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A Maybe Too Soon Eastern Conference Preview - Part 1

It’s never too soon to think about the future.

NBA: Philadelphia 76ers at Orlando Magic Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

The NBA Draft is done.

NBA Free Agency is also done. The major signings are, anyway.

Rosters in the league are pretty much complete, and the official NBA over/under win totals were released yesterday. Is it too soon to preview the Eastern Conference? Perhaps, but since when is it ever too early to speculate?

The Philadelphia 76ers finished last year at 52-30 — well above most expectations. This year, the Sixers over/under win total is 54.5. (For the record, I’m taking the under. Somewhere between 50-53 wins seems about right for this team. A lot has to break correctly for the Sixers to win 54+.)

Some teams in the Eastern Conference got better. Some got worse, and others decided to run it back. As of now, August 7th, how do the Sixers look compared to the rest of the conference?

Atlanta Hawks (24-58)
ADDITIONS: Trae Young, Kevin Huerter, Omari Spellman (draft); Alex Len (FA); Justin Anderson (trade)
SUBTRACTIONS: Mike Budenholzer (Coach)

Let’s review the Hawks offseason:

Atlanta traded the rights to Luka Dončić for Trae Young and a top-5 protected first round pick.

Then, they traded Dennis Schröder to Oklahoma City for Carmelo Anthony -- whom they later bought out -- and a 2022 first round pick.

From a future assets standpoint, the Hawks are in good shape. They have multiple future first round picks with some young talent. I don’t like Trae Young as much as others. (They should’ve just kept Dončić if you ask me.) John Collins was a nice little surprise last year, but that’s about it. Good luck to Lloyd Pierce. It’s a good thing he’s used to being on the bench of a team that loses frequently. There’s gonna be a lot of that in Atlanta.

Orlando Magic (25-57)
ADDITIONS: Mo Bamba, Melvin Frazier, Justin Jackson (draft); Aaron Gordon (re-sign)
SUBTRACTIONS: Mario Hezonja, Shelvin Mack

It feels like this question has been asked regarding the Orlando Magic for the last decade: “What is this team?”

Some of the parts of this team are better than the whole. In a vacuum, Bamba, Jonathan Isaac, Aaron Gordon, Nikola Vučević, and Evan Fournier are good players. When you put them together, that’s when the team turns into a black hole sucking the life and wins out of the greater Orlando area.

Let’s go back to Isaac. He’s only 20 years old, so giving up on him would be foolish, but he only played 27 games last year due to injury. No one (including Magic brass) really knows what he is, yet. That lack of certainty seems like an issue for a team that spent the sixth pick on him last year.

The Magic gave the only player worth a damn (Gordon) a new contract. He had a career year in points (17.6), but still only shoots 43% from the field and 33% from three on about six attempts per game. (Yikes.) There’s just too much “Huh?” and “What?” with this squad right now.

Oh, by the way, Orlando doesn’t have a point guard, so good luck, Steve Clifford!

Chicago Bulls (27-55)
ADDITIONS: Wendell Carter, Jr., Chandler Hutchinson (draft); Zach LaVine (re-sign); Jabari Parker (FA)
SUBTRACTIONS: Sean Kilpatrick

There is sneaky 8-seed potential with the Bulls if they get some breaks (i.e. Jabari returning to being the player drafted #2 overall, Lauri Markkanen not suffering a sophomore slump). The Bulls starting five could be Kris Dunn/LaVine/Parker/Markkanen/Carter, Jr. That’s a pretty decent starting five.

It was pointed out to me by another Liberty Ballers staffer (Adam) that some divine intervention has to occur for the Bulls to be good in any way defensively:

I do not disagree. I might disagree with the scope of needing “Jesus-level” defense from Carter, Jr. Above average is fine. I don’t need celestial levels of defense, Wendell.

Even if the Bulls don’t make a run at the 8-seed, their over bet (27.5) is worth a look.

Brooklyn Nets (28-54)
ADDITIONS: Džanan Musa, Rodions Kurucs (draft); Joe Harris (re-sign); Shabazz Napier, Ed Davis (FA)
SUBTRACTIONS: Dante Cunningham, Nik Stauskas

With all due respect to our boy, Brett Brown, has any coach done more with less than the Nets’ Kenny Atkinson? Sweet Lord! Look at Brooklyn’s roster the last two years. Atkinson has only lost 116 games. Honestly, wait until he gets some talent in 2049 when the Nets have a first round pick again and replicants are running wild across the nation.

Give this to the Nets, though. They’re taking wild swings. General manager Sean Marks -- a popular Sixers GM candidate -- traded for D’Angelo Russell last year. He also traded for Jahlil Okafor and Nik Stauskas to get ANY young talent on this roster.

This year, Marks took a swing with Musa -- MVP of the U16 European Championship in 2015 when he led Bosnia to its first FIBA title. He took another swing trading for the NuggetsKenneth Faried (maybe a deadline trade piece).

Brooklyn returns with Russell, Joe Harris (someone I wanted the Sixers to go after), Jarrett Allen -- who right now has the best afro in the NBA, and Spencer Dinwiddie. Their front office is definitely worth watching, but not much is on the court.

New York Knicks (29-53)
ADDITIONS: Kevin Knox, Mitchell Robinson (draft); Mario Hezonja (FA)
SUBTRACTIONS: Michael Beasley

Any talk about the Knicks has to start with the following question:

“Is Porzingis playing?”

There’s no official word, yet. Two months ago, Justine Ward of SNYTv talked to Walt Frazier who said that he’s not sure Kristaps Porzingis will play this year. This sentiment apparently echoes the opinion of owner James Dolan. If Porzingis isn’t playing, then you’re asking Enes Kanter and a rookie in Kevin Knox to provide the scoring, because they aren’t getting it elsewhere.

Knox allegedly has the potential to be a go-to scorer, but if you think he’ll have the kind of impact that Jayson Tatum had in his first year in Boston, that’s a little too much. The big difference, of course, is situation and head coaching. Boston’s is one of the best in the league, and New York has had the worst of the last decade or more.

On the plus side, though, the Knicks actually have a good head coach. David Fizdale -- of the “take that for data” fame -- takes over for Jeff Hornacek. That’s definitely an improvement, and Fizdale already becomes the best coach at MSG since Mike Woodson (2012-2014).

No coach since Woodson has had a winning record in his tenure. Sure, Fizdale is 50-51 coming in after a little over a season with Memphis, but it’s still an improvement over Hornacek.

It doesn’t matter who the coach is, though. If the Knicks don’t have Porzingis, it doesn’t matter. It sounds harsh, but the truth hurts.

Charlotte Hornets (36-46)
ADDITIONS: Miles Bridges, Devonte’ Graham, Arnoldas Kulboka (draft); Tony Parker (FA)
SUBTRACTIONS: Dwight Howard, Michael Carter-Williams

At what point do we send Danny Roman (Samuel L. Jackson’s character in “The Negotiator”) to Charlotte to negotiate the release of Kemba Walker? That guy is being held hostage in a life or death situation -- the life or death of the remainder of his career.

The Hornets have a new coach in James Borrego (from the Gregg Popovich tree), but the Hornets have been stuck in a holding pattern since their playoff appearance in 2015-2016. They’ve had the same record for the last two years (36-46).

Land the plane, Michael Jordan!

Either land it and do something to put players around Kemba Walker (presumably with Miles Bridges), or just power nosedive that thing into a fiery blaze and blow it up. Just do something.

The Hornets did eject the cancer known as Dwight Howard and inserted a temporary IV of Bismack Biyombo. It’s very weak medication, but it’s something. I guess. His contract stinks (two years left at $34 million total), but it’s $17 million per year and no increase.

Filling out the rest of that roster is Jeremy Lamb (blech), Michael Kidd-Gilchrist (still can’t shoot), and one of the Zellers. (I can’t remember which one because there are as many Zellers as there are Plumlees in this league.) Malik Monk. Oh! Malik Monk. Is that kid a bust, or does he need more minutes? I guess we’ll see if Danny Roman can successfully get Kemba out of Charlotte.

Detroit Pistons (39-43)
ADDITIONS: Khyri Thomas, Bruce Brown (draft)
SUBTRACTIONS: No one of note

Here’s why Detroit could be good:

Dwayne Casey is better than Stan Van Gundy on every… possible… scale… imaginable.

Blake Griffin, Luke Kennard, and Reggie Jackson are okay. Kennard needs to be starting at SG, by the way. In nine games as a starter, he shot 62% from three on 29 attempts. It’s a small sample size, but the dude can shoot.

Andre Drummond isn’t the best center in the Eastern Conference, but he’s better than most out there, so the Pistons have a slight advantage there.

Khyri Thomas could turn into a better shooting version of Marcus Smart.

Here’s why Detroit could suck hard:

Blake Griffin isn’t just made of glass. His molecular structure is that of a bubble that can burst at any moment. Griffin has played in 58 games in the last two seasons. Fifty-eight!

Drummond is still real bad from the free throw line (only 60%), even though he’s improved that number from 38% (not a typo) two seasons ago.

The Pistons have zero bench. They have negative depth past the starting five. Stanley Johnson, Ish Smith, Jon Leuer (injured), Jose Calderon, and Reggie Bullock is the Pistons’ bench. Yeah, that’s not good at all.

This concludes part one of this perhaps too early conference preview. The second half — with all of the relevant threats to make the NBA Finals — will be outlined later this week.

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