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NBA preview: Bucks still favored to win the East

Bucks forward Giannis Antetokounmpo flexes after dunking against the Wizards during a preseason game on Oct. 13, 2019.
Bucks forward Giannis Antetokounmpo should have plenty to flex about this season
(Patrick Semansky / Associated Press)

A look at how the Eastern Conference teams stack up in predicted order of finish:

1. MILWAUKEE

2018-19: 60-22 (1st; eliminated 4-2 in East finals by Toronto)

HELLO: Wesley Matthews (FA), Robin Lopez (FA). GOODBYE: Malcolm Brogdon (trade), Nikola Mirotic (overseas).

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Milwaukee lost a 50-40-90 shooter in Brogdon, a valuable stretch big in Mirotic and didn’t do anything too high profile this summer. So why are the Bucks going to win the East? Because Giannis Antetokounmpo, the NBA’s reigning most valuable player, hasn’t reached his full potential, and if he takes another step toward it this season, that’ll more than make up for any losses of personnel.

2. PHILADELPHIA

2018-19: 51-31 (3rd; eliminated 4-3 in semifinals by Toronto)

HELLO: Al Horford (FA), Josh Richardson (trade). GOODBYE: Jimmy Butler (trade), JJ Redick (FA).

Veteran big man Al Horford is an underrated difference-maker on defense and unheralded offensive player who can make the difference for Philadelphia.

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Philadelphia made the most out of losing Butler by dealing him for Richardson, and Horford is the kind of player who can make all the difference in a playoff series. No team has more size and there’s lots of talent, but people still have big questions. The biggest? Is there enough shooting here? Tobias Harris needs to improve on the 32.6% he shot after being dealt to the 76ers last season.

3. BOSTON

2018-19: 49-33 (4th; eliminated 4-1 in semifinals by Milwaukee)

HELLO: Kemba Walker (trade), Enes Kanter (FA). GOODBYE: Kyrie Irving (FA), Terry Rozier (trade).The Celtics’ 2019-20 season will, in a lot of ways, give us insight into exactly what went wrong with last season’s underachieving squad. Was it all Irving’s fault as some out of Boston would have you believe? We’ll see how Walker fills that void. Maybe it was young star Jayson Tatum’s attitude that derailed the team’s push for the NBA Finals? We’ll likely find out soon enough.

4. BROOKLYN

2019-19: 42-40 (6th; eliminated 4-1 in 1st round by Philadelphia)

HELLO: Kyrie Irving (FA), Kevin Durant (trade), DeAndre Jordan (FA). GOODBYE: D’Angelo Russell (trade), DeMarre Carroll (FA).

The Brooklyn Nets were the biggest winners in the East in free agency, signing two of the top players available — and outgunning the New York Knicks to get them. But Durant is still coming off an Achilles tendon injury that will keep him out all season, and the Nets won’t be able to sneak up on anyone this year. They’ve got a lot of depth and will be a handful even without Durant.

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5. INDIANA

2018-19: 48-34 (5th; eliminated 4-0 in 1st round by Boston)

HELLO: Malcolm Brogdon (trade), T.J. Warren (trade), Jeremy Lamb (FA). GOODBYE: Thaddeus Young (FA), Darren Collison (retirement).

The Pacers are kind of like Portland East, a team that’s regularly underestimated and always performs in the regular season and proves doubters wrong. The big difference? The Pacers don’t have the same star power that propelled Portland to the Western Conference finals. The closest thing they have is All-Star Victor Oladipo, who likely will be out for at least a month as he recovers from a devastating leg injury that he sustained last season.

6. ORLANDO

2018-19: 42-40 (7th; eliminated 4-1 in first round by Toronto)

HELLO: Al Farouq-Aminu (FA). NO GOODBYES.

The NBA’s summer played out almost biblically as pairs of superstars joined forces from Los Angeles, to Houston, to Brooklyn.
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eet the new Orlando Magic, same as the old Orlando Magic. Last season, they made a second-half push to force their way into the postseason, taking a road game from the eventual champions before being ousted. Here’s what we know about them — they’ve got a lot of size and defensive versatility. And if Markelle Fultz, the former No. 1 pick they dealt for last season, contributes meaningfully, sixth might be too low.

7. TORONTO

2018-19: 58-24 (2nd; NBA champions)

HELLO: Stanley Johnson (FA), Rondae Hollis-Jefferson (FA). GOODBYE: Kawhi Leonard (FA).

No team has a weirder offseason balance sheet than the Raptors. Going out? Maybe the best player ever to wear a Raptors uniform in Leonard, the reigning NBA Finals most valuable player. Coming in? There are a couple of young wings who have never found their niche in the NBA. Kyle Lowry’s extension would suggest a full-on rebuild isn’t imminent, as the Raptors want to see whether Pascal Siakam can be an All-Star-caliber player.

8. MIAMI

2018-19: 39-43 (10th)

HELLO: Jimmy Butler (trade), Tyler Herro (draft). GOODBYE: Hassan Whiteside (trade), Josh Richardson (trade), Dwyane Wade (retirement).

The Heat looked stuck in salary cap hell, destined for more of the same until Butler forced his way to Miami via a sign-and-trade deal. Now, they have a clear star to play with some interesting young players (Justice Winslow, Bam Adebayo) and a healthy, free-agent-to-be Goran Dragic. The Heat could have another trade up their sleeves (maybe for Chris Paul) and could be a contender if they pull it off.

9. DETROIT

2018-19: 41-41 (8th; eliminated 4-0 in 1st round by Milwaukee)

HELLO: Derrick Rose (FA), Markieff Morris (FA). GOODBYE: Stanley Johnson (FA).

The argument for the Pistons returning to the playoffs, and maybe even pushing up higher than eighth, relies on Blake Griffin and the star forward’s ability to stay on the court. Largely, he was healthy last season and he delivered an All-NBA campaign. He’ll need to do it again. It’s a critical season in Detroit with decisions needing to be made, primarily with Andre Drummond, who is a free agent next summer.

10. ATLANTA

2018-19: 29-53 (11th)

HELLO: De’Andre Hunter (draft), Cam Reddish (draft), Evan Turner (trade). GOODBYE: Dewayne Dedmon (FA), Taurean Prince (trade).

There’s a lot to like about Atlanta, one of the best young teams in the Eastern Conference. It’s hard to believe that Trae Young and John Collins won’t push the Hawks to a playoff return — it’s just more a matter of when. Hunter should be an immediate contributor on a team that has pretty good depth despite some holes, particularly at center.

11. CHICAGO

2018-19: 22-60 (13th)

HELLO: Thaddeus Young (FA), Tomas Satoransky (trade), Coby White (draft). GOODBYE: Robin Lopez (FA).

The Bulls’ moves this summer went largely under the radar, though people around the NBA were quietly impressed with the Young and Satoransky deals. They essentially made their biggest move last season, trading for Otto Porter Jr. There’s more talent here than in the past, but a playoff push seems more like a best-case scenario than a probability.

12. CLEVELAND

2018-19: 19-63 (14th)

HELLO: Darius Garland (draft), Dylan Windler (draft), Kevin Porter Jr. (draft). NO GOODBYES.

Who wins new fight for L.A. might be main question this season, but others include who will be next star to get traded and if Lakers are in playoffs, who is out?

For a team that won 19 games last season, there are actually some reasons for optimism here. Collin Sexton, last year’s first-round pick, hit more than 40% of his threes last season while averaging 16.7 points. The Cavaliers add three first-round picks with considerable talent. And, they’ll get back Kevin Love, who is healthy (for now). They could trade him, but they also could build around him.

13. NEW YORK

2018-19: 17-65 (15th)

HELLO: R.J. Barrett (draft), Julius Randle (FA), Bobby Portis (FA), Taj Gibson (FA), Marcus Morris (FA), Elfrid Payton (FA). GOODBYE: DeAndre Jordan (FA), Emmanuel Mudiay (FA).

You know you didn’t meet fan expectations when you issue a statement apologizing for whiffing in free agency. That wasn’t even the weirdest thing the Knicks did this summer. They signed seemingly every free-agent power forward. Instead of Zion Williamson, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant, the Knicks will introduce Portis, Gibson, Morris and Randle.

14. WASHINGTON

2018-19: 32-50 (11th)

HELLO: Rui Hachimura (draft), Isaiah Thomas (FA), Ish Smith (FA). GOODBYE: Jeff Green (FA), Trevor Ariza (FA), Tomas Satoransky (FA).

If, and it’s a big if, the Wizards keep Bradley Beal and get back a productive John Wall after his Achilles injury, this prediction might be incorrect. A more likely scenario feels like Beal either getting dealt or going it mostly alone while Wall gets all the rust off. And Beal, coming off a breakout season, will have to do it with an even worse supporting cast than last season. This could be the start of a total teardown.

15. CHARLOTTE

2018-19: 39-43 (9th)

HELLO: Terry Rozier (trade), P.J. Washington (draft). GOODBYE: Kemba Walker (trade), Jeremy Lamb (FA).

It was a puzzling offseason for the Hornets, who decided to hang on to Walker last season with his departure viewed as almost a lock instead of dealing him. And then instead of just letting him walk, they decided to replace him with Rozier in a costly sign-and-trade. There’s not a clear path up for the Hornets that doesn’t start with them going all the way to the bottom.


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