We’re just four days away from the start of NBA training camp, and before we know it we’ll be frolicking through a meadow of poster-dunks and player drama as the soft breeze of shameless tampering tickles our noses. There are several intriguing plotlines that loom over the upcoming season and will end up shaping the hierarchy of the league. Here are three questions that we are excited to see answered in the Eastern Conference:
Did the Celtics have a Kyrie problem, or do the Celtics have a Celtics problem?
After the messy split between the Celtics and influential philosopher, Kyrie Irving, you might have forgotten that around this time last year things were going pretty well. Kyrie even announced before the season started that he planned to resign. But soon after that night the relationship sputtered, the team never figured it out, and the Boston’s title-hopeful season got squished and rolled up into a little ball like a child does when they pick a booger before throwing it on the ground.
The consensus was that the Celtics’ woes stemmed from Kyrie and his poor leadership, but was that really the heart of issue? Jayson Tatum was categorically unimpressive in his sophomore season, Gordon Hayward never bounced back, and the rest of their players struggled to find a consistent rhythm. Now that Boston is without their eccentric flat earth truther, they will have to show that they can win with those other pieces. If they have another lackluster performance this season, it might be time to consider that the Celtics’ stockpile of talented, young assets might not be all we once heralded it to be. And then we can finally accept Kyrie’s infallible wisdom.
Can the Sixers get over the hump?
The Sixers made a huge gamble bringing in star talent to join Embiid and Simmons, and it burned them. The Sixers dumped their depth for Tobias Harris and Jimmy Butler and fell short in the second round when they couldn’t make all the pieces fit. They enter the new season again with high aspirations and another star-studded line-up—but one that makes a lot more sense on paper. New addition Al Horford is a bonafide defensive anchor with deadly range, and alongside Embiid immediately makes the Sixers an elite defensive team. Their Josh Richardson signing also gives them another solid scorer and stout defender who won’t need to dominate the ball like Butler did.
Still, their depth is abysmal, and despite all of Ben Simmons’ strengths as a 6’10 ball handler, they will be left vulnerable against teams with talented, smaller point guards. Another early playoff exit and the Sixers may join the pantheon of the most disappointing rebuilds of all time, but they have a chance to right the ship this season. If their key guys can stay healthy and they get a couple role players to step up come playoff time, they might be able to finally get past the second round—and possibly more than that.
Who will be this season’s Nets?
One of the most charming stories of the 2018/19 season was the unexpected resurgence of the Brooklyn Nets. It’s fun when a young team arrives ahead of schedule, and the Nets did so, storming into the playoffs as a 6-seed and giving the Sixers their money’s worth in the first round. But who will take their place this year? The two most likely candidates are the Bulls and Hawks.
Despite a pitiful season last year, the Bulls have sneakily put together a formidable lineup, with a bonafide scorer in Zach Lavine, and excellent shooting bigs in Otto Porter and Lauri Markkanen. Meanwhile, if Trae Young and John Collins continue their scorching play from the second half of last season, and their teammates use their length and athleticism to fuel great defense and a fast pace, the Hawks will be able to hang with anyone. Both teams will need immediate winning basketball from their rookies—a lot to ask for—in order to slide into the playoffs, but in an Eastern Conference as weak as it’s been in half a decade, the last four seeds seem wide open and up for grabs. Don’t be surprised if the Hawks or Bulls push their way into a little meaningful April basketball.