Midseason Forecast: Predicting 2015-16 Eastern Conference Playoff Picture
Last July, I wrote an Eastern Conference prediction article that was expertly titled Way Too Early Predictions: Eastern Conference Edition.
(Editor’s Note: Yes, we know our old site looks bad)
It was even written before the Great Twitter Emoji War of 2015 that had DeAndre Jordan flip-flopping on his decision to stay with the Los Angeles Clippers.
But that’s what’s fun about expressing your opinions. Sometimes you’re right, and most of the time you’re very, very wrong. My predictions weren’t as bad as I am alluding to, but they looked something like this:
After the trade dud-line (thanks, @EthanJSkolnick), I thought it was practical to update how the East will probably (definitely not) shake out. I don’t really see the reason doing one for the Western Conference, where it’ll either be the Golden State Warriors or the San Antonio Spurs in The Finals. Regardless, this is the article I meant to write back in July.
Writer’s Note: Because I felt like it, I decided to do the rankings from worst to first this time. Deal with it! 😎
15. Philadelphia 76ers
In July, I told you to trust the process. But at the end of February, it’s getting really difficult to stay optimistic. There was a rumor that Sam Hinkie was floating Jahlil Okafor’s name around at the trade deadline, which is kind of nuts considering they selected him with the third pick in last June’s draft. Joel Embiid is in Qatar getting his knee worked on and the 76ers don’t know if he’ll be back by camp next season, and Nerlens Noel is a pretty decent role player but hasn’t shown anything spectacular.
The Sixers could have as many as three first-round picks in the 2016 NBA draft, but if Hinkie can’t draft impact players, this could be a really vicious cycle. They’ll have a ton of cap room in free agency, but so will most of the league with cap projections as high as $95 million next season. I don’t envy Sixers fans whatsoever.
14. Brooklyn Nets
The Nets are going to be a bad basketball team for a very long time. The KG/Paul Pierce trade moved most of their upcoming picks to the Celtics and it doesn’t seem like they have a ton of ways to improve quickly. And as I alluded to in my previous article, I didn’t see Billy King lasting long as the Nets’ GM.
Even though Sean Marks comes highly recommended out of the Spurs organization, it didn’t make sense why the Nets waited so long to name a new GM. Because Marks was officially signed as the GM on the trade deadline, Brooklyn stood pat at the deadline. I would have tried to move Thaddeus Young or any other pieces of value to any team in exchange for draft picks. With a bare cupboard, it’s going to be hard to dig out of the bottom of the NBA standings.
13. Orlando Magic
I really thought the Magic was going to be a fun team this year, and even though I didn’t predict them to make the playoffs, I thought they’d be close. After a pretty nice start to the year, the Magic had a nasty skid midseason and ended up being big-time sellers at the deadline. The Channing Frye trade made sense because they acquired a pick and dumped his salary, but the Tobias Harris move is still a head-scratcher.
After re-signing Tobias Harris to a four-year, $64 million deal in the offseason, the Magic decided that he was no longer a part of their future. So, they shipped him to Detroit for an injured Brandon Jennings and Ersan Ilyasova. Considering lots of other lower quality players were traded for first-round picks, it seems ridiculous that the Magic couldn’t get any picks back for a young player like Harris.
P.S. It’s the Aaron Gordon era in Orlando, which might be good timing as he had one of the greatest dunk contest performances ever.
12. New York Knicks
Kristaps Porzingis has been a nice pickup for the Knicks and seems like a cornerstone for the future, but I still can’t see New York doing much of anything with a large chunk of their salary going to Carmelo Anthony. Yes, he’s still one of the best scorers in the league and has actually been playing decent defense this year, but he can’t be the best player on the team at this stage of his career. The Knicks are armed with cap space in the summer and hope to lure a big name free agent to the Big Apple, but I have a bad feeling Phil Jackson & Co. will strike out again.
11. Milwaukee Bucks
The Bucks were my team that I thought they were finally ready to get over the hump. Kris Middleton is becoming a really good young guard in the NBA and with Jabari Parker coming back healthy, as well as the addition of Greg Monroe, I was expecting home-court advantage in the playoffs. I think the nicest way to put it is that I was dead wrong. Their defense is one of the worst in the NBA and they really can’t shoot. It’s probably the worst combination to try to win in the NBA. And with no moves made at the trade deadline, it’s likely Milwaukee attempts to change-up their team by this June’s draft.
On The Fringe
10. Washington Wizards
The Wizards are the East’s clusterbleep. They have suffered numerous injuries and anyone who has watched them play this year will tell you they’ve underperformed. John Wall is still one of the top point guards in the league and is getting better every season, but Bradley Beal’s knee injury makes their future very questionable.
Washington was actually buyers at the deadline and acquired Markieff Morris from the Suns. The move seems like a good one for both now and the future, but Washington gave them a first-round pick to acquire him. And if the Wizards don’t make the playoffs, it’s hard to believe a big free agent (i.e. Kevin Durant) will want to sign with them come July.
9. Charlotte Hornets
Coach Steve Clifford is a very good basketball coach and has done a nice job with the Hornets. If “Big Al” Jefferson comes back healthy, it’ll definitely serve as a nice push for their postseason hopes. Yet, the injury to Michael “MKG” Kidd-Gilchrist really hurts them, as he was their best lockdown defender. I think they’ll finish close to a playoff berth but fall just short of their goal.
2016 Playoff Teams
8. Indiana Pacers
Another team with a good coach yet lacks talent is the Pacers, but I think they have just enough to squeak into the playoffs and meet the Cavs in the first round. Paul George has come back to his All-Star form and Myles Turner looks like he could be a future star. The Pacers have a decent future ahead of them and have to like where they are after the devastating injury to PG over one and a half years ago.
7. Detroit Pistons
The Pistons are my sleeper team after the deadline and I think they’ll make the playoffs and give the Raptors quite a challenge in the first round. Tobias Harris for peanuts was an awesome pick-up and if the other trade goes down with Houston, Marcus Thornton would be a nice addition down the stretch. The Pistons don’t shoot well from deep, but they shoot often as Stan Van Gundy has brought Orlando-lite to Detroit. SVG has built a nice, young squad with an even younger core and the Pistons should be making noise for years to come.
6. Chicago Bulls
The Bulls will tread water while Jimmy Butler is out and will likely grab the 6th seed. I would have been big sellers if I were the Bulls, because besides Butler, they have some older players that aren’t going to make them contenders anytime soon. And if I were the Bulls, I’d dangle Derrick Rose at the draft and see if I can get anything at all for him. He’s done in Chicago after the 2016-2017 season. The Bulls need to get younger, and fast, but they seem to want to re-sign Pau Gasol next year. We’ll see how that goes for a team that likely missed its championship window.
5. Atlanta Hawks
Oh, how the mighty Atlanta Hawks have fallen. A year ago they were the best team in the East and had four All-Stars in their starting lineup. As I mentioned in my July article, I really thought losing DeMarre Carroll would be a big loss for the Hawks, and it has been. The Hawks picked up Kirk Hinrich at the deadline and shipped out Shelvin Mack (to the Jazz), so the difference there is kind of negligible.
Al Horford really looks like he’s headed to a big market or a warm climate, so it seems weird that the Hawks wouldn’t trade him, but teams continue to make the mistake of letting their FAs walk away for nothing season after season. And if the Hawks are comfortable with Dennis Schroeder, and don’t plan on re-signing Jeff Teague in 2017, then it makes sense to try to get value now with one and a half years left on his deal. I think the Hawks are in the same boat as the Bulls, and yet they both made the same mistake of staying pat at the dud-line.
4. Boston Celtics
I’m not sure what Danny Ainge is saving all his bullets for, but he’ll have to use them eventually. This seemed like a really good time for Boston to cash in some of her chips and upgrade their roster, but Danny Ainge didn’t make any changes at the deadline. Al Horford or Dwight Howard seemed like a pretty good upgrade at the power positions, but it’s possible Atlanta and Houston were asking for too much, respectively.
There was a rumor that Boston was going after Okafor, but nothing seemed to materialize out of that. The Celtics are a nice story, with one of the best coaches in the NBA, but it’s unlikely they’ll go too far in the playoffs with Isaiah Thomas as their best player.
3. Miami Heat
The Heat are still a giant enigma to me. I wanted to wait to watch the two games over the weekend before I wrote this article and I’m still confused. Riley made the only moves that were possible at the deadline and got under the luxury tax, which is really big. And Heat Twitter, let’s stop worrying about second-round picks. The last Heat second round pick that worked was Mario Chalmers, and I’m not sure how successful that really was. Plus, you can always buy or trade for a pick (i.e. when we drafted James Ennis).
It’s unfortunate that the Heat will likely be without Bosh for the second straight season because of blood clots, but we have to deal with the hand we’re dealt. And yes, I know the reports have been more optimistic, but usually, when a person is on blood thinners, his chances of playing a contact sport afterward are slim to none. On a more positive note, Hassan Whiteside off the bench has been really awesome, so hopefully Coach Erik Spoelstra keeps that up, and Luol Deng is an absolute monster at the power forward position.
Spoelstra knows that playing faster is definitely more beneficial for Goran Dragic, so he either needs to stagger the minutes a lot more between Dwyane Wade and Dragic, or he needs to read Wade the riot act and tell him to play a lot more off the ball (Wade was one of the best cutters in the league the last three years he played with “He Who Shall Not Be Named”).
As I tried to explain on Twitter last night, the Heat aren’t better without Wade, but they could be a lot better if he stopped demanding the ball so much. Pass, cut and pass again until you get the player with the best look at the basket. Hopefully, Miami can keep the wins up, the injuries down and grab a playoff spot after another tumultuous season.
P.S. If McBob keeps playing like an “And-1 Mix Tape” baller, these last couple of months should be super entertaining.
2. Toronto Raptors
I continue to doubt the Raptors and I continue to look like a tool. Yet, I couldn’t believe they didn’t make a trade last week. Most people thought they’d make a run at Horford or Thad Young to upgrade the 4, but the Raptors decided to not do anything. The Corpse of Luis Scola will continue to get big minutes at the 4. DeMarre Carroll returning from injury will definitely boost the Raptors, but Toronto is still likely to go down in the playoffs. We’ll see what #WeTheNorth has in store for us.
1. Cleveland Cavaliers
Even though I’d like nothing more than the ‘Cavs to not make it to the Finals, I just don’t see a team that can beat LeBron & Co. in a seven game series. David Blatt is out, which I thought would happen last summer, so it was a little surprising when he was ousted mid-season. But if LeBron wants Tyronn Lue to lead him and his band of Lue-sers (see what I did there, @cavsdan), then that’s what’s going to happen.
The Frye trade is interesting because you can never have enough shooters, but the ‘Cavs gave up a first-round pick, have to pay Frye for a few more years, shipped out LeBron’s “BFF” Varejao (who just signed with the Warriors, #TeamPetty4Ever) and really didn’t get a lot better.
Sure, the ‘Cavs can go “small” and play Frye at the 4 and Love at the 5 to surround LeBron with shooters, but that is an awful lineup defensively. Looking forward to the ‘Cavs to lose to the Warriors in the Finals again, except this time it’ll be in five games instead of six.
Bonus: Playoff Predictions
(1) Cleveland OVER (8) Indiana
(2) Toronto OVER (7) Detroit
(3) Miami OVER (6) Chicago
(4) Boston OVER (5) Atlanta
(1) Cleveland OVER (4) Boston
(2) Toronto OVER (3) Miami
Eastern Conference Finals
(1) Cleveland OVER (2) Toronto