Yesterday, restricted free agent Clint Capela reached an agreement to return to the Rockets on a 5-year, $90 million deal. With all due respect to the likes of Rodney Hood and Greg Monroe, Capela represented the last big domino to fall this offseason. Now that all the major transactions are behind us, let’s take a look at the Eastern Conference and determine who should be better, worse, or about the same heading into the 2018-19 season.
Note: my determinations were based purely upon offseason moves, so they don’t account for players returning from injury or player development. Teams are listed in order of how they finished last regular season.
- Toronto - If healthy, Kawhi Leonard is a huge upgrade over DeMar DeRozan. It’s like going from a nice, dependable luxury car to some sort of super vehicle Q would have outfitted for James Bond. Eastern Conference foes better hope Kawhi really does hate the cold. Better
- Boston - The Celtics brought back restricted free agent Marcus Smart, meaning the only significant change to the roster was late first round pick Robert Williams, who has trouble making flights. Of course, Boston is counting on Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward being healthy making all the difference in a potential title run. Same
- Philadelphia - As has been discussed ad nauseam, the Sixers are largely running it back from last season. Their starting lineup will remain the same after re-signing J.J. Redick, and Wilson Chandler, Zhaire Smith, and Mike Muscala will replace Marco Belinelli and Ersan Ilyasova on the second unit. Philadelphia is banking on internal improvement from Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons, and Drew Hanlen All-Star Markelle Fultz. Same
- Cleveland - The Cavaliers lost the greatest player of this generation. Again. But hey, at least the Browns should win a few games this year! Worse (much, much worse)
- Indiana - Tyreke Evans offers a lot of help as another playmaker alongside Victor Oladipo, and Kyle O’Quinn is a solid backup big man. The biggest loss to the Pacers’ rotation was Lance Stephenson, who was described by Kevin Pritchard thusly: “Sometimes he was the best player on our team and sometimes he was the best player on the other team.” Better
- Miami - The Heat did not have a draft pick and made no notable moves in free agency. Same
- Milwaukee - New Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer is all about spacing, and Milwaukee should have a lot more around the Greek Freek this season after bringing in Ersan Ilyasova, Brook Lopez, and Donte DiVincenzo. I think moving on from Jabari Parker was the right move - saying “they don’t pay people to pay defense” is a bad look. Better
- Washington - The Wizards locker room was already a mess, but bringing in noted team cancer Dwight Howard shouldn’t help matters. Austin Rivers, Troy Brown, and Jeff Green should improve the rotation, but John Wall now looks like he traveled back in time to warn the team they made some sort of fatal mistake. Same
- Detroit - The Pistons didn’t have a first-round pick thanks to the Blake Griffin trade, and their moves in free agency involved Glenn Robinson, Jose Calderon, and Zaza Pachulia. Not exactly a murderer’s row. It’s going to take years to sift through the salary cap quagmire Stan Van Gundy left behind in the Motor City. Same
- Charlotte - I think the Hornets need to bite the bullet and deal Kemba Walker to go full rebuild. It says a lot about how much people dislike Dwight Howard that he was one of Charlotte’s most productive players last season and people think it’s a great thing he’s gone. Miles Bridges’ outside shot still looked under development in Vegas, and we’ll see if Tony Parker has anything left in the tank (my guess is no). Same
- New York - Kyle O’Quinn was a valuable player to lose off the bench, but so far, the Knicks look to have hit on their draft picks with Kevin Knox and Mitchell Robinson. I also liked the gamble to see if a change of scenery does Mario Hezonja any good. New York’s fortunes this season will obviously depend upon how soon and how effectively Kristaps Porzingis returns from his ACL injury. Same
- Brooklyn - Sean Marks continued to wisely utilize cap space to replenish the barren state of the Nets’ assets. Even better, Brooklyn can finally keep its own pick when it ends up in the lottery next summer! The long Boston nightmare is over! Same
- Chicago - Wendell Carter, Jr. should be a long-term fixture in the frontcourt for the Bulls, and they have some intriguing young pieces. I understand the gamble bringing Jabari Parker aboard, but a starting lineup featuring him, Zach LaVine, and Lauri Markkanen should be...interesting defensively. Same
- Orlando - Mo Bamba has potential and keeping Aaron Gordon around for less than his max contract in restricted free agency was a solid move. Still, the “big trade” swapping unwanted contracts in Bismack Biyombo and Timofey Mozgov says it all about the state of the Magic. Same
- Atlanta - The Hawks acquired future Hall-of-Famer Carmelo Anthony. What a coup! Seriously, getting off Dennis Schroeder’s long-term deal and fully embracing the youth movement seems like the right move for Atlanta. I think they would have been much better off building around Luka Doncic than Trae Young. We’ll see. Worse (for this season)
A lot of teams are treading water in the Easter Conference right now. There looks to be a pretty clear hierarchy with Boston and Toronto at the top, the Sixers right below them, and then Indiana and Milwaukee as the potential dark horses. Every year injuries play a huge role though, and Sixers fans have to feel good about having a young core 24 years old and younger. In Hanlen we trust.