In recent history, LeBron James-led teams have been expected to make the NBA Finals with relative ease, and they have substantiated those expectations. However, the turmoil currently surrounding the Cleveland Cavaliers could potentially derail the juggernaut that has been the Cavaliers over the past three seasons. With that being said, the Eastern Conference appears to finally be open. Here, we discuss how this has happened, and who the main contenders are.
The East finally looks competitive
Over the past seven seasons, it would be fair to say the Eastern Conference has featured little competition. James has consistently led the Miami Heat and the Cavs to the Finals during this time, and with relative ease. James' incredible dominance looks set to be derailed this year, however, as the Cavs have been plunged into turmoil.
It's been a very lackluster offseason for Cleveland, and after a dominant three-year reign at the top of the East, which culminated in an NBA championship in 2016, multiple teams look poised to pose the strongest challenge yet. The Cavs will still be favorites to make the Finals, but it certainly won't be a cakewalk like it has in recent years.
Who are the Contenders?
Despite the turmoil and uncertainty currently surrounding the Cavs, they should still be considered one of the favorites in the East. Whether Irving stays or is traded, any team led by James and Kevin Love figure to fare well. The Cavaliers team is stacked with talent, and that could explain their dormancy in free agency this offseason. While losing Irving - if it happens - further diminishes their chances of toppling the Warriors in a potential NBA Finals rematch, that loss is not enough to suggest the Cavs will struggle in the East. The East is certainly wide-open, but the Cavs should reclaim it come playoff time.
The Boston Celtics will ultimately be viewed as one of the big winners of the 2017 free agency period. After adding All-Star Gordon Hayward and drafting Jayson Tatum, the Celtics are set to improve dramatically this coming season. Already Eastern Conference finalists in the 2016/17 season, it would not be surprising to see the Celtics representing the East in the NBA Finals in 2018. The biggest threat to the Celtics' Finals chances is not the Cavaliers, but their inexperience in big-game situations and their relatively young team. The 2017/18 Celtics squad will also be boasting a number of new faces, so chemistry may be an issue.
The Wizards were one of the surprise packages in 2017, and a deep playoff run may be just around the corner. With such a talented, young core led by one of the NBA's best backcourts, the Wizards look set for an Eastern Conference Finals berth in 2018, and potentially an NBA Finals appearance. The Wizards matched up well with the Celtics in the Eastern Conference semi finals, and they also challenged the Cavaliers in their regular season match ups. The Wizards' only notable weakness, much like the Celtics, is a lack of experience down the stretch.
The Raptors are an experienced playoff team who have met the Cavaliers in the playoffs numerous times in recent seasons. With the re-signings of core team members Kyle Lowry and Serge Ibaka, the Raptors are entering the final years of their current championship window, and the time is now for the team to capitalize on the Cavs' current perceived weaknesses. If the Toronto Raptors can continue their strong, consistent form, they could definitely emerge as the favorites to represent the East in the NBA Finals. The Raptors' biggest obstacle this season, however, is their aging team, which may struggle to compete with the younger stars in the East.
The Washington Wizards will shock the NBA and emerge as the Eastern Conference finalists in 2018.
Who do you think will take control of the wide-open Eastern Conference? Comment below!