Cavaliers are the team to beat in NBA's East Conference

NBA PREVIEW

EASTERN CONFERENCE

(in predicted order of finish)

PLAYOFF-BOUND

 

1. CLEVELAND

2015–16 finish: 57-25

Coming: Mike Dunleavy, Chris Andersen, Kay Felder (rookie).

Going: Matthew Dellavedova, Timofey Mozgov.

The path to back-to-back titles will be crowded by a very big gold-and-blue roadblock in Oakland, but that won’t keep LeBron James and company from controlling the East. There weren’t any major changes to this roster, especially now that shooting guard J.R. Smith is signed to a four-year contract.

2. BOSTON

2015–16 finish: 48-34

Coming: Al Horford, Jaylen Brown (rookie), Gerald Green.

Going: Evan Turner, Jared Sullinger.

With the addition of prized free agent Horford, coach Brad Stevens finally has a talented inside-out center to plug into his offense. The Celtics already had the East’s highest-scoring offense last season. But Stevens’ squad is probably a scoring wing away from being a truly dangerous title contender.

3. TORONTO

2015–16 finish: 56-26

Coming: Jared Sullinger, Jakob Poeltl (rookie), Pascal Siakam (rookie).

Going: Bismack Biyombo, James Johnson, Luis Scola, Anthony Bennett.

The Raptors sought a floor-spacing forward in free agency. That landed them Sullinger, an up-and-down shooter in four seasons with Boston. If he doesn’t work out they can still pair center Jonas Valanciunas with Patrick Patterson or DeMarre Carroll. In the backcourt are All-Stars Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan.

4. INDIANA

2015–16 finish: 45-37

Coming: Coach Nate McMillan, Jeff Teague, Al Jefferson, Thaddeus Young, Kevin Seraphin, Aaron Brooks.

Going: George Hill, Jordan Hill, Solomon Hill, Ian Mahinmi, Ty Lawson.

The Pacers shook things up in the off-season, but one fact remains true: a Paul George-led team has a lot of potential. The Pacers will likely bring Jefferson, part of the dying breed of low-post scorers, off the bench while the athletic Young is a solid fit next to 20-year-old center Myles Turner.

5. CHICAGO

2015–16 finish: 42-40

Coming: Dwyane Wade, Rajon Rondo, Robin Lopez, Michael Carter-Williams, Denzel Valentine (rookie), Jerian Grant.

Going: Derrick Rose, Pau Gasol, Joakim Noah, Mike Dunleavy, Aaron Brooks, Tony Snell.

A potential starting lineup of Rondo, Wade, Jimmy Butler, Taj Gibson and Lopez lacks a decent three-point shooter. Bulls Coach Fred Hoiberg can change that with Nikola Mirotic — who can play “starter minutes” off the bench. The new-look Bulls are relying heavily on veterans (Wade, Rondo, Lopez) with something to prove.

6. ATLANTA

2015–16 finish: 48-34

Coming: Dwight Howard, Taurean Prince (rookie), Jarrett Jack, DeAndre Bembry (rookie).

Going: Al Horford, Jeff Teague.

Dwight Howard’s homecoming means the Hawks have to drastically alter Coach Mike Budenholzer’s coveted five-out motion offense. Howard, whose skill-set tethers him to the paint, will clog Paul Millsap’s driving lanes and make shooters Kyle Korver and Kent Bazemore even more important.

7. DETROIT

2015–16 finish: 44-38

Coming: Henry Ellenson (rookie), Ish Smith, Boban Marjanovic, Michael Gbinije (rookie), Jon Leuer.

Going: Joel Anthony, Anthony Tolliver, Spencer Dinwiddie, Steve Blake.

The Pistons are one of those turning-the-corner teams, but will be without starting point guard Reggie Jackson for two months (knee tendinitis) and will likely be replaced by Smith. Stan Van Gundy has a core of young talent, including center Andre Drummond and shooting guard Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, both 23.

8. NEW YORK

2015–16 finish: 32-50

Coming: Coach Jeff Hornacek, Derrick Rose, Joakim Noah, Brandon Jennings, Courtney Lee.

Going: Robin Lopez, Arron Afflalo, Jose Calderon, Langston Galloway, Kevin Seraphin, Derrick Williams.

Phil Jackson’s offseason shopping spree is a bet on the benefits of a change of scenery and better health. Rose, Noah and Jennings must lose their “injury-riddled” reputations. The East is short on actual contenders. With Carmelo Anthony, and the still improving 7-foot-3 Kristaps Porzingis, the Knicks should turn around.

EARLY-OFFSEASON

9. WASHINGTON

2015–16 finish: 41-41

Coming: Coach Scott Brooks, Ian Mahinmi, Trey Burke, Andrew Nicholson, Jason Smith.

Going: Jared Dudley, Ramon Sessions, Nene, Alan Anderson.

The Wizards hoped to be a big player in free agency, putting in bids for Kevin Durant and Al Horford. After striking out, their biggest acquisition was career backup center Ian Mahinmi, who could miss six weeks after knee surgery. With a roster full of average big men, John Wall and Co. will miss the playoffs.

10. CHARLOTTE

2015–16 finish: 48-34

Coming: Marco Belinelli, Roy Hibbert, Ramon Sessions.

Going: Al Jefferson, Courtney Lee, Jeremy Lin, Troy Daniels.

The Hornets were the sixth seed last season, but will now struggle without Jefferson’s inside scoring. His departure will force the Hornets to space the floor and let Kemba Walker and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist attack the rim. This team is very active on the defensive end, which will help while sorting out its offensive identity.

11. ORLANDO

2015–16 finish: 35-47

Coming: Coach Frank Vogel, Serge Ibaka, Bismack Biyombo, Jeff Green, D.J. Augustin.

Going: Victor Oladipo, Andrew Nicholson, Brandon Jennings, Jason Smith.

The Magic has one of the most puzzling rosters in the NBA, with so many bigs and only so many minutes to go around. Ibaka, Biyombo and Green joined a frontcourt that already included the talented 7-footer Nikola Vucevic and Aaron Gordon. Evan Fournier remains their only reliable shooter.

12. MILWAUKEE

2015–16 finish: 33-49

Coming: Mirza Teletovic, Michael Beasley, Matthew Dellavedova, Tony Snell, Thon Maker (rookie), Jason Terry.

Going: Jerryd Bayless, Michael Carter-Williams, Greivis Vasquez, Tyler Ennis.

The  Giannis Antetokounmpo-point forward experiment will start without coveted swingman Khris Middleton, whose torn hamstring might keep him sidelined until after the All-Star break. He will be sorely missed as the Bucks try to create room for center Greg Monroe and others inside.

13. MIAMI

2015–16 finish: 48-34

Coming: Dion Waiters, James Johnson, Derrick Williams, Wayne Ellington.

Going: Dwyane Wade, Luol Deng, Joe Johnson, Gerald Green, Amare Stoudemire.

Wade’s departure for Chicago at the backend of free agency forced Pat Riley to spend his money on mid-level (at best) replacements. Then Chris Bosh failed his physical. The Heat has a good pick-and-roll combo in Goran Dragic and center Hassan Whiteside, plus a promising wing player in Justise Winslow. And that's it.

14. PHILADELPHIA

2015–16 finish: 10-72

Coming: Ben Simmons (rookie), Dario Saric (rookie), Gerald Henderson, Jerryd Bayless.

Going: Isaiah Canaan, Kendall Marshall.

Big man Joel Embiid will make his NBA debut two years after he was drafted, but No. 1 overall pick Ben Simmons will be sidelined for about three months with a fractured foot. The Sixers haven’t made many strides away from the disastrous Sam Hinkie era.

15. BROOKLYN

2015–16 finish: 21-61

Coming: Jeremy Lin, Randy Foye, Greivis Vasquez, Caris LeVert (rookie), Luis Scola, Trevor Booker, Anthony Bennett.

Going: Thaddeus Young, Jarrett Jack, Wayne Ellington.

The lowly Nets missed out on a top-five pick because of a trade that netted them Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Jason Terry from Boston in 2013. Pierce is playing his final season with the Clippers, Terry is on the Bucks and Garnett retired. The Nets? They’re rebuilding without draft picks, and you can imagine how that is going.

jesse.dougherty@latimes.com

Twitter: @dougherty_jesse

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