Championship Contenders: Eastern Conference

2023 Eastern Conference Championship Contenders
Photo Credit: Halftime Productions

As we slowly creep closer and closer to the 2022-23 NBA season, excitement is beginning to build around the league. The new year brings new hope and possibility for franchises all around the league, especially for these Eastern Conference championship contenders

For some teams, the new year presents another chance at chasing the illustrious goal of an NBA title. For others, it involves hope as their franchises hope to finally turn the corner. In this article, we will take a look at the Eastern Conference, and take a look at which teams have the best chance to be contenders for an NBA Championship.

Eastern Conference Championship Contenders

Tier 1: True Eastern Conference Championship Contenders

Celtics, Bucks, Heat

These three teams all have the best chance to come out of the Eastern Conference, and it’s far enough to clearly separate them from the rest of the conference.

First, we have the Boston Celtics. The Celtics are clearly capable of being in this category, with them being the team to come out of the Eastern Conference last year. They didn’t lose any major pieces, and were even able to add Malcolm Brogdon to the fold this offseason. They should enter as the favorites to come out of this conference.

The Milwaukee Bucks and Miami Heat should be considered the same. Neither team lost a key player, and both have been actively looking to add talent this offseason, albeit unsuccessfully — for now.

The Bucks nearly knocked the Celtics off last year without Khris Middleton. The Heat, on the other hand, were a missed-three-pointer from Jimmy Butler away from making the Finals last year. Both teams should be considered favorites.

Tier 2: Fringe Eastern Conference Championship Contenders

Nets, Cavaliers, 76ers

These three shouldn’t be considered favorites, but they all do still pose a real threat to make it out of this conference. The Brooklyn Nets have been surrounded by drama all off-season, but as of now it looks like they’ll be able to hold onto Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant. Those two alone pose a threat, and with the right squad around them they can certainly make some noise.

The Cleveland Cavaliers just made a splash move, trading for Donovan Mitchell. Mitchell, a proven star who has performed very well in the playoffs throughout his career, will join a very talented young corps. There isn’t enough star talent on the roster yet for them to be in tier one, but this team is extremely talented.

As for the Philadelphia 76ers, the perennial playoff disappointing team will have another crack at it this year. This time, James Harden and Joel Embiid will likely get to play a full season together. If Philadelphia can put it all together in the playoffs this time around, they’ll be a real problem.

Tier 3: Playoff Contenders

Bulls, Hawks, Raptors, Knicks, Hornets

These five teams should still be around come April, but they don’t have everything it takes to truly be championship contenders in the Eastern Conference — yet.

The Chicago Bulls started 2021 strong, but faded as the year went on, and haven’t made any major upgrades this summer. The Atlanta Hawks added Dejounte Murray, and they’re the only team in this tier that has a legitimate argument to be in Tier 2. Unfortunately, the team around Murray and Trae Young isn’t quite good enough yet.

The Toronto Raptors grabbed a playoff spot last season, but were quickly bounced by the Sixers. This unit has a ton of young talent, and they could be a true contender very soon. The New York Knicks added Jalen Brunson, but their inability to add any other star power leaves them down in this tier.

As for the Charlotte Hornets, well they seem to be the same team from last year. With the Bridges issues, and their silence on the market this offseason, they’ve shown no signs of improvement.

Charlotte Hornets vs Oklahoma City Thunder: Post game report

Charlotte Hornets vs Oklahoma City Thunder

The Charlotte Hornets got the best of a young Thunder team on Monday night in the Paycom Center. Here are some key takeaways from the Charlotte Hornets vs Oklahoma City Thunder.

Josh Giddey is the real deal- 

Look, I know it was only a preseason exhibition, but the way Giddey played with pace and let the game come to him was reminiscent of a veteran, not a rookie who has yet to play any regular season basketball. His ability to break down the defense and get to the rim in both the transition and half court game showed potential to be very effective in getting the Thunder some easy looks. He showed above average court vision with cross court skip passes, drop offs, etc. Giddey finished the game with 

The Thunder will be a fun team to watch-

Let me preface this by saying the Thunder aren’t likely to win many games this year. They are very young, and lack post depth. But the Thunder will be a fun team to watch. That much was evident in this game even during what technically was a blowout loss. Between Giddey in transition breaking ankles and dishing dimes, Lu Dort knocking down threes and posterizing defenders, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander with his crafty shooting and finishing, the Thunder will have multiple opportunities to put together some highlight reels for years to come. Even in defeat, this will be a fun team. Mark my words. 

Long way to go-

As I briefly mentioned and referenced in the prior section of this “post game report” there is a long way to go until the Thunder are winning a lot of games and are competing for championships. They are young, and it shows. Aleksej Pokusevski still isn’t sure how to finish in the NBA and still makes some rookie mistakes on his passes. Josh Giddey still isn’t where he needs to be as far as shooting the ball, and the defense is pretty much nonexistent outside at times. But don’t fret, there’s still plenty of time for improvement. 

Other notes-

This was just the first of four preseason games for the Thunder, their next bout is this Sunday, October 10th at 7:30 pm ET, and will be televised on ESPN as the Thunder travel to Milwaukee to take on the defending champions the Milwaukee Bucks. We’ll see if any lessons were learned from the Charlotte Hornets vs Oklahoma City Thunder game.

Can the Hornets Build off this Season?

The Charlotte Hornets have not been much of a top line organization, but after the recent years of moves made by the office, the Hornets could be looking at a turn-around. The way that the league has altered in recent years has created a NBA game that is dominated by the guard position, and you need to have a guard who can make other players better. Last season with the third overall pick in the NBA draft, they might’ve found their guy in Lamelo Ball.

Lamelo Ball had what was at the time considered a fairly odd road to the NBA after dropping out of school to play overseas, then he came back to the states in order to play for high school again, then he played in the drew league, and then went back overseas before finally entering the draft. Ball has been playing top tier talent and professional talent since he was 16 years old. The young star burst onto the scene along with his two older brothers, Lonzo and LiAngelo Ball at Chino Hills High School. Lamelo, although he was the youngest of the ball brothers, was perhaps considered the most talented of the three. Looking back to that thought today, I think it’s fair to say that is true.

The Hornets knew that they were taking a risk with Ball at pick three, for multiple reasons. Everyone knew the Ball brothers due to their very out-spoken father, LaVar Ball. LaVar had proclaimed to the world that his boys are going to be the best in the world and revolutionize the league. Although, his quotes were extremely far-fetched, he was able to create a big name for his family and get their names out there. Lamelo’s play style was considered a risk as well. Being a trigger happy shooter, his transition and ability to play a advanced game of basketball was considered another risk. However, after an incredible rookie season, his translation to league has already succeeded the organizations expectations.

There is a lot that goes into making a team, but the first thing that you have to do is find a guy you can build around and give him a team to work with. Over the course of the past couple seasons the Hornets have acquired Lamelo Ball, P.J. Washington, Terry Rozier, Gordon Hayward, Devonte’ Graham, and Jalen McDaniels. They have put together a well rounded team with the exception of a true center, but given the Hornets schematical game-play, they have built a team that fits their perimeter game-play perfectly.

Looking ahead to next season, they will have some decisions to make as they have some big names that are potential free agents. Looking at the list of free agents they have: Cody Zeller, Devonte’ Graham, Malik Monk, and Bismack Biyombo. Within those free agents, they also have to determine how much of an impact they can get from holding the 11th overall pick in the draft. They have been mocked multiple different players, but they seem to be looking along the lines of a SG/SF player.

They are in a division and a conference that’s going to make it difficult to get into the playoffs, but with free agency being out there in which they could look at getting a player to fill their void at center, and improve their big man game, they could be a competitor each and every season.