The beginning of the NBA season is right around the corner, so let’s look at the best and worst scenarios every Eastern Conference team is facing (assuming there are no injuries) heading into 2018-19.
Best Case: New head coach Mike Budenholzer makes an instant impact, finally turning the franchise around. Milwaukee’s decade-long struggles become a thing of the past, and they’re able to make the Eastern Conference finals. With that, Giannis Antetokounmpo makes another leap forward, becoming the first Buck to win an MVP since Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in 1974.
Worst Case: 2018-19 becomes a rewind of Milwaukee’s previous season. The roster is still missing a few key pieces, and Coach Bud isn’t the immediate solution most fans hoped he’d be.
Best Case: The young roster finds a solid groove with the addition of Jabari Parker, and rookie Wendell Carter Jr. In his fourth season as head coach, Fred Hoiberg figures out his motion offense and leads the Bulls to the playoffs.
Worst Case: Lauri Markkanen, Kris Dunn, and Zach Lavine fail to make drastic leaps forward. Carter Jr. has an underwhelming rookie campaign, and the Parker signing proves to be a disappointment. Coach Hoiberg is unable to find a niche in the league and is fired mid-season.
Best Case: Kevin Love returns to the form he had in Minnesota — averaging 25 and 12. Rookie guard Collin Sexton becomes this year’s Donovan Mitchell — the player every team regrets passing — and the Cavs make the playoffs for the first time without LeBron since 1998.
Worst Case: Life without LeBron goes how most expect: it’s a complete train-wreck. Even in a bigger role, Kevin Love is unable to play at an all-star level. Head coach Ty Lue is fired mid-season and the Cavaliers finish with one of the worst records in the NBA.
Best Case: Finally able to stay healthy for a complete season, the Celtics run away with the Eastern Conference, winning 60+ games in the regular season and coasting to the finals without facing elimination. Five players make the all-star team (Kyrie Irving, Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown, Gordon Hayward, and Al Horford) and with that, Irving wins league MVP averaging near 30 points-per-game.
Worst Case: Boston is unable to find the same magic they did in the previous season, and are eliminated before the conference finals. Hayward isn’t the same player after his ankle injury, and Tatum has a sophomore slump. It becomes evident mid-season that Irving isn’t happy, and the rumors about him leaving in free agency become more and more realistic.
Best Case: Trae Young leads Atlanta to a surprisingly good season, winning rookie of the year while averaging 20 points-per-game. First-year coach Lloyd Pierce picks up right where coach Bud left off and proves he’s a capable NBA head coach.
Worst Case: The Hawks immediately regret passing on Luka Doncic, who runs away with rookie of the year, and is clearly the best player in this year’s class. Trae Young’s jump shot fails to translate in his first year, and the Hawks are the worst team in the NBA.
Best Case: Erik Spoelstra and The Heat get back to their winning ways, sending off Dwyane Wade’s career with a successful season. Goran Dragic makes the all-star team, and the Miami’s young players (Bam Adebayo, Justise Winslow, and Josh Richardson) all have solid seasons. Hassan Whiteside also has a monster season on both ends, and the Heat finish with a top-four seed in the East and make a deep playoff run.
Worst Case: Miami has another mediocre season, and fail to make the playoffs for the second time in three years. Whiteside and Spoelstra continue to butt heads, and he’s traded before the deadline. Dragic — who has a player option at the end of the season — is also traded, catapulting Miami into a re-build.
Best Case: Kemba Walker has a breakout season, making his way onto one of the all-NBA teams. Malik Monk bounces back from a so-so rookie season with a solid sophomore campaign, and first-year forward Miles Bridges has an instant impact. Charlotte — led by former Spurs Assistant James Borrego — make it to the second round of the playoffs for the first time since 2002.
Worst Case: After a bad start to the season, Walker is traded for future assets, beginning another rebuild for Charlotte. Monk has another disappointing year, and Tony Parker retires at the conclusion of the season.
New York Knicks
Best Case: Head Coach David Fizdale immediately changes the culture in New York, giving the team a much-needed spark until Kristaps Porzingis returns. Kevin Knox establishes himself as the best rookie of his class, and Frank Ntilikina makes great strides on offense. The Knicks are able to sneak in the playoffs as an eight-seed.
Worst Case: New York has another disappointing year, finishing with the worst record in the NBA. Porzingis returns after the all-star break in a very limited role, Kevin Knox fails to live up to the hype, and Fizdale is picked-apart by the New York media all season long.
Best Case: Aaron Gordon takes a huge leap forward, making the all-star team for the first time. Rookie center Mo Bamba shines in his rookie season, and Jonathan Isaac stars to show flashes that he can be an elite NBA talent. The Magic make the playoffs for the first time since Dwight Howard’s departure from the team.
Worst Case: Bamba and Isaac prove to be light-years away from being effective NBA players, Aaron Gordon is mentioned in trade rumors all season, and the Magic are one of the worst teams in the NBA yet again.
Best Case: Brooklyn is able to make the most of their odd roster, sneaking into the playoffs for the first time since 2015. Led by up-and-coming head coach Kenny Atkinson, D’Angelo Russell and Spencer Dinwiddie become an effective offensive backcourt, with help from both Kenneth Faried and second-year big man Jarrett Allen.
Worst Case: The Nets continue their campaign for the worst NBA franchise of the past several seasons, finishing with the worst record in the NBA. In his fourth year, D’Angelo Russell has another disappointing season and becomes a trade piece for a desperate team looking to take a flyer on a still-unproven player.
Best Case: Victor Oladipo takes another leap forward offensively, putting himself in the conversation as an all-first team guard. Domantas Sabonis continues to improve, and Myles Turner is finally able to make use of his talent. Indiana finishes with a top-three regular season record, making it to the conference finals.
Worst Case: Oladipo regresses following his breakout 2017-18 season, struggling to find the same consistency with his outside jump shot. Tyreke Evans also has a disappointing year, and the Pacers fall back into the lottery.
Best Case: After it was initially considered a disaster, the Blake Griffin trade takes a turn for the better. Point-Blake is finally unleashed under new head coach Dwane Casey, and the Pistons make it to the Eastern Conference Semifinals.
Worst Case: Casey and the Pistons get off to a slow start, resulting in another lost year for the franchise. Griffin, Andre Drummond, and Reggie Jackson are put on the trade block, and Detroit hits the reset button.
Best Case: After an offseason that marked a turning point in the franchise, Toronto is able to get-over-the-hump in the Eastern Conference. A rejuvenated Kawhi Leonard reminds us that — when healthy — he is a top-three player in the NBA, winning league MVP while leading the Raptors to a 60-win season and a finals appearance.
Worst Case: Leonard is clearly unhappy from the get-go, and made available on the trade market. Dwane Casey’s true value is also put on display, as the Raptors regress to low-tier Eastern Conference playoff team that’s eliminated in the first round.
Best Case: John Wall and Bradley Beal both complete a season without any major injuries, while Dwight Howard is able to harness his talents for the good of the team. With the help of breakout performances from Otto Porter and Kelly Oubre Jr., the Wizards over-achieve, finishing with one of the league’s best regular-season records while making it to the conference finals.
Worst Case: The “Dwight-bola” virus infects yet another team, as the 32-year-old center causes more chemistry issues for an already troubled locker room. Wall and Beal both have mediocre seasons, resulting in both of them being made available for a trade. After missing the playoffs, head coach Scott Brooks is fired in his third season with the team.
Best Case: Philadelphia builds on their momentum from the end of last season, winning over 60 games in the regular season. Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons both continue to make strides forward, solidifying themselves as top-10 talents. Markelle Fultz also proves why he was the number one pick a year ago. The 76ers make it to the finals for the first time since the Allen Iverson era, proving they are going to be a perennial powerhouse.
Worst Case: The 76ers are unable to re-gain the momentum they captured in the second-half of the 2017-18 season. Simmons and Fultz still aren’t comfortable taking (let alone making) three-point shots, and Joel Embiid still is unable to play 35+ minutes on a consistent basis. Barely making the playoffs, Philadelphia is eliminated in the first round.