East­ern Con­fer­ence

Team out­looks in pre­dicted or­der of fin­ish

Baltimore Sun - - NBA - By Jesse Dougherty

1. Cleve­land Cava­liers

2015-16: 57-25. Com­ing: Mike Dun­leavy, Chris An­der­sen, Kay Felder. Go­ing: Matthew Dellave­dova, Ti­mofey Moz­gov.

The path to back-to-back ti­tles has a large po­ten­tial road­block in Oak­land, but that won’t keep Le­Bron James and Co. from con­trol­ling the East. They didn’t make any ma­jor changes to the ros­ter, re-sign­ing shoot­ing guard J.R. Smith to a four-year con­tract.

2. Bos­ton Celtics

2015-16: 48-34. Com­ing: Al Hor­ford, Jaylen Brown, 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, which led the East in scor­ing last sea­son. But the Celtics are prob­a­bly a scor­ing wing away from be­ing a truly dan­ger­ous ti­tle con­tender.

3. Toronto Raptors

2015-16: 56-26. Com­ing: Jared Sullinger, Jakob Poeltl, Pas­cal Si­akam. Go­ing: Bis­mack Biy­ombo, James John­son, Luis Scola, An­thony Ben­nett.

The Raptors sought a floor-spac­ing for­ward in free agency and landed Sullinger, an up-and-down shooter in four sea­sons with the Celtics. If he doesn’t work out, they can pair cen­ter Jonas Valan­ci­u­nas with Pa­trick Pat­ter­son or DeMarre Car­roll.

4. In­di­ana Pac­ers

2015-16: 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 off­sea­son, but any Paul Ge­orge-led team has a lot of po­ten­tial. They likely will 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 Bulls

2015-16: 42-40. Com­ing: Dwyane Wade, Ra­jon Rondo, Robin Lopez, Michael Carter-Wil­liams, Den­zel Valen­tine, Je­rian Grant. Go­ing: Der­rick Rose, Pau Ga­sol, Joakim Noah, Mike Dun­leavy, Aaron Brooks, Tony Snell.

A po­ten­tial lineup of Rondo, Wade, Jimmy But­ler, Taj Gib­son and Lopez lacks a de­cent 3-point shooter. Coach Fred Hoiberg can change that by giving Nikola Mirotic “starter min­utes” off the bench. In Wade, Rondo and Lopez, the Bulls are re­ly­ing heav­ily on veter­ans with some­thing to prove.

6. At­lanta Hawks

2015-16: 48-34. Com­ing: Dwight Howard, Tau­rean Prince, Jar­rett Jack, DeAn­dre’ Bem­bry. Go­ing: Al Hor­ford, Jeff Teague.

Howard’s home­com­ing means the Hawks have to dras­ti­cally al­ter coach Mike Bu­den­holzer’s five-out mo­tion of­fense. Howard’s skill set teth­ers him to the paint, which will clog Paul Mill­sap’s driv­ing lanes and make shoot­ers Kyle Korver and Kent Baze­more vi­tal.

7. Detroit Pis­tons

2015-16: 44-38. Com­ing: Henry El­len­son, Ish Smith, Boban Mar­janovic, Michael Gbinije, Jon Leuer. Go­ing: Joel An­thony, An­thony Tol­liver, Spencer Din­wid­die, Steve Blake (Mary­land).

The Pis­tons will be with­out point guard Reg­gie Jack­son (knee ten­dini­tis) for two months. Smith will likely re­place him. Stan Van Gundy has a core of young tal­ent, in­clud­ing cen­ter An­dre Drum­mond and shoot­ing guard Ken­tavi­ous Cald­well-Pope, both 23.

8. New York Knicks

2015-16: 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 scenery change and bet­ter health. Rose, Noah and Jen­nings must lose their “in­jury-rid­dled” rep­u­ta­tions. With Carmelo An­thony and the im­prov­ing Kristaps Porzingis, the Knicks should turn around.

9. Wash­ing­ton Wizards

2015-16: 41-41. Com­ing: Coach Scott Brooks, Ian Mahinmi, Trey Burke, An­drew Ni­chol­son, Ja­son Smith. Go­ing: Jared Dud­ley, Ra­mon Ses­sions, Nene.

The Wizards put in bids for Kevin Du­rant and Al Hor­ford but struck out. Their big­gest ac­qui­si­tion was ca­reer backup cen­ter 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 Hor­nets

2015-16: 48-34. Com­ing: Marco Be­linelli, Roy Hib­bert, Ra­mon Ses­sions. Go­ing: Al Jefferson, Court­ney Lee, Jeremy Lin.

The Hor­nets will strug­gle with­out Jefferson’s in­side scor­ing. His de­par­ture will force them to space the floor and let Kemba Walker and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist at­tack the rim. An ac­tive de­fense will help while they sort out their of­fen­sive iden­tity.

11. Or­lando Magic

2015-16: 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 have one of the NBA’s most puz­zling ros­ters, with so many big men and only so many min­utes to go around. Ibaka, Biy­ombo and Green joined a front­court that al­ready had the tal­ented Nikola Vuce­vic and Aaron Gor­don. Evan Fournier is the only re­li­able shooter.

12. Mil­wau­kee Bucks

2015-16: 33-49. Com­ing: Mirza Tele­tovic, Michael Beasley, Matthew Dellave­dova, Tony Snell, Thon Maker, Ja­son Terry. Go­ing: Jer­ryd Bay­less, Michael Carter-Wil­liams, Greivis Vasquez (Mary­land), Tyler En­nis.

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

13. Mi­ami Heat

2015-16: 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 late in free agency forced Pat Ri­ley to spend his money on mid-level re­place­ments, then Chris Bosh failed his phys­i­cal. The Heat have a good pick-and-roll combo in Goran Dragic and Has­san White­side and a promis­ing wing in Jus­tise Winslow.

14. Philadel­phia 76ers

2015-16: 10-72. Com­ing: Ben Sim­mons, Dario Saric, 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 pick Sim­mons will be side­lined for about three months with a frac­tured right foot.

15. Brook­lyn Nets

2015-16: 21-61. Com­ing: Jeremy Lin, Randy Foye, Greivis Vasquez, Caris LeVert, Luis Scola, Trevor Booker, An­thony Ben­nett. Go­ing: Thad­deus Young, Jar­rett Jack, Wayne Elling­ton.

The Nets missed out on a top-five pick be­cause of a 2013 trade for Paul Pierce, Kevin Gar­nett and Ja­son Terry from the Celtics. None of those veter­ans is still around, and the Nets are try­ing to re­build with­out draft picks.

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