The Milwaukee Bucks led the NBA in wins in 2018-19 only to fall short losing to the Toronto Raptors in the Eastern Conference Finals 4-2. The Bucks won 60 games and star forward Giannis Antetokounmpo won the league’s Most Valuable Player award. Yet, Milwaukee couldn’t get over the hump and struggled against the more experienced postseason side of the Raptors.
Last season was the third straight in which the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs did not qualify for the NBA Finals. The Boston Celtics and Toronto Raptors previously failed to reach the finals despite being the best of the Association’s second-best conference.
Toronto Raptors a shell of their former selves
Although the Bucks head into the NBA 2019-20 season as the reigning Eastern Conference regular season champions, there are no guarantees they will reach the NBA Finals.
Rivals the Toronto Raptors are a franchise needing to be rebuilt after losing their star player just weeks after winning their first NBA Championship. The loss of Kawhi Leonard takes the Raptors from a 58-win team to a below 54-win franchise in 2019-20.
The Raptors still have many of the same players in place from last season, but Leonard transformed them into a team capable of overcome all challenges. Marc Gasol, Patrick McCaw, and Stanley Johnson were the Raptors’ marquee signings in the summer. None of the three are near the elite level of Leonard.
McCaw is a career 3.7 points per game player and somehow got a two-year, $8 million contract. Gasol is 34-years old and the less successful of the Gasol brothers. He played the second half of last season with the Raptors and claimed a championship ring.
Gasol wisely took his player option in the summer for an incredible $25.6m. The Frenchman did average 9.1 ppg and 6.6 rebounds in just 24.9 mpg for the Raptors. It wasn’t a bad return for his time on the court but Gasol is seriously overpaid.
The Brooklyn Nets are a year away
The Brooklyn Nets surprised everyone by signing both Kyrie Irving from the Boston Celtics and Kevin Durant. Their additions have changed the outlook of the Nets franchise. However, Durant may not be available this season.
Durant appeared at media day without a cast on his leg and is said to be shooting with Irving. The Nets could have Durant back in March from his ruptured Achilles although it was claimed he would miss the entire season previously.
The Nets were only two games over .500 last season and with Irving alone, they are not that much better. Irving seriously underachieved with the Boston Celtics during his time in Bean Town and showed he isn’t a leader. With Durant, the Nets are an Eastern Conference championship contender. Without the forward, they are an also-ran in the East.
So, which team is going to win the Eastern Conference? Don’t overlook the Philadelphia 76ers. If Joel Embiid can stay healthy and Ben Simmons takes more shots, then Philadelphia are just as good as any other team in the East. With the subtraction of Jimmy Butler and the additions of Al Horford and Josh Richardson, they are better overall than last season.