N.B.A. Eastern Conference Preview: Are the Celtics and Cavaliers Vulnerable?


. A level-headed executive with a fantastic reputation, Perry has already begun an aggressive rebuild. Fitting with recent Knicks mismanagement history, though, the team dragged its feet in parting ways with Phil Jackson. So when the draft came around, Perry was still in Sacramento, presiding over what is considered to be a very strong class for the Kings.

The Knicks have a problem to solve: their roster is flush with centers and power forwards in an era when nearly every team is trying to get smaller and faster. Kristaps Porzingis is a star, and Hardaway remade himself some in Atlanta, but anyone with a reasonable grasp of recent Knicks history knows that Perry has his work cut out for him. His greatest competitors are most likely not on the court, but in his own team’s executive and ownership suites.

Status: Tall (and not much else)


So much for LeBron James, right, teaching a new generation of stars. Thanks to Kyrie Irving forcing his way out of town, James will instead be joined in Cleveland by his old friend Dwyane Wade as they seek their third championship together.CreditGregory Shamus/Getty Images

Central Division

Cleveland Cavaliers

51-31 last season

Key newcomers: Dwyane Wade, Isaiah Thomas, Jae Crowder, Derrick Rose, Jeff Green, Jose Calderon

Key departures: Kyrie Irving, Richard Jefferson

Outlook: If LeBron James came back to Cleveland in hopes of getting a younger group of teammates to pass his talents down to, that plan has officially been scuttled. Irving forced his way out of town because he did not want to be a No. 2 option, and the Cavaliers responded by building a team with a great deal of talent that may have been better suited for a championship run five or six years ago.

Cleveland’s starting lineup will be dramatically different, with Kevin Love moving to center and James to power forward. Crowder, Wade and Rose will round out the starters, which pushes J.R. Smith, a surprisingly solid defender and long-distance shooter, to the bench. A serious hip injury to Thomas, father time working hard against several other newcomers, and Love moving to a more taxing position will all make a repeat trip to the finals difficult, but the right time to count out a team led by James is never.

Status: DNP-Old


Giannis Antetokounmpo leads a Milwaukee team that has been picked by many to improve dramatically.CreditNathan Denette/CP, via The Canadian Press

Milwaukee Bucks

42-40 last season

Key newcomers: Joel Anthony, D.J. Wilson (draft)

Key departures: None

Outlook: The Bucks will find themselves on countless lists of teams that could break out this season. It has nothing to do with their off-season activity — Gerald Green was their biggest signing and he was unexpectedly cut over the weekend — and everything to do with Giannis Antetokounmpo’s limitless potential. The 6-foot-11 forward, who doubles as a point guard, exploded in his fourth season for 22.9 points, 8.8 rebounds, 5.4 assists and 1.9 blocks a game. He was a consistent positive on both ends of the court and had an outrageous player efficiency rating of 26.1. Most people around the N.B.A. think he’s just getting started.

Throw in last year’s rookie of the year, Malcolm Brogdon, a (hopefully) full season from Jabari Parker, another year of development for Thon Maker, the consistent hard work of Khris Middleton and Greg Monroe, and you get a team that is fun to watch and could step up as a top contenders without having gone the superteam route.

Status: Greek freaking


The Pistons traded for Avery Bradley, right, who should revamp the team’s defense and be a veteran leader in the locker room.CreditTom Lynn/Associated Press

Detroit Pistons

37-45 last season

Key newcomers: Avery Bradley, Langston Galloway, Luke Kennard (draft)

Key departures: Marcus Morris

Outlook: Other than some improvement from Andre Drummond, Coach Stan Van Gundy has yet to work his magic with the Pistons. It is most likely a matter of personnel, and he will have an ally this season in Bradley, who the team was able to steal from the Celtics in exchange for fixing Boston’s “Gordon Hayward doesn’t fit under the salary cap” problem. In terms of defense and leadership, it is hard to get a bigger swing in one trade than going from the grumpy Morris to Bradley.

There are still a lot of problems to overcome. An offense centered around Drummond often falls apart for the same two reasons: The team does not have the shooters to take advantage of how much attention Drummond draws, and he is such a bad free-throw shooter that opponents can force him out of the game at will. A .500 season is potentially a stretch, but that would probably be good enough for the third-best record in the division.

Status: Stuck in the middle


Victor Oladipo, left, will have to be a veteran leader for the Indiana Pacers during the team’s youth movement centered around Myles Turner, right.CreditDarron Cummings/Associated Press

Indiana Pacers

42-40 last season

Key newcomers: Domantas Sabonis, Victor Oladipo, Cory Joseph, Darren Collison, Bojan Bogdanovic, T.J. Leaf (draft)

Key departures: Paul George, Monta Ellis

Outlook: An optimist would say the Pacers were refocusing the team on a youth movement centered around Myles Turner. Oladipo, who is still only 25, fits that idea, and he got extra motivation from an unexpected trade away from Oklahoma City. Sabonis and Leaf have size and potential, and Indiana was better off moving on without a disgruntled George.

Everyone else would say that the team did not get nearly enough for George, one of the game’s finest two-way players, and that a huge regression is likely.

Status: Definitely maybe not tanking


Lauri Markkanen, Chicago’s first-round draft pick, will be the N.B.A.’s second Finnish player. CreditCharles Rex Arbogast/Associated Press

Chicago Bulls

41-41 last season

Key newcomers: Kris Dunn, Zach LaVine, Justin Holiday, Lauri Markkanen (draft)

Key departures: Jimmy Butler, Dwyane Wade, Rajon Rondo, Russ Bengtson (media)

Outlook: If you did not think the Pacers got much for Paul George, just take a look at what the Bulls got for Butler: an injured leaper in LaVine, a draft bust in Dunn and the rights to a draft pick. It speaks volumes about the Bulls that in official team capsules sent out by the league, which are generally filled with statistical superlatives, Chicago’s item simply mentions that Markkanen will be the N.B.A.’s second Finnish player.(The first was Hanno Mottola, who spent two seasons with Atlanta in the early 2000s.)

Maybe LaVine’s knee surgery will have restored him to full dunk-machine status. Maybe Dunn just needed a change of scenery. But even if both things are true, the team still seems worse. It was enough for Bengtson, a longtime fan of the Bulls who writes for Complex, to ) and writing one of the

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