady 20-point scorer that is capable of relieving pressure off of The Greek Freak. The Bucks also drafted Donte DiVincenzo then signed Ersan Ilyasova and Brook Lopez in free agency to give the Bucks extra depth and shooting to help add a new element to the team.
3. Washington Wizards
The addition of Dwight Howard helped make the Wizards a little bit better. In the 2017-2018 campaign, Howard averaged 16.5 points, 12.5 rebounds, and 1.6 blocks a game. John Wall and Brad Beal are the All-Star duo needed to serve as box-office players. Meanwhile, Otto Porter Jr. continues to grow as the team’s third option after Washington drafted him with the third pick a few years back. Despite wetting the bed against the next team on this list in the playoffs last year, the Wizards might not be the only team in the nation’s capital looking to win a ring.
2. Toronto Raptors
In each of the last four seasons, Toronto has placed top three in the Eastern Conference. Every year people say could “this be their year” and they would be sent packing each year by LeBron. Although the Raptors fired their head coach Dwayne Casey, they are hoping Kawhi Leonard can get them over the hump as he might be the best player in the East now. Not to mention, they still have All-Star Kyle Lowry running point. Nick Nurse will have to prove he is the right person leading the Raptors especially with a disgruntled star. It is truly a boom or bust year for Toronto.
Last season, the Celtics made it to Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals and are easily the front-runners in the East this year. The success the Celtics had in the postseason came without stars Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward, and Marcus Smart who played the majority of the games with an injured thumb. The Celtics finished the regular with 55 wins and the second seed. They had a special first year pro in Jayson Tatum too to go along with Jaylen Brown. Expect to see them play Golden State in June.