Lebron James is in LA. Perhaps the most dominant player to ever play the game of Basketball has left the Eastern Conference, into the jungle full of predators that is the Western conference. There he will be facing off against the Warriors, having acquired even more talent in Demarcus Cousins, as well as the Houston Rockets, who will be looking to avenge their nemesis that knocked them out of the Western Conference finals. The situation in the Western Conference is interesting, and surely deserves a closer look. But here we focus on the Eastern Conference, which has finally become worth watching with Lebron out of their playoff bracket. This statement might seem odd, even insulting, but a look at the past years of the Eastern Conference will reveal that this is not a ridiculous statement. Lebron James has been in the last 12 playoffs in a row. There are a host of teams who haven’t had that many playoff appearances in the last 12 years. He has been in the NBA finals in the last 8 of those years. That means that his team was the strongest team in the East for the last 8 years in a row, since being in the finals means winning the Eastern conference finals. Raptors head coach Dwane Casey was fired after his first-seed Raptors were decimated in a 4-0 series against Lebron’s Cavs; Lebron has even ended a man’s career in the East.
“The King’s” absence in the East now leaves a power vacuum, one that will have a number of teams looking to fill that spot. These are teams that, before Lebron’s inexplicably dominant performances in the playoffs, have been unable to see the light the past few years.
The first team that comes to mind is the Boston Celtics. With Kyrie Irving and soon-to-be healthy Gordon Hayward at the center, with a powerful supporting cast that went all the way to the Eastern Conference finals even without Irving or Hayward, the Celtics are a favorite to reach the finals in the coming season. They have wonderful leadership under Brad Stevens, who is likely to carry the team through the season and the playoffs with effective leadership, and an effective front office that is sure to make good decisions in terms of player transactions.
The second team that is worth noting is the Philadelphia 76ers. They were an exciting team to watch this year, with exquisite young talent in Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid, with strong players in Dario Saric and Robert Covington. Already having attracted much attention this season, it will be interesting how the young talent, including last year’s first round pick Markelle Fultz, who had an anemic rookie season marred by injury, will have developed over the summer. While they were knocked out of the playoffs by Boston in a 4-1 series, with their younger players gaining more experience, they might just have a superteam of their own in the East.
There are a number of teams that are also still noteworthy in the Eastern Conference. The Indiana Pacers, who nearly dethroned Lebron but came short in a nail biting 4-3 first-round loss, will surely look to surprise fans again, with Victor Oladipo leading on the court. The Toronto Raptors, despite a horrific and frankly laughable performance against the Cavs in the second round of the playoffs last year, are still a strong team; they made a questionable decision in trading Demar Derozan for Kawhi Leonard, a trade that once would have definitely had the Raptors winning out, but with neither Derozan nor Leonard being thrilled about being traded, we will have to see how that trade goes down. But even though the trade may seem questionable now, Kawhi was a finals MVP, and the Raptors still have a strong team worth being noted.
With Lebron gone, the teams of the East finally have their chances to shine in the playoffs, to get a spotlight they have been unable to capture for nearly a decade. We will see upon whom the light falls.