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A look at what each of the 15 teams out East has as far as expectations; should be Bucks, Nets, Heat and 76ers in top four.

DURANTWhat's happening with the 15 teams in the NBA's Eastern Conference?

Here's a quick look at NBA champion Milwaukee and other teams in the Tribune's predicted order of finish:

ANTETOKOUNMPO

1. Milwaukee Bucks

The champs are here and two-time MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo is ready for a new challenge in his already stellar career: a title defense run. Around the star Buck will be plenty of the same faces in Jrue Holiday, Khris Middleton, Brook Lopez and Bobby Portis. Plus the team will have Donte DiVincenzo back after he missed most of the playoffs with an injury.

2. Brooklyn Nets

The fortunate part of having a super team is that even if Kyrie Irving doesn't play a single minute for the Nets this season while doing his research on the COVID-19 vaccine, Brooklyn will be just fine. Veterans Kevin Durant, James Harden, Blake Griffin and more will keep this team more than afloat.

3. Miami Heat

The same stars are still there in Jimmy Butler, Bam Adebayo and Tyler Herro, while the Heat added other big names in Victor Oladipo and Kyle Lowry. Throw in PJ Tucker, who's coming off winning a title with the Bucks last season, and there is plenty to like about the Heat who have scoring at every level and added a great defender in Tucker.

4. Philadelphia 76ers

Who knows how the Ben Simmons soap opera will end, but it seems like losing money was enough motivation to get him through the 76ers' door. Even without Simmons, the 76ers can still rise to the top behind potential MVP Joel Embiid. Now can regular season winning finally translate to playoff success?

5. Atlanta Hawks

Trae Young turned into Reggie Miller last postseason by leading the Hawks to a series win over the New York Knicks, and eventually turned that into an Eastern Conference Finals appearance with an upset over Philly. Can Young do it again and more in 2021-2022?

6. New York Knicks

Julius Randle was undoubtedly great, earning the most improved player award, but the Knicks still need plenty more added to contend. Kemba Walker joins the fray as well as Evan Fournier to give the Knicks some guard depth alongside Derrick Rose. But can those guards help put New York over the hump of the best teams in the East?

7. Boston Celtics

Portland native Ime Udoka is the new coach of the Celtics, taking over for Brad Stevens. Much like the Blazers, Udoka takes over a team that seemingly can't get over the hump despite plenty of young talent in the likes of Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown. Free agency signees in Al Horford, Dennis Schroder and Josh Richardson hope to stop the Celtics' regression.

8. Indiana Pacers

The loudest change in Indiana this offseason was bringing longtime Dallas Mavericks head coach Rick Carlisle as the new leader of the Pacers. Domantas Sabonis, Myles Turner, TJ McConnell and Caris LeVert return, and the Pacers drafted Oregon star Chris Duarte to add some scoring.

9. Chicago Bulls

Chicago added the likes of Lonzo Ball, DeMar DeRozan and Alex Caruso at the cost of losing rising star Lauri Markkanen in a three-team deal that landed the Blazers Larry Nance Jr. and sent Derrick Jones Jr. to the Bulls. Pair the new editions with underrated stars like Zach LaVine and Nikola Vucevic and the Bulls are hoping they can end their four-year playoff drought, the third longest active streak.

10. Charlotte Hornets

One can only hope Gordon Hayward and LaMelo Ball stay healthy, but injuries are a pattern for the veteran Hayward. Still, there's plenty of young talent to be excited about with the Hornets, plus a recently extended Terry Rozier.

11. Washington Wizards

Bradley Beal is dedicated to the Wizards, but they are yet to prove they are dedicated to winning. Kyle Kuzma, Montrezl Harrell and Spencer Dinwiddie hope they can be part of the movement forward, but all three bring plenty of question marks with them.

12. Toronto Raptors

There's still plenty to like about what's left on the Raptors' roster despite the departure of Kyle Lowry. Pascal Siakam is still an All-Star level player with Fred VanVleet in the backcourt. Goran Dragic joins VanVleet there this season and OG Anunoby has been developing well. This is no title-contending team, but Toronto will still be a squad that no one can sleep on each night.

13. Cleveland Cavaliers

Like previously said, the big move for the Cavs was adding a young stud in Markkanen to a roster that features two players age 30 or older — Kevin Love (33) and Ricky Rubio (30). The rebuild continues with good guards (Collin Sexton, Darius Garland) and No. 4 overall pick Evan Mobley the new beacon of light.

14. Orlando Magic

Orlando made its roster of old disappear at the trade deadline last season, announcing to the world that its failed rebuild is starting over. For their dedication, the Magic had two top-10 picks and used them on Gonzaga guard Jalen Suggs and Michigan center Franz Wagner.

15. Detroit Pistons

Continuing the Midwestern rebuild is the Pistons, who finished in last in the East last season and the second worst team overall. Thanks to the lottery though, Detroit went first and took Oklahoma State star Cade Cunningham. Pair Cunningham with Jerami Grant, who finished in second for most improved player last season, and there is a semblance of team building in Detroit.

— Austin White


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