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.

Could Joel Embiid Really Join The Heat?

The other day, Sixers center Joel Embiid sent out this tweet that led to a whirlwind of speculation.

It immediately begs the question,  when Embiid says, “Miami needs another star,” is he referring to himself? If so, could Joel Embiid to the Heat be in our future?

Embiid Isn’t Wrong

First, let’s be clear that Embiid does have a point here. At the moment, Jimmy Butler is Miami’s best player, and the team’s only true “star.” Bam Adebayo is probably the next closest to that designation, but he is not quite there yet. Looking at the rest of the roster, they have some great role players and veterans who were once stars, but their best days are behind them. One thing is obvious, if Embiid joined the Heat tomorrow, he would immediately become the best player on the roster. What team wouldn’t want to add him?

Could Embiid Want Out?

The big question here is whether or not Embiid would actually leave Philly. He has established himself as the undisputed leader of the team and is beloved by that city. However, frustration could be mounting for the Sixers big man after a fifth consecutive postseason exit without making the conference finals. Philly’s front office has failed to put a star alongside Embiid. They had Butler for the 2018-19 season, which ended in a heartbreaking game seven loss to the eventual champions in Toronto. Rather than trying to run it back, Butler was sent to Miami.

The latest attempt at finding a running mate for Embiid was a trade for James Harden. Unfortunately, Harden is a shell of his former self. Worse yet, he has an irresistible player option for next season that would pay him over $47 million, making him virtually untradeable. Is Embiid willing to risk wasting another year of his prime on a team that will likely struggle to contend for a title? He might decide that the Sixers have had enough chances and that it is time to move on.

If he does, Miami would be a near-perfect fit. Embiid and Butler already have a great relationship and their playing styles mesh together well. Both are playmakers with and without the ball. Also, Embiid already plays with the tenacity that Heat coach, Erik Spoelstra, demands. Most importantly, the addition of Embiid would transform a Miami team that is currently a contender into a juggernaut.

How Would a Joel Embiid to the Heat Move Work?

Given that Embiid is under contract for next season, any move would require a trade. Also, he cannot be traded until July 17. So, what would a potential trade look like? After using ESPN’s NBA Trade Machine, and then adding in some draft picks, here is one possibility:

Miami receives: Joel Embiid

Philadelphia receives: Bam Adebayo, Max Strus, Miami 2023 1st round pick, Miami 2024 1st round pick.

For Miami, Embiid would be a significant upgrade over Adebayo. Giving up Strus and two firsts is the price of doing business, one that they would happily pay. On the other side, any trade in which Philly gives up Embiid would feel like a loss. The compensation is not terrible, but it is hard to see how the Sixers get better in this trade. It is important to note that this trade would only happen if Embiid demanded it. This would give Philly little leverage.

Will it Happen?

At the end of the day, it is hard to picture Embiid being anywhere but Philly next season. I think it is more likely that Daryl Morey finds a way to either trade Harden or add another shooter. Still, this situation is something to keep an eye on. Embiid is heading into the final year of his contract. If the Sixers are not looking like contenders when next year’s trade deadline rolls around, all bets are off.

Can Jimmy Butler and the Heat go all the way?

The Eastern Conference Finals began last night with Game 1 between the Boston Celtics and the Miami Heat. What started as a close game and the Celtics ahead, ended with complete second-half domination by Jimmy Butler and the Heat.

Butler led Miami to a 118-107 victory thanks to his massive stat line. The Miami superstar ended Game 1 with 41 minutes played, 41 points, nine rebounds, and five assists. His offensive command was met with an equally paramount defensive showing. Butler recorded five steals and four blocks on Tuesday. The dominant play by Butler was complimented by the Celtics missing two of their most important players and Miami playing exceptional defense.

Looking back

Miami entered the third quarter down by eight points after Boston’s Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown refused to get down in the first half. It was a somewhat surprising effort by Boston, as they were without defensive player of the year, Marcus Smart (foot), and Al Horford (health and safety protocols).

Being down at the half sparked some crucial changes for Miami at halftime. The player-led adjustments in the locker room inspired an entirely new approach to the game in the third quarter. Miami’s defense stole the show, allowing their team to go on a 22-2 run to start the second half.  The Heat went on to score 39 third-quarter points, allowing Boston just 14.

Butler’s dominance continued into the fourth quarter when he blocked a huge three-point shot for Tatum, elevating the energy, and nearly sealing the game for the Heat.

The Celtics almost came back in the fourth quarter. But in the end, Butler couldn’t be stopped, and Miami’s defense wasn’t going to back down.

Looking ahead

Game 2 of the Eastern Conference Finals will take place on Thursday on Miami’s home court. Miami is at a huge advantage due to the fact they have yet to lose at home in the playoffs. Bam Adebayo and the rest of the Heat’s core players have already shown they can contain Tatum and Brown. What will happen when the Celtics’ defensive star comes back?

Marcus Smart is rumored to be returning to the lineup for Game 2. This will provide another challenge for Miami’s defense, and another limit for Miami’s offense at the hands of Smart’s unbelievable defensive abilities. Al Horford will likely not return for Game 2.

If the Celtics want to keep their chances of advancement alive, they will have to win on Thursday to ensure they don’t get too far behind. One thing is for sure, Jimmy Butler and the Heat don’t make it easy to come back.

Breaking: Heat Re-sign Victor Oladipo

The Miami Heat have agreed to a one year deal to bring back 2 time all-star Guard Victor Oladipo, who they traded for last season.

The Miami Heat have agreed to a one year deal to re-sign Shooting Guard Victor Oladipo. Olapido has signed for the veteran minimum, the two time all-star will return for a second year with Miami.

Victor Oladipo is signing a one year deal in Miami.

This comes after Miami dealt Kelly Olynyk and Avery Bradley to the Rockets for Oladipo at the trade deadline. After joining the team, Oladipo injured his right quadriceps tendon.

Despite requiring surgery, Oladipo is expected back with the team during the winter.

In the 4 games he played in Miami Oladipo seemed to unlock Miami’s defensive potential, giving them another point-of-attack defender and volume scorer.

He looks to help this team on both sides of the ball.

Miami has added proven veterans in Kyle Lowry, PJ Tucker, and Markeiff Morris.

In addition, they retained depth pieces Duncan Robinson, Max Struss, Dewayne Dedmon, Gabe Vincent, and now have re-signed Oladipo.

The Heat look to continue an active offseason to this point, looking to maximize stars Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo.

They have shown interest in shooters across the league, adding depth that should help them in the postseason.

Heat are eyeing shooters.

Pat Riley always has something in his back pocket, and we can only guess what’s coming next. We will be sure to keep you updated through this fast paced offseason at ATB.

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BREAKING: Duncan Robinson signs with the Miami Heat

Duncan Robinson has resigned with the Miami Heat.

Duncan Robinson has resigned with the Miami Heat.

It was expected and Robinson himself has stated his preference to remain with the Miami Heat.

Furthermore, Robinsons contract is a 5 year $90 million per his agent Jason Glushon.

Miami core currently consists of Kyle Lowry, Duncan Robinson, Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo.

Knowing Pat Riley, the Miami Heat are not done yet, stay tuned for more news

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