Monumental moves, like Jimmy Butler Going to Minnesota, show that we are in the thick of off-season trading. Big trades, along with the the NBA draft, could mix up which teams make the playoffs in 2018.
Here are my predictions for the 2018 Eastern Conference Playoffs:
8. Miami Heat
The Miami Heat finished 2017 with a 41-41 record, which mimicked last year’s eighth seed Chicago Bulls. That said, last year’s efforts were just shy of earning them the last spot in the playoffs. Chicago trading Jimmy Butler to Minnesota will have the Bulls falling out of contention, and Miami will stay put around .500. That will allow the Heat to steal the last place in the east.
In the draft, Miami selected Kentucky PF Bam Adebayo with the team’s 14th overall pick. Opinions differ surrounding this pick, but I think its weak. Adebayo was the third best player on an underperforming Kentucky team that lost in the Elite Eight. He will be a mediocre forward for the Heat, but he is not enough to push them back to the front of the conference.
7. Atlanta Hawks
Atlanta is struggling. Thankfully, the organization just traded away Dwight Howard, a.k.a., money pit. But, the team is just holding on to a mediocrity. Paul Millsap, if he stays, and Dennis Schroder will be enough for the team to hold on to the seventh spot, but this organization is slowly dwindling. Look for the Hawks to be in need for a rebuild after 2018.
6. Indiana Pacers
This is a tough spot. Paul George will make or break the Pacers playoff potential. He has one year left on his contract with Indiana, and if he is not traded away, he will carry the Pacers back to the playoffs. But, if Indiana decides to let him go, they will fall to the bottom of the conference. There is absolutely no depth on this squad. Rebuilding is in this organization's future. They just have to decide if holding on to George is worth another first round playoff loss.
5. Toronto Raptors
When analyzing the Raptors starting five, they seem like a solid playoff team. With Demar Derozan and Kyle Lowry as the guards, and Serge Ibaka and DeMarre Carroll at the 4 and 3, Toronto is just a center away from a starting five capable of competing with any squad. But, this team always fails to play up to their potential. That, with their endless injury bug, has the Raptors falling to the fifth spot in 2018.
4. Washington Wizards
Washington plays with an intensity and grit that can match any team in the NBA. John Wall and Bradley Beal mark one of the best guard duos in the NBA. Washington just recently confirmed that Marcin Gortat will wear red, white and blue for another season. The Wizards were just shy of an Eastern Conference finals appearance in 2017. Look for them to make it to the same place next year.
3. Milwaukee Bucks
A lot of people are upset with Milwaukee selecting Michigan’s D.J. Wilson with the 17th overall pick. I personally don’t think it really matters. The Bucks are a young re-building team. They are just two years behind Boston in the process. I see Milwaukee and Boston battling it out for the top spot in the east once Cleveland’s reign is over.
The Bucks won’t make it far in the playoffs, and I wouldn’t even be surprised if they lost in the first round. But, they will give everything they have in the 2018 regular season to show that they are a legit competitor in the east.
2. Boston Celtics
Boston is continuously showing why they are such a historically great program. The Celtics are patiently playing the system, waiting for their chance to, once again, dominate the NBA. Drafting Jayson Tatum gives them just the depth they need at the forward positions to start competing with the Cavaliers. The Celtics knew they didn’t need Markelle Fultz, because Isaiah Thomas already plays that dominate role. So, they traded, took Philadelphia's first round picks in 2018 and 2019, and got the player they wanted. Well done Boston.
1. Cleveland Cavaliers
The Cavaliers have at least one more year with LeBron, and you better bet he is just as hungry as ever. He isn’t going to let Golden State slow him down on his path to being the best player of all time. Expect some off-season moves to solidify this line-up, and expect LeBron, Kyrie, Tristan Thompson, and Love to once again push their way to the NBA finals. Boston could slide up and snag the number one spot, but there is no team better than Cleveland in the east.