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Previewing the NBA’s Eastern Conference from top to bottom

Chicago Bulls vs. Cleveland Cavaliers
LeBron James, right, and Dwyane Wade are together again, this time as members of the Cleveland Cavaliers.
(Gregory Shamus / Getty Images)

1. CLEVELAND

2016-17 finish: 51-31, second

Coming: Jae Crowder, Derrick Rose, Isaiah Thomas, Dwayne Wade.

Going: Kyrie Irving, Richard Jefferson.

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A loss in the NBA Finals and a teammate’s spurning might bring back the most valuable player version of LeBron James. Kevin Love will be a bigger offensive cog and move to center with Jae Crowder on board. Nostalgic additions Derrick Rose and Dwyane Wade can buy time until Isaiah Thomas returns from a hip injury in January.

2. BOSTON

2016-17 finish: 53-29, first

Coming: Gordon Hayward, Kyrie Irving, Marcus Morris, Jayson Tatum (rookie).

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Going: Avery Bradley, Jae Crowder, Amir Johnson, Kelly Olynyk, Isaiah Thomas.

The Celtics have much more potential with Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward as co-stars than being led by Isaiah Thomas, a defensive liability. Boston still has to cover defensively for Irving without Avery Bradley, now that Irving will be taxed more as a playmaker.

3. TORONTO

2016-17 finish: 51-31, third

Coming: O.G. Anunoby (rookie), K.J. McDaniels, C.J. Miles.

Going: DeMarre Carroll, Cory Joseph, Patrick Patterson, P.J. Tucker.

The Raptors’ playoff disappointment makes many forget that Toronto is a solid two-way team that has averaged 51 wins over the last four seasons. The Raptors got career seasons from Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan last season but a Norman Powell breakthrough could change Toronto’s prospects.

4. WASHINGTON

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2016-17 finish: 49-33, fourth

Coming: Tim Frazier, Jodie Meeks.

Going: Bojan Bogdanovic, Trey Burke.

John Wall’s $170 million extension and Otto Porter Jr.’s $106 million contract meant continuity for a top-notch starting lineup, although Markieff Morris is temporarily sidelined after a sports hernia surgery. The bench remains an issue for posting Washington’s first 50-win season since 1979. An injury-free Ian Mahinmi could help.

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Kyrie Irving, left, and Gordon Hayward are now co-stars for the Boston Celtics.
(Winslow Townson / Associated Press )

5. MILWAUKEE

2016-17 finish: 42-40, sixth

Coming: Gerald Green, D.J. Wilson (rookie).

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Going: Michael Beasley.

The Bucks can threaten for their first home-court playoff advantage since 2001 but remain inexperienced. Giannis Antetokounmpo is a special star capable of carrying the Bucks to new heights if Jabari Parker comes back strongly in February from his second anterior cruciate ligament tear and Thon Maker shows more promise.

6. MIAMI

2016-17 finish: 41-41, ninth

Coming: Kelly Olynyk, Bam Adebayo (rookie).

Going: Luke Babbitt, Josh McRoberts.

The Heat went from an 11-30 start to a 30-11 finish with Justise Winslow sidelined most of the season. He can help a strong-shooting, tough-defending team be a consistent winner if Goran Dragic can maintain his “Dragon” play after carrying Slovenia this summer to a EuroBasket title.

7. CHARLOTTE

2016-17 finish: 36-46, 11th

Coming: Michael Carter-Williams, Dwight Howard, Malik Monk (rookie).

Going: Marco Belinelli, Ramon Sessions.

Putting a franchise’s rebound in the hands of Dwight Howard is risky. Howard, playing for his fifth team in seven seasons, is charged with lifting the Hornets’ inconsistent offense. Jeremy Lamb will have to step up while Nicolas Batum’s left elbow is on the mend until December.

8. PHILADELPHIA

2016-17 finish: 28-54, 14th

Coming: Markelle Fultz (rookie), Amir Johnson, J.J. Redick.

Going: Gerald Henderson, Ersan Ilyasova, Sergio Rodriguez.

“The Process” is turning into “The Progress.” The 76ers still are inexperienced but they’re uber-talented, young and loaded with playoff upside if oft-injured Joel Embiid’s availability can match his talent and personality. The East allows for instant movement with Ben Simmons playing and J.J. Redick spacing the floor.

9. DETROIT

2016-17 finish: 37-47, 10th

Coming: Avery Bradley, Langston Galloway, Luke Kennard (rookie).

Going: Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Marcus Morris.

A venue change to downtown Detroit is the best move the Pistons have made since going all in on Stan Van Gundy, Andre Drummond and Reggie Jackson. Drummond has post-up and free-throw issues. Jackson had knee issues. Detroit’s struggling offense leans on Jackson to be injury-free and a scoring playmaker.

10. INDIANA

2016-17 finish: 42-40, seventh

Coming: Bojan Bogdanovic, T.J. Leaf (rookie), Victor Oladipo, Domantas Sabonis.

Going: Monta Ellis, Paul George, C.J. Miles, Jeff Teague.

Paul George’s planned 2018 exit hurt his trade value. Victor Oladipo returns to his college home state to pick up the scoring. The Pacers will try yet another point guard scenario after acquiring Darren Collison and Cory Joseph. After only two years, Myles Turner is Indiana’s mainstay and upside.

11. ORLANDO

2016-17 finish: 29-53, 13th

Coming: Arron Afflalo, Jonathan Isaac (rookie), Shelvin Mack, Jonathon Simmons, Marreese Speights.

Going: Jeff Green, Jodie Meeks.

The Magic are on trial this season for a new veteran front office that probably will shake up a franchise that is spinning its wheels. Experienced additions improve the team’s depth but a leap would be unexpected unless Aaron Gordon blossoms at power forward or Jonathan Isaac makes a rookie splash.

12. ATLANTA

2016-17 finish: 43-39, fifth

Coming: Marco Belinelli, John Collins (rookie), Dewayne Dedmon, Taurean Prince.

Going: Tim Hardaway Jr., Dwight Howard, Kyle Korver, Paul Millsap, Thabo Sefolosha.

When Paul Millsap left for Denver over the summer, it marked three consecutive years of All-Star departures that brought nothing in return. Mike Budenholzer is a great coach but this season probably will bring an end to the East’s longest playoff streak (10 years) with a rebuilding team in mercurial Dennis Schroder’s hands.

13. NEW YORK

2016-17 finish: 31-51, 12th

Coming: Tim Hardaway Jr., Enes Kanter, Doug McDermott, Frank Nkilikina (rookie).

Going: Carmelo Anthony, Brandon Jennings, Derrick Rose.

Trading Carmelo Anthony did not make New York any better than the last two seasons of 32 and 31 wins but the deal, coupled with Phil Jackson’s exit, at least allows the Knicks to start the process of improving. It is Kristaps Porzingis’ team and the burden might make him less efficient.

14. BROOKLYN

2016-17 finish: 20-62, 15th

Coming: Jarrett Allen (rookie), DeMarre Carroll, Allen Crabbe, Timofey Mozgov, D’Angelo Russell.

Going: Brook Lopez.

The Nets are in the early stages of transforming a team that was 41-123 the last two seasons. They become more enjoyable to watch, building on last season’s NBA-leading pace by banking on D’Angelo Russell as one rebuilding cornerstone. He’ll team with a healthier Jeremy Lin.

15. CHICAGO

2016-17 finish: 41-41, eighth

Coming: Kris Dunn, Justin Holiday, Zach LaVine, Lauri Markkannen (rookie).

Going: Jimmy Butler, Doug McDermott, Rajon Rondo, Dwyane Wade.

The direction is clear after the Bulls traded Jimmy Butler and ate contract buyouts for Dwyane Wade and Rajon Rondo. The Butler haul will depend on how Zach LaVine returns from an ACL tear and if Kris Dunn can improve upon his rookie season to fulfill his pre-draft hype. Robin Lopez is the team veteran.

sports@latimes.com


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