Burning questions for the East’s elite
The best in the East laid eggs last year—can they rebound?
BY DAVID THORPE
The top of the East has been surprisingly stable since LeBron moved West. For a half-decade, every year has been some mix of the Bucks, Celtics, Heat, and 76ers, with some Raptors, Pacers, Cavaliers, and Nets popping up in their best years. Recently, I proposed the clock is ticking on all that and wrote that it’s time to trade Giannis and break up the Bucks. (They hated that article in Milwaukee, but more than ever I feel it’s the right plan.)
Here’s the thing though: The handful of teams that have defined the East are all squishy right now. From superstars requesting trades to new coaches hoping to change directions, we have a lot of questions about which teams will be able to mush through the mess and emerge on top next spring.
Will fortune favor big-risk takers like the Celtics, who took a big gamble in trading away Marcus Smart? Will the Sixers be able to survive their unfurling Harden shakeup? Will steadier teams like the Cavs and Knicks make the jump? And what if the Heat don’t get Damian Lillard?
Thinking about the East’s big questions, we examine the players I see as the conference’s contenders (in addition to the Bucks, assuming they don’t rebuild): the Heat, Sixers, Celtics, Cavs, and Knicks.
What’s Plan B for the Heat?
If a deal for Damian Lillard fails to materialize, there are big holes to fill: Max Strus is gone, as is Gabe Vincent. Kyle Lowry is past his prime. Yet, this team can be better than last year’s conference champs—Lillard or no Lillard.