Observer NBA writer Rick Bonnell predicts the regular-season order of finish in the Eastern Conference:
1. Boston Celtics: Whether by trade (Kyrie Irving), free-agent signing (Gordon Hayward) or draft (Jayson Tatum), GM Danny Ainge is great at assembling talent. Oh, and he hires sterling coaches (Brad Stevens), too.
2. Philadelphia 76ers: With LeBron James in Los Angeles, Ben Simmons might be as difficult a match-up problem as there is in the East. If he starts making jump shots, watch out.
3. Toronto Raptors: On two-way talent, the addition of Kawhi Leonard is a no-brainer. Now the question is how he will adapt to a new setting in a country and a climate foreign to him.
4. Milwaukee Bucks: Giannis Antetokounmpo’s presence made this the most attractive coaching opening in the NBA. Can former Atlanta coach Mike Budenholzer raise overall performance?
5. Indiana Pacers: It took until his third NBA franchise, but Victor Oladipo realized all that potential in his first season with the Pacers. He and Myles Turner provide young core pieces.
6. Washington Wizards: For a team that hasn’t won a lot, the mix of players seems to invite drama. So adding Dwight Howard is an interesting attempt at a quick fix.
7. Miami Heat: Fans sometimes ask how coaching affects victory totals. Erik Spoelstra is always on top of, if not ahead of, trends in the NBA. That keeps the Heat in the playoff mix.
8. Cleveland Cavaliers: The Cavs gave Kevin Love a huge contract extension over the summer. The question lingers: Is Love good enough to be the best player on a good team?
9. Charlotte Hornets: A new coach and front office, but the biggest roster move was drafting Michigan State’s Miles Bridges. Does a fresh coaching approach get this team to .500?
10. Detroit Pistons: Dwane Casey might have gotten stale in Toronto (or at least the corporate folk above the Raptors concluded so), but he’s a terrific coach/people manager.
11. Brooklyn Nets: Kenny Atkinson kept these guys playing hard long past any chance of them reaching the playoffs last season. But they’re still really young.
12. Orlando Magic: So much revolves around Aaron Gordon maxing out on his potential. Mo Bamba is a really intriguing rookie who will play multiple positions.
13. Chicago Bulls: The injury to Lauri Markkanen (elbow) is devastating to the Bulls’ competitiveness. They didn’t seem to have much fight this preseason.
14. New York Knicks: It’s too strong to say everything is on hold until Kristaps Porzingis recovers from his ACL tear, but new coach Dave Fizdale makes only so much progress in his absence.
15. Atlanta Hawks: Trae Young better be really good, because there will be a productive rookie in Dallas with a big-time, multi-position NBA future.