The 2017-18 NBA season arrives Tuesday and with it speculation that a team other than the Cleveland Cavaliers could make it out of the Eastern Conference.
In an offseason littered with bold moves, the Boston Celtics executed the most shocking of them all in an attempt to unseat the Cavs. Boston's biggest addition came from Cleveland, scooping up Kyrie Irving after the beleaguered point guard demanded a trade. The Celtics lost Isaiah Thomas and Jae Crowder in the process.
Beyond the Cavs and Celtics, teams such as the Washington Wizards, Toronto Raptors and Milwaukee Bucks will be eyeing playoff glory with improved rosters. All that said, here is your 2017 NBA Eastern Conference preview.
Boston Celtics — Somehow, in an offseason that saw Chris Paul, Paul George and Carmelo Anthony move to Western Conference teams, the Celtics pulled off one of the most shocking trades of the decade. Irving is a superstar ready to blossom out of James' shadow. His presence should give the Celtics a legitimate chance of reaching the NBA Finals. Boston also went out and added Gordon Hayward to give Irving some help on the wing. Sending Avery Bradley — the team's best perimeter defender — to the Pistons for inconsistent power forward Marcus Morris didn't make a ton of sense, but Morris should start alongside Al Horford in the paint.
Charlotte Hornets — Acquiring Dwight Howard may have been controversial, but he brings instant muscle to the paint. Howard is one of the best area rebounders in the NBA. His offense never really developed away from the basket, but the Hornets have plenty of stretch 4s they can play alongside him. Drafting Kentucky's Malik Monk in the first round provided the Hornets with another elite shooter who also can run the point. This team should be deeper and more physical than last season.
Philadelphia 76ers — After years of losing seasons, Philadelphia finally appear ready to make a playoff push. Ben Simmons has returned after missing his entire rookie season, Joel Embiid showed promise as a dominant center before ending last season with yet another injury, and the 76ers selected Markelle Fultz with the top pick in this year's draft. Though all three carry significant injury risk, they also have the potential to lift this franchise out of the abyss. Watch out for power forward Dario Saric.
Chicago Bulls — Jimmy Butler, Dwyane Wade and Rajon Rondo are gone. In their place, Kris Dunn, Zach LaVine and Bobby Portis will be asked to win games. The Bulls selected seven-footer Lauri Markkanen in the first round and still have Denzel Valentine, a lottery pick in 2016, but this roster is devoid of proven talent.
New York Knicks — New York finally dealt Carmelo Anthony, sending him to Oklahoma City to team with Russell Westbrook and Paul George. The Knicks weren't going to make the playoffs anyway, but now they face an uphill climb to avoid the Eastern Conference cellar. French rookie Frank Ntilikina may start at point guard, proving this team is geared for the future.
Kevin Love — No longer the third wheel in Cleveland's high-powered offense, Love will be integral to the Cavs' ability to reach a fourth straight NBA Finals. Likely moving to center, he will have the flexibility to move around in the paint and pop out for three-point attempts. Love's ability to knock down open jumpers should alleviate pressure on James. It also will space the floor for Thomas to become a true triple-threat option running the offense.
Jonathan Isaac, Orlando Magic — Isaac has flown under the radar since becoming the number six overall pick in this year's NBA Draft, but the 6ft10 former Florida State star can play above the rim or stretch the floor with a solid shooting touch. Though still raw, Isaac has impressed enough to garner major minutes as a rookie. The Magic may have found a steal if he's able to refine his ball-handling enough to further create his own shots.
The Pistons win a playoff series. The nucleus of Reggie Jackson, Andre Drummond and Tobias Harris should improve this season. Jackson fought through injuries early last year, and Drummond was taken out of games late due to poor defense and free-throw shooting. They should be closer to their 2015-16 form this season.
Adding Bradley and Luke Kennard to the wings opens more space for coach Stan Van Gundy's pick-and-roll offense. Expect Detroit to earn a number six seed and knock off the number three-seeded Raptors or Wizards to reach the Eastern Conference semi-finals.
Cavaliers — Cleveland remains the favorite until proved otherwise. The loss of Irving will sting, but Thomas is a capable fill-in. The Cavs' offseason moves left them older than last year but also deeper. Though Wade and Derrick Rose are past their primes, they can provide solid production off the bench. Crowder, an underrated piece in the Irving trade, can knock down three-pointers and guard an opposing team's top wing threat.
The Celtics worked hard this offseason to try and usurp the Cavs. Boston are set up better in the long run with Irving, Jayson Tatum, Marcus Smart and Jaylen Brown on the roster, but Cleveland will earn the number one seed and defeat Boston in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals.
|Aussies sweating on Marsh fitness|
|Lakers rally past Bulls|
|That´s not how I´d want my players to act - Root bemused by Lyon|
|MLS Review: Sounders a step closer to final, Crew and Toronto in stalemate|
|Earl suffers ACL injury as NRL return is put on hold|
|Ben Yedder trolls Liverpool after dramatic Sevilla comeback|
|Maxwell called into Ashes squad as cover for Warner|
|´World class´ Insigne can´t be rested – Sarri|
|Smith: Australia considering replacement for Warner|
|I say one thing and you write something else - Angry Ronaldo brushes off media|
|Yankees All-Star Judge undergoes shoulder surgery|
|Griezmann needs support of Atletico and fans – Simeone|
|Monaco paid for mistakes in Champions League exit - Jardim|
|We had to rely on personal pride - Berizzo praises Sevilla´s stunning comeback|
|Championship Review: Coleman loses first Sunderland game, Fulham win nine-goal thriller|
|City fans get first sight of local star they crave in Phil Foden|
|Gunes wants more after historic Besiktas Champions League qualification|
|Allegri plays down Dybala-Messi comparisons|
|Extra rest helped Rose shine in Dortmund – Pochettino|
|Zidane: We knew Ronaldo, Benzema goals would come|
|It feels like we lost - Klopp frustrated at Liverpool´s second-half collapse|
|It depends on Foden - Guardiola puts ball in teenager´s court|
|Siddle excited by Smith´s duel with Root|
|Postecoglou leaves Australia post|
|Ronaldo overtakes Messi in Champions League goalscoring race|
|Manchester City 1 Feyenoord 0: Sterling strikes late as top spot is clinched|
|Sevilla 3 Liverpool 3: Klopp´s side fail to survive Spanish inquisition|
|Borussia Dortmund 1 Tottenham 2: Son grabs winner as Spurs seal top spot|
|Napoli 3 Shakhtar Donetsk 0: Insigne stunner helps keep knockout hopes alive|
|APOEL 0 Real Madrid 6: Record-breaking Ronaldo and Benzema send holders through in style|
|Monaco 1 RB Leipzig 4: Werner brace dumps Ligue 1 champions out|
|Memorable Ashes Moments: Triple wicket-maiden for destructive Johnson|
|Ronaldo breaks record for Champions League goals in a calendar year|
|´World´s Fastest Gamer´ wins McLaren F1 simulator role|
|History against England in Brisbane, as Cook targets Gabba milestone - the Ashes in Opta facts|
|I wanted to cry with Buffon - Rakitic sympathy for Italy great|
|Defiant Smalling responds to ´surprise´ England omission|
|Hughes ruled out of Samoa clash as Watson, Joseph omitted|
|MLB great Joe Morgan urges voters not to elect steroid users to Baseball HOF|
|Neuer ´on schedule´ but Heynckes won´t rush Bayern star|
|Messi contract saga not swaying Barcelona boss Valverde|
|Spartak Moscow 1 Maribor 1: Stoppage-time equaliser gives Russians everything to do at Anfield|
|Besiktas 1 Porto 1: Talisca leveller sends hosts through|
|Grand slams to reduce seeds from 32 to 16 from 2019|
|Mkhitaryan questions leave Mourinho riled|
|Jones out of Basel, Brighton games but Mourinho hopeful on Bailly|
|The Scrum-back Kid? Philips answers Scarlets SOS|
|Moore to retire from all rugby following Murrayfield Test|
|The Ashes: Australia and England leap into chasm of unknowns|
|Conte unhappy with Chelsea´s fixture congestion|
|Pepe tells Ronaldo: Come to Besiktas!|
|Clement expects Abraham to shake off back injury for Bournemouth clash|
|Oddo replaces sacked Del Neri at Udinese|
|F1 Raceweek: Contract talks for Hamilton, Alonso at Le Mans and Kvyat´s snub|
|Bartomeu hints at January Barcelona signings|
|Davis Love III to have hip-replacement surgery|
|Massa eyes final flourish in Abu Dhabi|
|Bears TE Zach Miller out of hospital three weeks after serious injury|
|Emery defends ´responsible´ Neymar from lifestyle criticism|
|Wales lose Williams and Cuthbert for All Blacks clash|
|Australia enlist Bolt to sharpen up Ashes preparations|
|Wimbledon will not be the same without her – Duchess pays tribute to Novotna|
|Del Neri sacked by Udinese|
|Everton striker Niasse facing two-match ban after FA diving charge|
|Wyatt makes history as England salvage Women´s Ashes draw|
|Lampard excited by English clubs in Champions League|
|Kvitova ready for ´second career´ to start in 2018|
|Williams deny Kubica deal has been agreed|
|Thiago and Coman back for Bayern´s trip to Anderlecht|
|Prior launches second Lyon attack|