Where do the Sixers rank in the Eastern Conference hierarchy?

Since I’ve had mailbag questions on the Sixers over the past month or so, one of the most common questions I’ve received has been about Philadelphia’s place in the Eastern Conference hierarchy. What better time to discuss that than a completely dead off-season period?

In this exercise, we are arranging in levels. In most, if not all, cases, I don’t feel strong enough about the teams in those groups one way or another to rank them individually. Put it this way – I think there are a couple of top contenders, two teams with the potential to reach finals if things go right for them, and a talented group of supplement teams that I’m not quite sure of this far.

With Kevin Durant’s deal potentially making all of this meaningless, let’s get to it.

Level 1 – The Real Deal Rivals

Boston Celtics

For the latter half of last season, the Celtics were either the best team in the league or very close, as long as I was able to put aside their miserable start to the season and focus on what they were doing at night. . The Celtics had not lost consecutive games in months before dropping them to Golden State in the Finals, and it was a reflection of their level of play once the calendar turned to 2022.

Admittedly, there’s some more uncertainty in Boston than there was at the end of the season, as it’s too early to say whether Jaylen Brown would be happy about putting his name on trade rumors Kevin Durant. But these Celts have worked through discord and dysfunction before, they have an elite identity as a group, and an impressive defensive pillar to back them up when things go south at the attacking end. And that’s without noting that they’ve made one of the biggest additions to any team this off-season, snapping up Malcolm Brogdon for what seemed like a somewhat insignificant expense. The deep team is getting even deeper, whether or not they come up with a Durant out-of-season deal.

I have concerns about their ability to replicate what they accomplished last season, starting with whether Al Horford can continue calling him to be an important double-pillar for them again. But as the champions of the Eastern Conference, they deserved to be suspicious for the time being, and until proven otherwise, they would still be ranked 1st in the East.

Milwaukee Bucks

It was a pair of “what if?” Developments is far from being the East’s representative in the Finals for the second consecutive season, this time with a chance to defend the NBA title. What if Chris Middleton was healthy and available to play in the second round against the Celtics who had historically had success against him? What if the Celtics didn’t shine the spotlight in the crucial seventh game? That would have set them up for a meeting with the Miami team they had eliminated in the playoffs a year ago, and a potential final meeting with the Warriors they’ve split the season streak with each of the past four years (except for 2019-20, when Milwaukee won the only encounter).

There are only a handful of players who have the right to claim the title of Best Player Alive, and Giannis Antetokounmpo is one of them. As long as that is the case, the dollars will be miserable in the playoffs. As long as they remain a two-way force every year, winning many games and sticking to a consistent identity, they deserve to be considered one of the best teams in the league, not to mention the Eastern Conference.

Last year’s second-round tilt between the Celtics and Bucks was widely seen as the deciding Eastern Conference series, with others going so far as to say the winner would eventually take the championship. It didn’t pay off in the end, but these teams got the right to consider themselves a cut above the rest.

Level 2 – Competitors if things go wrong

Philadelphia 76ers

Where you ultimately place on the two teams at this level depends on a number of factors. Interested in having the team with the best player of the day or the best player in the playoffs? Joel Embiid is undoubtedly the first, contending for the MVP award in each of the last two seasons, but even if we justify it on health grounds, Butler has been the most consistent player in the playoff. How interested are you in training? Erik Spoelstra is better than Doc Rivers by a decent margin, which ends up being more in the playoffs as the teams become familiar with each other. The Miami formula has proven a lot more fluid in qualifying in recent years, and it shouldn’t be left out.

I’m a deeper believer in Philadelphia now than I was last season, and that’s an understatement. De’Anthony Melton and PJ Tucker are the team makers on the depth chart, even if there are concerns about the money and years that have been handed to Tucker. Danuel House Jr. is not. He’s the most charming name they could sign with the semi-annual exception, but he’s thrived alongside James Harden in the past and played some killer jazz basketball last season.

Most importantly, this is when we can realistically expect a return to shape from Harden if one is expected to come. He has everything to play for financially, and his long-term future is uncertain after he secured an opponent to help the Sixers in this off-season. He will be driven away further by the hamstring problems that have slowed him down over the past year, with more chemistry among his teammates that he is now at least semi-familiar with. Now is the time for Philadelphia to step up and do what it hasn’t done since 2001 – to reach the conference finals.

They will not be favored for doing so, and there are many reasons to doubt their credentials. But if their top-notch talent lives up to expectations and stays healthy in the important months, they stand a great chance against anyone. That’s enough to put them here.

Miami Heat

If any team has benefited from a bit of skepticism in the Eastern Conference, it’s the Heat, who always manage to pull players out of nowhere, superstars out of unfavorable situations, and results under the radar. Plenty of people left them to die after the Bucks smoked them in the 2021 qualifiers, writing off their bubble to the Finals as a coincidence that won’t be repeated. They couldn’t quite come back last season, but they came close because they have something that many perks lack: identity.

Whatever your concerns about Jimmy Butler’s mercurial character, and the limitations of their role players at one end of the floor or the other, being a member of the Heat entails a level of involvement that not every player desires. The last of these are the reason for their continued success as a franchise, a point in favor of both Eric Spoelstra and Pat Riley, project supervisors in South Beach.

Do I think they’ve gotten a little worse this season? yes. Losing Tucker to a contender inside the conference isn’t great, and The Heat didn’t do much except to be reproduced this summer. But they have shown time and time again that they can spot diamonds in the rough places and survive even when they appear to be on a slope. Everyone (myself included) is assuming Kyle Lowry is steaming at this point, and that’s usually when the Heat can work some voodoo magic and get the player’s career back. If not, I suppose Victor Oladipo will build on his playoff success and pick up something close to his old level. There is some luck, but also a lot of effort involved, and you can be sure that the Heat will make the most of what they have.

Level 3 – Other qualifying teams

Brooklyn Networks

I was a big believer in Brooklyn when I first saw Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving playing together two seasons ago, and one of the least excited about their chances once Irving’s stand went off the rails last year. Top talent only matters if top talent is purchased and committed to sacrifice for the team, and as the Nets found out the hard way, Irving goes to the beat of his own drum.

Where they end up when all is said and hinges too much on complete unknowns. What will they return for Durant? Do they trade Durant at all? What does Ben Simmons look like after a year’s vacation? Do they need to transfer Simmons as a result of rules restricting takeover of Max Rookie contracts? So much sorting, so much bullshit. I’m fading until the evidence indicates otherwise.

Chicago Bulls

Injuries marred what I thought had been a good year for the Bulls in general. When Lonzo Ball and Alex Caruso were both healthy, they simply had more teams as a group, able to win with individual offensive talent (see: Derozan, Demar, LaVine, Zach) or with a devastating perimeter defense. The missing ball for the rest of the season from mid-January onwards was a huge deal with them, as it acted as connective tissue between a lot of their parts and helped make the whole thing go. Caruso was at least able to go back in time for the extended run, but ending up in a series against the Bucks was close to a worst-case scenario for Chicago.

I might slide them down more depending on the health of the ball, frankly, because they haven’t done much to improve this off season. There have been some unofficial rumors that the ball could miss the start of next season, and if this is the case for the meniscus injury that came with an initial 6-8 week schedule, it is hard to be optimistic about how the rest of the season will play out. . method.

Toronto Raptors

I think birds of prey are more interesting than they are until proven otherwise. They have a powerful and versatile group in defense that will make you miserable, but their attack in the half is not good enough to take them all seriously. That might change a leap forward from Scotty Barnes, but there are quite a few guys in the spin who would rather just let the fire out of the depths, as you’ve all seen for yourselves in the Sixers series.

They’re trading Kevin Durant, and we can reconsider this.

Cleveland Cavaliers

The Cavs were the team I undoubtedly made the most mistake about last season. I had high hopes for Evan Mobley and Darius Garland, the latter of which came after a solid close in the previous season, but I suppose they were trying to cram too many top players into one league lineup which discouraged that kind of team building. . Mobley ended up being an influential defender as a rookie defender who eased a lot of those concerns, and Jarrett Allen was pretty good on top of that, so they at least had an excuse to play big. The success of all this during the season of descending from the depths for Lauri Markannen is truly remarkable.

I’m still skeptical about them in the long run, as they lack useful wingers and rely too heavily on a young goalkeeper chosen when it really counted in their loss in play against Atalanta. Collin Sexton is such a huge X factor whether he stays or leaves, it’s very hard to know what to do with them yet. Don’t underestimate the value of Ricky Rubio to them either.

Atlanta Hawks

I have no idea what to do with the hawks at any point in time, so they lurk here. At their best, they have some of the best firepower in the league, with Trae Young almost as elite attacking himself. There were so many strange signs and grumblings coming from there that it was hard to ignore. The persistent cloud hanging over John Collins, for example, is a strange phenomenon due to its production and the effect it can have in the playoff format. It was a massive disappointment last season and I honestly felt kind of wrong that they went through the playoffs, but that’s Young’s strength in do-or-die form.

The Dejounte Murray trade is also difficult for me. I think he’s very good and makes them even better, although I’m not sure he’s the best fit with Young and I think it will take either of the guys or maybe both of them some time to figure out how to help each other. That trade was more about creating a long-term basis than immediate profits, I think, but we’re focused on the scene now and not the next five years.

Level 4 – Everyone

A loving team does not like me. The Hornets have been fun at times last year but have one of their best players from last season in serious legal trouble, the Knicks have been a hit but they still stay away from doing anything serious, the Pistons are every loving team in the NBA but they have Too far to go after winning only 23 games last season, and so on. There are some fun young talents at the bottom of the conference, as well as magicians.

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