The 2022 offseason saw many teams in the NBA Eastern Conference improve significantly. Most of the teams were actively looking to upgrade different spots on their teams. Many high-level free agents resigned with their current teams on big contracts. Zach LaVine was one of the most notable players to stay in his city, signing a new 5-year contract to commit his future to the Chicago Bulls. Another player loyal to his city was Darius Garland, who signed a multi-year contract extension in Cleveland to stay with the Cavaliers. Meanwhile, the months after the free agency frenzy involved a lot of trades; the most notable one occurred on September 1, 2022, when the Jazz sent All-Star guard Donovan Mitchell to Cleveland. Incredible talent and many good teams make this conference challenging to predict.
1: Boston Celtics (Prediction: 54-28)
Coming in as the No. 1 seed, we have the Boston Celtics, who come into this season as the defending Eastern Conference Champions. Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown, and Marcus Smart headline the talent returning to a team who lost to the Golden State Warriors in six games in the NBA Finals. They also traded for 2016-17 Rookie of the Year Malcolm Brogdon to add some crucial depth they missed last season. A big blow is Danilo Gallinari, another notable acquisition that is unfortunately out for the season with a torn ACL. Although it’s a challenge, Boston has high-level talent at every position. Second-year coach Ime Udoka can lead this team to great things, as proved by his ability to take Boston to the finals last season. He’s the right coach for the city of Boston and for this Celtics team. It won’t surprise me if the Celtics get off to a really good start. They’ll be the No. 1 seed, but I don’t think they’ll get out of a loaded Eastern Conference.
2: Cleveland Cavaliers (52-30)
Next, we visit Cleveland, where the Cavaliers currently have one of the best young cores in the NBA. Evan Mobley, Darius Garland, and Jarrett Allen are returning to a team who lost to the Atlanta Hawks in the Play-In tournament last season. When you add a player of Donovan Mitchell’s caliber into the fold, you’re in an even better spot than before, and the expectations are only getting higher. Mobley and Allen showed massive potential in the front court last season and could be one of the best front-court duos in the NBA in the next five seasons. Both of those guys need to increase their production this season, especially Allen, who is in the second season of a 5 year $100m contract extension. Mitchell joins Garland in a suddenly loaded backcourt, and the Cavs could potentially have four starters in the All-Star game in Utah in February 2023. This Cavs team is loaded but isn’t experienced enough to win the East.
3: Milwaukee Bucks (51-31)
It wouldn’t shock me if the Bucks and the Cavs swapped places in the standings at the end of the season. The Bucks are coming off a disappointing exit in the second round at the hands of the Celtics. This is a big season for head coach Mike Budenholzer. While he won a championship in 2021, he needs to go far into the playoffs, or he could lose his job. Milwaukee’s veteran core, which isn’t getting younger, is in a prime position to contend. Jrue Holiday, who was a difference maker in the Finals against the Suns and has played a considerable role since coming to Milwaukee, turned 32 years old in June. Khris Middleton, who missed the entire second-round series against the Celtics with an MCL sprain in his knee, is 31 and is coming off surgery on his left wrist in July. Time is running out, and if Giannis Antetokounmpo, who turns 28 in early December, wants to win a ring, this is the year. The Bucks need to go far, and they will go far because their experience will be crucial in the later rounds.
4: Philadelphia 76ers (51-31)
In Philadelphia, the vibes are good. PJ Tucker was the most notable free agency signing as he signed a 3-year $32m contract on the first day of free agency. They also signed Danuel House, who was notably kicked out of the 2020 NBA Bubble for multiple hours having a guest in his hotel room. Daryl Morey executed an excellent draft night trade as he traded the 23rd pick in the draft and Danny Green to the Memphis Grizzlies for De’Anthony Melton, who had a significant impact off the bench for the Grizzlies last season. Joel Embiid has to stay healthy if the Sixers want to go far. Embiid, a dominating force in the previous season, came up big in some playoff games, although he struggled with injuries. If this sixers team doesn’t make it out of the second round, I think it’ll spell the end for Doc Rivers. As a Sixers fan myself, I have been very critical of his decisions in recent years, and most recently, he left Embiid in a lopsided elimination game for too long. Embiid suffered a mild concussion and a right orbital fracture against the Raptors in the series-clinching Game 6 and wasn’t 100% in the next series against the Heat. I sense that in the offseason, the Sixers will be looking for a new head coach.
5: Miami Heat (51-31)
The Heat are among the favorites to win the Eastern Conference. I could see them challenging the Cavs for second place this season and maybe even challenging Boston for the regular season title. Tyler Herro will be eager to prove that last season wasn’t a fluke. Gabe Vincent, Max Strus, and Omer Yurtseven will all hope to prove they can build on last season. In terms of developing talent, Miami is among the best teams in the NBA. It’s easy to see why Erik Spoelstra has won multiple Coach of the Year awards. I think Miami will take a step back because of the talent in the East, but they’ll be fighting for first place until the end of the season.
6: Atlanta Hawks (49-33)
This Hawks team has turned a corner under Nate McMillan. When he was hired as the interim coach, I was unconvinced he could bring the best out of a young core that included Trae Young and John Collins. However, the Hawks roared back, going 27-11 in their last 38 games and making it to the Eastern Conference Finals. They took a step back last season as they went 43-39 and were bounced in the first round by Miami. Dejounte Murray takes an already good backcourt to another level. The expectations will be high in the ATL, but with the talented teams in the East, it’s going to be hard to get the top seed in the conference.
7: Brooklyn Nets (47-35)
This Nets team is an utter mess. While Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant are scary for other groups to go against because of their scoring abilities, they don’t play well together and don’t play a lick of defense. The Nets traded for Ben Simmons but didn’t play a game and were a spectator as the Nets embarrassed themselves last season by being the only team in the NBA to get swept out of the playoffs after losing to Boston in the first round. The Kevin Durant trade request shocked the basketball world, but he decided to stay in Brooklyn after months of trade rumors which refused to die down until he decided to stay. I still don’t know why Steve Nash is employed by the Nets. The man refuses to coach and doesn’t hold players accountable, and his team was swept out of the playoffs embarrassingly. It’s going to be a long season in Brooklyn.
8: Charlotte Hornets (43-39)
It’s been an offseason of turbulence in Charlotte. First, James Borrego was fired after another disappointing season ended with another loss in the opening round of the Play-In Tournament. Then, they thought they had hired Kenny Atkinson off of Steve Kerr’s staff in Golden State to try and turn them around, only for Atkinson to back out of the agreement and remain in the Bay Area. And in the most stunning development outside of free agency, starting forward Miles Bridges, who was eligible for a contract extension, was arrested in Los Angeles this summer on charges of domestic violence. They rehired Steve Clifford to be their head coach, which I still don’t understand. He’ll keep them in these play-in spots but not any higher.
9: Washington Wizards (42-40)
After a disappointing end to the season, this Wizards team needs to find out who they really are. We praised him at the start of the season when the Wiz were flying high, but Wes Unseld Jr. has a lot to learn. He made several bad substitutions last season and didn’t call timeouts promptly. Bradley Beal returns to headline a young team that has potential. Daniel Gafford needs to prove that he can produce consistently in a conference loaded with talented bigs. The wizards could sneak into the last Play-In Spot.
10: Chicago Bulls (41-41)
The Bulls have a significant problem. They can’t beat good teams and lost in five games to the Bucks. Granted, Billy Donovan is a good coach, but Zach LaVine and DeMar DeRozan can only do so much, and I still don’t know if Lonzo Ball will be at 100% after a knee injury ended his season. The Bulls went from first in the East to sixth in the span of a couple months, and they could struggle after missing out on big pieces like Rudy Gobert. Most of last year’s team is back, but they’ll run into a lot of obstacles along the way, and if LaVine or DeRozan gets hurt, they’re in trouble.
Regarding who will be eliminated in the Play-In tournament, I think the Wizards and Bulls could miss the playoffs after the PlayIn Games. The Net’s scoring ability and the Hornets getting more experienced will be major factors.
The Pacers, Pistons, Magic, and Knicks will all struggle. The Pistons and Magic have drafted well the last couple of years, so they could be positioned to make a lot of noise in the future. The Knicks are mediocre after a surprising fourth-place finish in 2020/21. The Eastern Conference has the chance to be really, really tough and competitive. We’ll see what happens on October 18.