We are just over two weeks away from the ball being tipped in the 2023-24 NBA season. The Eastern Conference is shaping up to be a daunting gauntlet for whoever is brave enough to survive.
Superstar, Damian Lillard has shifted the dynamic, the Boston Celtics have kept their core intact, and the Miami Heat show no signs of slowing down now. Top powers in the East aren’t the only teams to focus on though. Teams in the top tier like the New York Knicks and Philadelphia 76ers are looking to take the next step as a franchise and weasel their way into the conference finals.
Just where do these teams stack up in our current Eastern Conference power rankings? Let’s take a look at that now with each team’s odds of winning the conference, courtesy of DraftKings. For more, click here.
The Lottery Hopefuls: Charlotte Hornets +25000, Chicago Bulls +7500, Washington Wizards +50000
While some teams in the Eastern Conference made big moves this offseason to bolster their team for a title this year, some teams did not. The Wizards were one of those. They moved Kristaps Porzingis to the Celtics as Washington continues to try and stack assets as a rebuilding team. While the Wizards may not win a lot of games this year, they will have a very entertaining team that scores a lot of points behind Kyle Kuzma and Jordan Poole.
Michael Jordan is now out as Hornets owner and a new era has begun in Charlotte. All-Star LaMelo Ball, coming off ankle surgery, and number two pick Brandon Miller will look to be the beacons of hope for a Hornets team with low expectations. Considering the assets they have moving forward, Charlotte will be a scrappy team night in and night out but will be lucky to see the play-in.
The Chicago Bulls are perhaps in the worst spot out of every team in the Eastern Conference given the uncertainty with franchise cornerstone Lonzo Ball. Ball has not appeared in a game since January 14, 2022. The point guard is hopeful that he will be ready to step on the court in the 2024-25 season. With that, Chicago is forced to play the waiting game while hoping more young talent in Ayo Dosnumu and Coby White take a step in the right direction in terms of talent development.
Building Something: Orlando Magic +13000, Indiana Pacers +13000, Detroit Pistons +30000
The Orlando Magic have one of the most intriguing rosters in the NBA this year. A scrappy team last year that had flashes of brilliance, Rookie of the Year Paolo Banchero, Markelle Fultz finally taking steps in the right direction, and the Wagner brothers are all factors that make this Orlando team a must-watch on League Pass. Last season, the Magic ranked 26th in the league in points per game. Given another year of experience and the core of the team, expect them to make noise and possibly sneak into the last play-in spot in the Eastern Conference.
The Indiana Pacers are a team with playoff aspirations this year. While the core is still young, Tyrese Haliburton has proven he can be a franchise player and will be for a long time with his max contract extension this offseason. While the Pacers scored the 10th most points per game last year, they were second to last in points allowed. If Indiana wants to take the next step as a team, they will need to buy in on the defensive side of the ball.
Led by Cade Cunningham and Jaden Ivey, the Detroit Pistons had a quiet yet productive offseason for the recent Eastern Conference doormats. Joe Harris was brought in to bring a veteran presence and lead one of the youngest rosters in the league. With young, promising talent in James Wiseman, Marcus Sasser, and more, this will be a scrappy team in the east.
Play-In Purgatory: Toronto Raptors +6000, Atlanta Hawks +2500, Brooklyn Nets +5000
The Toronto Raptors are one of the more perplexing teams in the Eastern Conference. A .500 team last year who parted ways with Head Coach Nick Nurse, it will be interesting to see where this team falls in the standings this year. While it is Darko Rajakovic’s first year in the NBA, it is tough to imagine a core with Scottie Barnes, Pascal Siakam, and O.G. Anunoby not being competitive in the East.
The Brooklyn Nets have rebuilt on the fly after flipping Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving for assets at the trade deadline last season. With Jacque Vaughn’s first full off-season under his belt and time for the team to gel together, the Nets could be a team that is a thorn in the side of the elite teams in the conference. A defensive stalwart led by Ben Simmons and Nic Claxton, Brooklyn will be better than advertised this year.
In Atlanta, the Hawks have not done anything to address their shortcomings last season. Atlanta Resigned Dejounte Murray to keep their backcourt together and brought in Patty Mills to come off the bench. While the offensive output from this team has been elite in the past, third in the NBA last year in points per game, they will need to address the defensive side of the ball before being a serious threat.
Could Make a Run: Philadelphia 76ers +750, New York Knicks +1800, Cleveland Cavaliers +1000
Joel Embiid and the 76ers seem to be a team banging on the door to be considered an elite Eastern Conference title contender. However, given the uncertainty with James Harden right now it is tough to project where Philadelphia will end up this year. The Sixers have made vast improvements in the coaching department as Head Coach Nick Nurse is an upgrade who will bring a new approach to the team. Tyrese Maxey is another bright spot on this roster who is primed to have a breakout season. Until this team exercises its demons against the Boston Celtics, though, it is tough to consider them title contenders in the Eastern Conference.
After finally winning a playoff series last year, the Knickerbockers are back and hungry for more. Their lack of moves this offseason does not help their argument for wanting to be considered an elite team though. While other teams made blockbuster deals, the Knicks remained on the sidelines, contempt of staying pat and running it back another year in the Eastern Conference. It will be interesting to see if this strategy pays dividends or if the lack of moves will set them back another year.
While the Cleveland Cavaliers were run out of the gym in the playoffs last year by the Knicks, Donovan Mitchell and co. will be back with a vengeance this year. The Cavs have brought in star power in Max Strus, addressing offensive struggles that plagued them last season, as well as bringing back Caris LeVert. Giving this team another year together given the young talent will be interesting to see given how the rest of the Eastern Conference stacks up.
Title Contenders: Miami Heat +1100, Milwaukee Bucks +180, Boston Celtics +180
The Miami Heat made seemingly no moves this offseason while losing key contributors in Max Strus and Gabe Vincent. It seemed as if those two players were the spark for the team’s success late in the season, making it perplexing to see both of them go. Although at this point it would be foolish to doubt Jimmy Butler and what he is capable of when the playoffs come around. Even if this team ends up in the play-in like last year, we truly won’t know what this team is capable of until the Eastern Conference playoffs come around.
In the Eastern Conference arms race to build up a title contender, the Milwaukee Bucks made a blockbuster move, bringing in Damian Lillard. Lillard changes the dynamic of this Bucks team, making a pick-and-roll with Giannis potentially one of the most unstoppable plays in the Eastern Conference this season. While depth is certainly a question for this team, role players like Pat Connaughton and Jae Crowder will be forced to step up for Milwaukee. Once the playoffs come around though, depth will get thrown out the window and the full potential of this team will be on display.
Last but not least, the Boston Celtics changed the dynamic of their roster while keeping the All-NBA core of Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum together. GM Brad Stevens has swung for the fences in an attempt for Boston to finally push over the hump and capture their first title since 2008. Bringing in Kristaps Porzingis and Jrue Holiday introduces a dynamic Boston has never experienced before. Similar to Milwaukee, depth will be a question for this Celtics roster. However, once the playoffs come around, all bets will be off in what should be the most competitive, electrifying Eastern Conference we have seen in years.