Top Contenders in the East for the 2019-2020 season

After a league altering offseason, the NBA sits in a position of unknowing.

The reigning Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard bolted for Los Angeles to sign with the Clippers and therefore pushing the Raptors out of championship contention.

The move also left a void in the Eastern Conference.

With a vengeful heart and a torn Achilles, Kevin Durant said his goodbye to Golden State and opened his arms to the city of Brooklyn. Kyrie Irving did the same, making the Nets an instant title contender once Durant returns.

With Kawhi gone, and Durant sitting out the next season, now is when the top teams in the East need to turn it up and go all out in pursuit of winning the championship next year.

Each of these teams has the potential to win the East, but currently, no certainty exists meaning several factors could tip the scales in any direction.

1) Milwaukee Bucks

The Bucks are in a great position to repeat as the number one seed with the departure of Kawhi Leonard. The Bucks are coming off a season where they had the most regular-season wins in the league, the league MVP in Giannis Antetokounmpo, and the coach of the year in Mike Budenholzer. If the Bucks can make slight adjustments, they could be holding the NBA Finals trophy at the end of the season.

Despite the Bucks success last year, they were not in many headlines this offseason. Milwaukee made moves that will keep them in championship contention, barring major injuries, with the bulk of their moves made to retain last season's roster.

( via OnMilwaukee)

The Bucks re-signed Khris Middleton, Brook Lopez, and George Hill. However, Malcolm Brogdon departed in free agency, but Wesley Matthews was signed as a replacement. While they will miss the role Brogdon filled, mostly as a shooter and facilitator, Matthews is a solid three-point shooter, who can help the Bucks on defense.

The Milwaukee Bucks are a young team with a great system led by an award-winning coach as well as the league MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo. If Antetokounmpo can improve his jump shot, and other young players on the roster find their true role within the system, then the Bucks are an early favorite for title contention.

2) Philadelphia 76ers

The Sixers, when healthy, are one of the most star-studded teams in the entire NBA. They have a superstar center in Joel Embiid, an all-star point guard with Ben Simmons, top-tier forward Tobias Harris, and Al Horford, as well as a young stud with potential in Josh Richardson. In terms of sheer talent, the Sixers are the best team in the East, but injury concerns and chemistry issues leave more questions than answers.

The Sixers have been one of the most injury-prone teams in the league over the last five years. Their best player, Joel Embiid has missed significant time so far in his career, and beyond that, injuries have affected his play and to some degree his physicality.

Embiid is not the only player with injury woes, as Ben Simmons missed his entire rookie season with a leg injury. While Simmons has been healthy over the last two seasons, there is always the concern that he could get injured again.

Regarding the teams fit and system, some have criticized coach Brett Brown for some of the problems with the team, but some simply have to do with how the team has been assembled.

(via The Sixer Sense)

The two best players on the team, Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons, are not compatible for the most part. Simmons was fifth in the league in touches per game last year, and Embiid was sixth. Both players need the ball in their hands to be effective but going back and forth through Simmons and Embiid is not the Sixers best option. Simmons is in no way a shooter, and cannot help space the floor in a way that would favor Joel Embiid.

Simmons is also a pass-first player, a tendency that is not compatible with Joel Embiid's skill sets. Embiid will not slide into the paint and catch a lob from Simmons, nor is he a knockdown shooter. In addition to these issues, the amount of time that Embiid and Simmons need to have the ball in their hands will make other star players on their team less valuable.

Both Jimmy Butler and Tobias Harris averaged fewer points after being traded to the Sixers in the middle of the season last year. Butler and Harris points per game dropped a combined five points, meaning Harris, Horford, and Richardson will likely see the same decrease this season.

Despite these concerns, there is no doubt that the Sixers have the talent to be one of the best teams in the league, not only next year but for many years to come.

3) Boston Celtics

While the Celtics lost both Kyrie Irving and Al Horford in free agency, there are still several factors that could allow the Celtics to compete for an Eastern Conference championship.

Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown, who both have the potential to become all-stars within the next few seasons, as well as established star point guard Kemba Walker, who will be a better fit for the Celtics than Kyrie Irving, are the new 'big three' in Boston.

They also have one of the best coaches in the league in Brad Stevens, who is known for his ability to trot out any lineup with success even if it means playing role players the majority of the time.

(via Celtics Wire)

Speaking of those role players, former all-star and injury-riddled Gordon Hayward along with defensive star Marcus Smart and rebounding monster Enes Kanter make up a strong Celtics' lineup.

When looking at the true potential of the Celtics, the best example to look at is not last season, but the 2018 playoffs. Without Kyrie Irving for the majority of the second half, then-rookie Jayson Tatum led Boston to the conference finals and pushed the LeBron James led Cavaliers to a seven-game series.

While there is no doubt that Kyrie Irving is a top tier talent, his fit with the Celtics was questionable. Now that Irving is in Brooklyn, Celtics' players have been allowed to present themselves as stars, and leaders of the team in the long term.

The one kickback to the Celtics and the reason for concern is their lack of superstar talent. Kemba Walker is a star player, but not good enough to take a team to the next level. What the Celtics need more than anything next season is for Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown to emerge as stars alongside Walker.

Tatum's stock rose to a superstar level in the 2018 playoffs but has not reached the same heights despite a strong 2019 season. He certainly has the potential to be an elite talent, but the 2019-'20 season must be Tatum's coming out party. For Brown, it will his fourth year in the league and a make or break year at that. Brown needs to show he can be a solid starter in the league and a complementary piece. He already fits well in Boston's system, but Brown needs to show he is more than a strong role player for the Celtics succeed.

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