After Paul George suffered that devastating leg injury that will keep him out for next season, the Indiana Pacers lost a valuable member of their squad. Without George, there is little hope for the Pacers’ title hopes in 2015. Although this may not take them out of the postseason just yet, let’s look at some threatening teams in the Eastern Conference.
The Cleveland Cavaliers are a favorite simply because they have LeBron James. Not only that, but they also have an All-Star point guard in Kyrie Irving and a future superstar in Andrew Wiggins. However, their front court could be their ultimate downfall. The main reason why James was so successful in Miami was because he had Chris Bosh pulling in rebounds and giving him extra chances. Last year’s number one draft pick Anthony Bennett was a huge disappointment, but he is the best option for next season’s starting forward position. For center, they have Anderson Varejao and Brendan Haywood, but they are old veterans that can be reliable in all 82 games next season. Tristan Thompson would make a good fit at the power forward spot and Dion Waiters will make a great back-court player that could compliment both Irving and James. It’s mostly wait-and-see at this point for the Cavaliers.
The Chicago Bulls look to be the favorite in the East as well. They have an established coaching staff that knows how to win with low-caliber players, but this year, they get Derrick Rose back…again. If Rose can stay healthy, this Bulls team will be Cleveland’s main competition in the Central Division. They signed Pau Gasol in free agency and landed Doug McDermott in the NBA Draft. All of the pieces are there with Joakim Noah coming off a terrific year, winning the NBA Defensive Player of the Year Award. Guys like Taj Gibson, Jimmy Butler and Ronnie Brewer will also aid Rose in chasing that elusive NBA Finals, somewhere they haven’t been since Michael Jordan led the way many years ago.
With the Pacers, Cavaliers and Bulls fighting for the Central Division, let’s take a look at some other potentially threatening teams in the East. The New York Knicks and Toronto Raptors will be battling for the Atlantic Division. Carmelo Anthony’s decision to return to New York will definitely give them a chance. Phil Jackson looks to make this team a consistent winner in the East and will have to go through the upstart Raptors in order to get there. The Raptors finished last season with the 3-seed in the East with a surprising 48-34 record. They did better than the Brooklyn Nets who landed a tight 44-38 finish. Coach Lionel Hollins will try to make his new Nets team a title contender this year. If he can’t get them that good in a short amount of time, the Knicks and Raptors will dominate this division.
The two most surprising teams last year were the Washington Wizards and the Charlotte Bobcats. Both finished with more than 42 wins, which is saying a lot for both of these franchises. The back-court combination of John Wall and Bradley Beal will definitely keep the Wizards in the championship race, but their front court will have to play consistently well in order to compete in the division. The Bobcats are now back to being called the Hornets and hopefully this rejuvenated team will make more surprises this year. With the Miami Heat losing some firepower because of the whole Decision 2.0 fiasco, the Southeast Division is wide open for the taking. Even the Atlanta Hawks are contenders after making the playoffs last year with a losing record. You can never count out everyone in that division. Unless you’re the Orlando Magic.
The Eastern Conference will definitely be more interesting this year and a lot more competitive. Unfortunately for the Pacers, their chance at a title shot is dampened with the George injury. Hopefully they can learn some lessons from Chicago on how to make the playoffs without your superstar player.