1. Cleveland Cavaliers– I, like many people, have serious doubts whether anyone in the East has a realistic chance of beating them. They nearly won it last year with basically just LeBron. Now they are healthier and hungrier. It’s hard to see anyone stopping them from returning to the Finals in 2016.
2. Chicago Bulls – Still the biggest “threat” to the Cavs in my mind. If Derrick Rose can stay healthy (a monster “if”), Jimmy Butler can keep up his 2015-level of production and Fred Hoiberg can bring the group together in a way that Tom Thibodeau couldn’t last year, the pieces are there to make a run.
3. Miami Heat– It’s a testament to the greatness of Pat Riley that the Heat are still as good as they are just two years removed from losing LeBron. Goran Dragic and Dwyane Wade provide great guard play and Chris Bosh will be solid down low. Expect them to be near the top of the East all year and into the playoffs.
4. Milwaukee Bucks– Young, athletic and supremely talented, the Bucks may be the team of the future in the East. They found a team identity behind Jason Kidd last season and rode that momentum to the six-seed. They should take another step forward this year.
1. Golden State Warriors– I’m done underestimating these guys. Steph Curry is already on track to be the best shooter in the history of the NBA, and he’s just getting started. Until someone knocks them off, there’s no reason for them to be anything but the preseason favorite.
2. San Antonio Spurs– As much as I’d like to put my beloved, new-look Spurs in the top spot, they have to do it on the court together first. With the addition of LaMarcus Aldridge, the star power is definitely there, but expect some growing pains as they all learn to play together early in the season. They’ll be hitting their stride come playoff-time; a dangerous thought for the other teams in the West.
3. OKC Thunder– Injuries hurt them in 2015, but any team that has both Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook can’t be left out of a championship discussion. They should play with a sense of urgency in 2016, especially with this season probably determining the fates of their two stars in free agency next summer.
4. LA Clippers- After a monumental collapse in the playoffs last year, let’s see if they can rebound instead of doing what their team history says they will: crumble. They certainly have the talent to put it all together and make another run.
Spurs over Cavs in 7.