The 2018/19 NBA season will tell a brand new story from recent years, but in the end, the Golden State Warriors are expected to be hoisting the Larry O’Brien trophy aloft.
LeBron James’ decision to take his talents to Hollywood this summer shook up the NBA. Eastern Conference teams can now breathe a huge sigh of relief, whilst the teams from the West will be keeping a gazing eye over their shoulder.
James has been to eight-straight finals – four with the Miami Heat and four with the Cleveland Cavaliers – ending championship hopes of players, fans, and franchises in the East year after year. But following his move to Los Angeles there will be a new king of the East this summer, unless Tyronn Lue can work miracles with a Cavaliers’ roster, that is a shadow of the team that won the 2016 title.
Losing their two crown jewels in back-to-back seasons (Kyrie Irving and LeBron James), the Cavaliers must look to Kevin Love and their number 8th draft pick Collin Sexton to lead their next chapter. The last time James left Cleveland, his hometown team dropped from being the best team in the East to becoming the worst.
Expectations: If they manage to make the playoffs, the Cavs can consider it a good year.
The Raptors have impressed in the Eastern conference in recent years, culminating in a franchise best 59-win season last year. However, after being swept by the Cavs, which subsequently prompted the telecast commentator to call them “LeBronto,” the Canadian outfit parted ways with their 2018 Coach of the Year Dwayne Casey. They have also upgraded their star player, trading DeMar DeRozan for former NBA Champion and Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard.
Expectations: An injured Leonard played just nine games last season and is eligible for free agency next year, when he is expected to join his hometown Lakers. Therefore, the Raptors’ hopes of a first NBA Finals appearance rests on how committed “the Claw” is to their cause.
The Sixers are playing their best ball since Allen Iverson had his MVP season in 2001. It’s been a long way back with the franchise asking fans to “Trust the Process,” but those fans are now being rewarded for their patience. In Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons, the Sixers have two generational talents that are capable of representing the East for years to come. With James moving to the West, it is a race between the Sixers and the Boston Celtics to see who will reign in the East.
Expectations: There are ambitions for the Sixers to be the next dominant team in the East, although the Celtics remain the favourites. As long as it is the Celtics who end the Sixers’ season, there will be no real complaints as the ‘process’ continues.
It took seven games and a gargantuan effort from LeBron and co. to prevent the Celtics from making it to the Finals last year. And Brad Stevens had to do without his two best players Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward. Their versatile roster showed their value, and this year – with no LeBron James to compete with – the Celtics will be expected to reclaim their place as the top dogs of the Eastern Conference, for the first time since 2010.
Expectations: To represent the Eastern Conference in the NBA Finals.
LeBron James’ arrival at Hollywood sees the return of the Lakeshow. Still, with no other marquee acquisitions, the Lakers might have to be patient before they can be considered realistic title contenders. James managed to get all the way to the finals in his first season back with the Cavs despite injuries to All Stars Kevin Love and Irving, whilst last season the Clevelanders ripped up their roster at the All-Star break and still represented East at the end of the year.
Expectations: The roster the Lakers start with could be considerably altered at the All Star break, but it would take something special for the Lakers to win the title this year. It will be their first real hope of a playoff berth since 2013, and depending on who they draw, they will be expected to make it past the first round.
Boasting last season’s MVP James Harden, the Rockets came within a whisker of dethroning the dynastic Warriors. Taking a 3-2 lead into Game 6 of the Western Conference Finals, the Rockets unravelled when Chris Paul was ruled out with a hamstring injury. In the offseason they recruited an elite ‘all-time’ scorer in Carmelo Anthony, although they lost one of their best perimeter defenders in Trevor Ariza. The latter’s ability to defend multiple positions, as well as knock down the long ball with a better than 35% average, means that the team with the best record in the NBA last year has regressed.
Expectations: A loss to any team other than the Warriors will be a huge disappointment for the Rockets, who are likely to be the main obstacle to the reigning champions capturing a three-peat.
Steve Kerr’s Warriors have won three of the last four championships, and now look to join Shaq and Kobe’s 2000-02 Lakers and Michael Jordan’s 91-93 and 96-98 Chicago Bulls teams with a three-peat of their own. Each year the Warriors get stronger and in the off-season they added arguably the best Center in the game in DeMarcus Cousins. Their roster is as strong as it’s been since Kerr took charge, and unless they are struck by injuries, it is difficult to envisage any team defeating them in a best of seven series.
Expectations: In the ‘Splash Brothers’ they have the best shooting backcourt of all-time. They achieved a best ever regular season record (73/9) and then added a former MVP in Kevin Durant. Their recruitment of All-Star ‘Boogie’ Cousins just isn’t fair, but this is not about balancing the books, this is about domination. A rare three-peat to place them alongside the other pantheon greats is the minimum requirement for the legacy of one of basketball’s all-time greatest teams.