NBA preview: It’s all or nothing for Bucks in the East

Bucks star Giannis Antetokounmpo celebrates after a dunk against the Magic during a game last season.
Bucks star Giannis Antetokounmpo has a new maximum contract and two consecutive MVP awards, but no NBA Finals appearance.
(Ashley Landis / Associated Press)

The Milwaukee Bucks had the best record in the NBA the last two seasons but have yet to make the Finals, falling in the conference semifinals to the upstart Miami Heat in the Florida bubble in September.

Superstar Giannis Antetokounmpo is committed to staying with the franchise after signing a maximum contract this offseason. And the Bucks upgraded their roster. Will it be enough? The East has become top heavy with Boston, Brooklyn, Miami, Philadelphia and Toronto having title aspirations as well.

A team-by-team preview of the Eastern Conference heading into the 2020-21 NBA season.




2019-20: 53-19 (2nd)

Eliminated in second round by Boston

Hello: Aron Baynes (FA), Malachi Flynn (draft).

Goodbye: Serge Ibaka (FA), Marc Gasol (FA).

Outlook: Keeping point guard Fred VanVleet with a four-year, $85-million deal was a smart move by the Raptors that will keep them in the mix in the conference. Kyle Lowry remains the heart and soul of the team, but Pascal Siakam is the one with the all-around skills who needs to take another step forward in order for Toronto to advance out of the East.


2019-20: 48-24 (3rd)

Eliminated in conference finals by Miami

Hello: Aaron Nesmith (draft), Jeff Teague (FA), Tristan Thompson (FA).

Goodbye: Gordon Hayward (trade), Enes Kanter (FA).

From the expected load management to the unknown of a pandemic-stricken season with no bubble protection, the 2020-21 NBA season will offer unique challenges.

Outlook: Injuries already are taking a toll on the Celtics, as guard Kemba Walker will be out until January with a left knee injury and center Thompson is dealing with a hamstring injury. That means Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown and Marcus Smart will have to carry the load until the Celtics become whole.


2019-20: 43-30 (6th)

Eliminated in first round by Boston

Hello: Seth Curry (trade), Danny Green (trade), Dwight Howard (FA).

Goodbye: Alec Burks (FA), Kyle O’Quinn (FA), Josh Richardson (trade).

Outlook: Doc Rivers has bona-fide stars in center Joel Embiid and point guard Ben Simmons. Getting Embiid to be more consistent and Simmons, a horrible outside shooter, to use his other skills to his advantage will be the key. Tobias Harris is a nice third piece, but the 76ers lack depth.


2019-20: 35-37 (7th)

Eliminated in first round by Toronto

Hello: Jeff Green (FA), Landry Shamet (trade).

Goodbye: Garrett Temple (FA).

Outlook: The consensus is that the Nets have the talent to compete for an NBA championship. It starts with Kevin Durant, who missed last season recovering from an Achilles tendon injury, and Kyrie Irving. But the Nets have solid role players in Spencer Dinwiddie, Joe Harris, Caris LeVert and DeAndre Jordan. It’ll be up to first-year coach Steve Nash to bring this team together.


2019-20: 21-45 (12th)

Failed to qualify for playoffs

Hello: Alec Burks (FA), Nerlens Noel (FA). Austin Rivers (trade), Obi Toppin (draft).

Goodbye: Taj Gibson (FA), Maurice Harkless (FA), Bobby Portis (FA).

Outlook: The Knicks remain a team in transition under new coach Tom Thibodeau. Second-year guard RJ Barrett has to keep making strides while the forward-heavy lineup will feature Julius Randle, Mitchell Robinson, Noel and Toppin, who can score but will fight for minutes.



2019-20: 56-17 (1st)

Eliminated in second round by Miami

Hello: D.J. Augustin (FA), Torrey Craig (FA), Jrue Holiday (trade).

Goodbye: Eric Bledsoe (trade), George Hill (trade), Kyle Korver (FA), Robin Lopez (FA).

Outlook: The Bucks can feel safe now that superstar Giannis Antetokounmpo has signed a five-year deal for $228 million. Of course, the Bucks will go only as far as he takes them, and the two-time league MVP has yet to get them to the Finals. He got more help when the Bucks acquired Holiday and new role players.


2019-20: 45-28 (4th)

Eliminated in first round by Miami

Hello: Cassius Stanley (draft).

Goodbye: No key players.

Outlook: The Pacers, who have a new coach in Nate Bjorkgren, need Victor Oladipo to return to form after dealing with a torn quad tendon that limited him to 55 games over the last two seasons. Domantas Sabonis missed playing in the bubble in Orlando because of a foot injury and Malcom Brogdon missed 19 games last season with a quad injury. The Pacers need to be healthy to be a factor.


2019-20: 22-43 (11th)

Failed to qualify for playoffs

Hello: Garrett Temple (FA), Patrick Williams (draft).

Goodbye: Kris Dunn (FA).

Outlook: Billy Donovan left Oklahoma City to coach this young Bulls team. Coby White had his moments last season as a rookie. Zach LaVine can score, but his defense needs work and the Bulls as a whole are a work in progress, particularly third-year big man Wendell Carter Jr. Chicago has not made the playoffs since a first-round loss in 2017 to Boston.


2019-20: 20-46 (13th)

Failed to qualify for playoffs

Hello: Saddiq Bey (draft), Jerami Grant (FA), Killian Hayes (draft), Mason Plumlee (FA).

Goodbye: Luke Kennard (trade), Christian Wood (trade).

Outlook: Beyond Blake Griffin and Derrick Rose, the Pistons are a no-name team. Grant made a splash in the playoffs last season with the Nuggets, while the draft landed them Hayes (No. 7) and Bey (No. 19). But the Pistons were terrible last season and are not expected to show much improvement.


2019-20: 19-46 (15th)

Failed to qualify for playoffs

Hello: JaVale McGee (trade), Isaac Okoro (draft).

Goodbye: Tristan Thompson (FA).

Outlook: Too bad Kevin Love, once the third wheel on an NBA championship team, is stuck on this team that has no chance of making the playoffs. Cleveland, which features two talented young guards in Collin Sexton and Darius Garland, landed one of the best wing defenders available in Okoro with the No. 5 overall pick.



2019-20: 44-29 (5th)

Eliminated in NBA Finals by the Lakers

Hello: Precious Achiuwa (draft), Avery Bradley (FA), Maurice Harkless (FA).

Goodbye: Jae Crowder (FA), Derrick Jones Jr. (FA).

Outlook: The Heat will always compete under Pat Riley and Erik Spoelstra. Jimmy Butler has plenty of help in Bam Adebayo, who signed a five-year extension, Goran Dragic, who re-signed for two years, and young sharp- shooters Duncan Robinson and Tyler Herro.


2019-20: 33-40 (8th)

Eliminated in first round by Milwaukee

Hello: Cole Anthony (draft), Chuma Okeke (draft).

Goodbye: D.J. Augustin (FA).

Outlook: Though this squad lacks a star player, the Magic have been able find a way to get into the playoffs the last two seasons. Orlando has solid performers in Nikola Vucevic, who was a first-time All-Star last season, Evan Fournier, Aaron Gordon and Terrence Ross, and that core will help them compete for a post-season berth again.


2019-20: 23-42 (9th)

Failed to qualify for playoffs

Hello: LaMelo Ball (draft), Gordon Hayward (trade).

Goodbye: Nicolas Batum (FA), Michael Kidd-Gilchrist.(FA).

Outlook: Bad news for Hayward again. The All-Star caliber forward, who received a four-year, $120-million contract during a sign-and-trade, suffered a hand injury. He dealt with foot and ankle injuries while playing for the Celtics. Ball, the third overall pick, has shown signs of being a very good passer.


2019-20: 25-47 (10th)

Failed to qualify for playoffs

Hello: Deni Avdija (draft) Robin Lopez (FA), Russell Westbrook (trade).

Goodbye: John Wall (trade).

Outlook: The backcourt of Westbrook and Bradley Beal has the potential to be one of the best in the NBA, which is what the Wizards had when Wall was healthy, which wasn’t often the last two seasons. Davis Bertans, who re-signed for five years at $80 million, and Rui Hachimura need to be big contributors again this season.


2019-20: 20-47 (14th)

Failed to qualify for playoffs

Hello: Bogdan Bogdanovic (FA), Danilo Gallinari (trade), Onyeka Okongwu (draft), Rajon Rondo (FA).

Goodbye: Dewayne Dedmon (FA), Jeff Teague (FA).

Outlook: With Trae Young at the helm, the Hawks should make the playoffs. They are not only deep, they are young and loaded with talent in John Collins, Clint Capela, Bogdanovic and Gallinari. The addition of Okongwu gives them a physical presence inside.