The Eastern Conference is always astounding. Whether it’s Cleveland disrupting Golden State after they recorded the best ever regular season record, or if it’s Chicago creating the most iconic dynasty in the sport’s history after years of Celtics/Lakers dominance, the East houses basketball’s historical knack for the incredible, and this year is certain to be no exception.
Brooklyn Nets Could Be In For Early Trouble With Irving
Brooklyn were nailing it. The jerseys were saucy, the players were class and the coaching system was falling into place nicely. Then last year’s playoffs happened. James Harden was injured, Kyrie Irving had been assaulted by a fan and Kevin Durant’s size 18 feet had turned a winning three-point shot into a two-point basket. The unbeatable team had been beaten by the eventual champions of the NBA. It’s not unusual for team’s to go through this sort of thing - teams get injuries and they get knocked out by the smallest of margins in every sport. But the 2021/22 season hasn’t got off to the best start for the Nets.
Sparing any political drama, it’s as simple as this. Kyrie Irving doesn’t want to get a Covid vaccination, and unfortunately for him, the NBA requires all players to be vaccinated in order to play in the league. With the season starting in just four days, Kyrie will not be playing for the Nets against the Bucks on Wednesday morning. Brooklyn’s shooting guard will also go without pay for however long he remains frozen out of the side, but the Nets will also be without one of their key team members in their starting five. Rumours of a trade deal for Ben Simmons were quickly quashed by the 76ers. For now, the Nets will just have to lean on the talents of James Harden, Kevin Durant, Blake Griffin and LaMarcus Aldridge.
Brooklyn to be NBA Champions (odds via Betfred): 9/4
76ers Still Haven’t Resolved The Simmons Problem
Philly’s duo of Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons have been partnered up for five seasons, with plenty of stars being added to the 76ers side to try and unlock a title-winning partnership, however nothing has succeeded so far. Jimmy Butler had more success in his first season on South Beach than he managed in Philly, with reports of a toxic camp around the team forcing the exit of Jimmy Buckets before the team even got a chance to get going. Despite their clear failings, Philadelphia always get in the playoffs. They frequently find themselves in and around the top of the standings by the time playoff season arrives but last season’s playoffs really exposed the weakness in the team.
Doc Rivers won’t take much more from Ben Simmons. The Australian has accumulated around $1 million in fines after skipping most of the team’s preseason in an attempt to get the 76ers front office to trade the 25-year-old this summer. Unfortunately for him, there weren't too many takers for a shooting guard who’s notorious for poor decision-making and a sub-par shooting percentage from behind the line. He’s going to have to spend the next week training alone and trying to make amends with his coaches and teammates if he wants to find a way back into a team where the fans demand so much.
76ers to win the Eastern Conference: 7/1
Can Milwaukee Repeat Last Season’s Championship Win?
It all came together for Milwaukee last season, with last season’s arrival of Jrue Holiday complimenting Kris Middleton finally getting his lucky break in the playoffs and showing that he belongs in a title-winning team. All this on top of the league’s most ferocious big man, Giannis Antetokounmpo finally gets the chip he wanted, much to the ire of the West Coast teams who would’ve liked the ‘Greek Freak’ to join them in the future.
Now the issue is whether the Bucks can repeat their incredible feat this season. They’ve lost PJ Tucker to Miami, who was vital to the team’s success in their close shave with Brooklyn in the playoffs. George Hill has come into the side after waiving his contract extension at the 76ers, but whether he will be able to perform man-marking jobs as well as Tucker is something in doubt so far. It’ll be a tough year to win with so many candidates to make the playoffs this year, but Mike Budenholzer’s side will be in and around the top by the end of the season.
Giannis Antetokounmpo to win MVP: 7/1
The 90s Throwback Is Here And It’s Glorious
The 90s were a glorious time for the world of basketball. Jordan, Pippen and Rodman were making up one of the greatest dynasties the NBA has ever seen, meanwhile the league was stacked with talent, with the All-Star teams becoming a real star-studded affair with Charles Barkley, Hakeem Olajuwon and Patrick Ewing welcoming new stars such as Kobe Bryant and Kevin Garnett into the ranks of the league’s elite players. The Eastern Conference won six titles out of nine, with the Bulls getting two three-peat’s broken up by two Houston Rockets titles. Detroit got the domination underway before Chicago picked up the slack, and now the Bulls are back, as well as the Knicks.
The Bulls have had an incredible summer, picking up twitter-hero Alex Caruso from the Lakers, small forward/shooting guard Demar DeRozan from the Spurs, centre Tony Bradley from Utah and playmaker Lonzo Ball from New Orleans. Zach Lavine has had to sit through a few attempts at a rebuild since he arrived in Chicago back in 2017, but rather than gambling on rookies and draft picks, the Bulls have finally brought in talent that’s ready for the league.
The Knicks have also emerged from the depths of mediocrity, with one of the league’s biggest franchises finally getting back on track to making the playoffs. The NBA’s most improved player, Julius Randle took the team to the playoffs for the first time in eight years last season, with help from former MVP Derrick Rose. It’s another exciting season for the Knicks, with the return of Kemba Walker, head coach Tom Thibodeau will be hoping for another coach of the year award and maybe a longer run in the playoffs, just like the nineties.
Chicago Bulls to win Central Division: 8/1
Will the Celtics ever click together?
Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown have had to be the leading cast members of the Boston Celtics story for five years now and are yet to make it past the Eastern Conference finals. But it’s now the fault of the two players. Former head coach Brad Stevens has made the move up into the Celtics’ front office this summer and will be attempting to create an environment that allows the two star men to shine and give Boston some offensive firepower, with experienced heads in the back court providing coverage and allowing the team to rack up more points per game than they did last season.
Al Horford and Moses Brown were part of the departure trade of Kemba Walker, two players who registered rebounds and assists for fun last season. Ime Udoka has been brought in as the new head coach, a student of Gregg Popovich at San Antonio Spurs where he was an assistant coach. But the success for the Celtics won’t come right away. With Walker being traded, they will have an extra $20 million to spend on salary in the next few four years, potentially allowing them to add more squad players or a third man to join Tatum and Brown as the figureheads of the Celtic’s starting five.
Boston to win over 46.5 games (Regular season): 5/6