Congratulations to the 2018-2019 Eastern Conference Champions, the Boston Celtics.
LeBron James departure from the Cleveland Cavaliers makes one thing abundantly clear; the road to the NBA Finals in the Eastern Conference runs through the City of Champions. The Celtics were one terrible quarter away from dethroning James a few months ago without the help of All-Star’s Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward.
The landscape in the East has changed dramatically but it is not as wide open as many want to believe. Boston, Philadelphia 76ers, Toronto Raptors, Washington Wizards and Milwaukee Bucks are viewed as the top dogs in the East going into next season.
The city of Toronto is in a frenzy today. Fresh off of the news of the Maple Leafs signing hometown hero John Tavares, the city received better news later in the day. The True King of the North is packing his bags going to the Western Conference. Good news Toronto, you don’t have to play James in playoff series ever again. Dwane Casey’s sitting at home thinking “you couldn’t wait until after LeBron made his decision to fire me”. What Toronto does for the rest of the offseason is intriguing. They haven’t been shy about everyone on the roster’s availability. Curious to see how much that changes with the departure of James.
Milwaukee is coming off a season in which they underperformed in the regular season. Giannis Antetokounmpo and Khris Middleton were able to will the Bucks to the seven seed going into the playoffs. In the playoffs, those two exploded as they averaged 25.7 and 24.7 points per game, respectfully. It wasn’t enough as they were ousted in seven games by the banged up Celtics.
The Bucks will bring back most of its core going into next season. They still lack elite shooting around Giannis, which the Celtics found ways to exploit during the playoffs. Milwaukee also runs the risk of losing Jabari Parker, who gave Boston fits during the seven-game series. Their decision to bring in Ersan Ilyasova may come back bite them in their efforts to retain Parker. Losing Parker is not ideal, because when he is healthy he shows elite offensive potential.
They signed Dwight Howard, that is all. No really, that’s all that even matters.
Philadelphia is coming fresh off a season in which the process finally came into realization. With Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons at the forefront, the 76ers made their first playoff appearance in six years. After easily dispatching the Miami Heat in the first round, Philly turned its sights to Boston. In the Eastern Conference semis, Boston quickly took care of Philadelphia. The Celtics only needed five games to send the 76ers home despite missing Kyrie, Gordon, and nursing a hobbled Jaylen Brown.
The 76ers came into the offseason with dreams grandeur. They hoped to create a juggernaut in the East, by adding some combination of two of James, Paul George, and Kawhi Leonard. Well, it’s July 6, and they’ve struck out on James (signed with LA) and George (Returned to OKC). A Leonard deal seems unlikely due to a lack of assurance as to whether they would be able to re-sign him next season due to not signing James.
Not to mention, they’ve already lost two key contributors to last year’s playoff push, with the departures of Marco Belinelli and Ilyasova. There are still shoes to fall, but Philadelphia entered the offseason looking to take a huge step forward. So far they’ve taken a few small steps back.
While the rest of the Eastern Conference stays in place, the Celtics continue to grow. With Irving and Hayward returning along with the continued development of Jayson Tatum and Brown, the Celtics are in prime real estate. The Celtics have the benefit of featuring three All-Stars while complimenting them with two budding superstar talent players. Boston has the recipe to win now, and for the next decade if Danny Ainge continues to play his cards right. Ainge has always shown a willingness to wait out James’ tenure in the Eastern Conference, and now is his time to rejoice.
The Celtics will enter next season, adding two all-stars to a playoff roster that made it within one game of the NBA Finals. There are always jokes about Celtics’ fans disgusting levels of confidence in the roster. Well, its time to celebrate boys and girls. The time has come, King James left the East. The Celtics became the Kings of the Eastern Conference.