Washington Wizards – with no Bradley Beal and no Davis Bertans the Wizards don’t have much a real chance to push either the Magic or whatever remains of the Nets. So following their short stay in the bubble they turn to their off-season question marks. Their front office has to praying to the basketball gods that John Wall can return close to his former self, but with a game very dependent on speed and athleticism that is far from a guarantee. As for Wall’s former #2, Beal is now the unquestioned leader here but despite the extension he signed rumors continue to swirl about potential suitors. The biggest revelation in DC this year was Bertans but it will be challenging to re-sign him if he can command anything close to what he hopes to get in the free agent market this off-season. Should Bertan’s leave, Washington will stake a lot of hope in the front court of Rui Hachimura and Moritz Wagner.
Orlando Magic – I’d like to be the first to congratulate the Magic on capturing the 7th seed for the 2nd year in a row and their “I’ll stay for 1 drink” time in the playoffs. The best thing that the Magic can hope for during their time in the bubble is that Markelle Fultz can continue the growth he’s shown this season. Though he only averaged 12 ppg and 5 asts. compared to where he was a year ago he’s made tremendous progress. He also flashed some solid finishing both around the rim and in the floater game. It’s unlikely that they can make a major upgrade this off-season so you have to hope for some growth from your young guys (like Jonathan Isaac who flashed as a top-tier wing defender prior to injury). If the Magic are really interested in trying to someday getting higher than a 7 seed they will do all they can to unload the expiring contract of Evan Fourier for some sort of asset prior to next years deadline.
Brooklyn Nets – nobody expected the Nets to be major players in the Eastern Conference playoffs this year and after the announcement that Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving, Spencer Dinwiddie, and DeAndre Jordan won’t be playing in the Orlando restart any chance they had at making life difficult for a top seed was over. This season in the grand scheme of things didn’t truly matter outside of seeing how Kyrie would mesh (results were…meh) with the homegrown talent already on Brooklyn. Outside of seeing how Caris LeVert performs as high volume player there’s not much to look for for the Nets. So looking past the restart they most certainly will look to gear up for a title run with Durant and Irving healthy next season. Both have quietly, and one of them more publicly, advocated towards making roster upgrades but with a likely lower than initially expected cap and not much wiggle room it will be a challenge. Sharp shooter Joe Harris will be a free agent but if based on Kyrie’s statements he wouldn’t exactly have Harris in his plans. More likely than not the Nets will play the wait and see approaching with roster changes this off-season.
Philadelphia 76ers – the NBA’s most interesting team (though the Rockets tried their best for this crown) enters the bubble as one of the most under performing teams in the association. Yes, they were 29-2 at home and navigated the injury issues of their 2 stars in Embiid and Simmons but no matter how spin it coming in as a 6 seed is not were they envisioned themselves nor did anyone else. The 76ers banked on having a top 3 defense to make up for the clunky offensive fit of the Embiid, Horford, and Harris front court but that has not panned out. Josh Richardson has done for them about what they expected but Horford has never really found his footing whether next to Embiid or as the lone big on the court. Barring an unexpected but possible run at the Finals the 76ers will likely be very active this off-season. If they’re going to shop someone it’s likely Horford who’s name will dropped most often. Perhaps if Houston abandons their 6’7″ or under path a Horford for Eric Gordon and change could be an option.
Indiana Pacers – boy oh boy has this layoff fired up the rumor mill out of Indiana. Victor Oladipo caught the league and the Pacers organization off guard by decided to not play when the season resumes in 3 weeks. Though he only appeared in 13 games this season and struggled to find his pre-injury form there was hope that the layoff would’ve allowed him to return to 100%. Not only has that door closed but there appear to be some serious tailwinds pointing Oladipo towards South Beach. Apart from Oladipo Domantas Sabonis and TJ Warren have had breakout campaigns. Though Sabonis has gotten more national attention, Warren’s averages of 53% from the field and 38% from 3 have been a pleasant surprise for Indiana. With the off-season rapidly approaching and contract talks with Oladipo on hold that situation could become untenable and a need to deal the expiring star could emerge. Additionally, the Sabonis plus Miles Turner fit continues to be not ideal so an attempt to move Turner could be explored.
Miami Heat – few outside of the Miami media and the Heat organization believed they’d be as good as they have been this season. After a hot start they were cooling a bit post All-Star and with Bam Adebayo and Kendrick Nunn still at home due to positive Covid-19 tests (both are expected to join the team eventually) the restart isn’t going ideally. Assuming Bam and Nunn join the bubble with no ill effects the Heat could be a poised for a strong playoff run. Following the mid-season trade shipping out Winslow, Waiters, and Johnson and gaining Iguodala, Crowder, and Hill they have the wing versatility to “deal” with likes of Giannis, Tatum, Brown, and Siakam. By and large this season was about a championship for Miami, what they have done is gain the ability to create 2 max spaces for the Summer of 2021 (which seems WAY closer now) and built up some major young assets in Nunn, Herro, and Robinson and to a lesser degree Derrick Jones Jr. In a league never short on disgruntled stars the Pat Riley will be more than ready to strike when the opportunity presents itself.
Boston Celtics – though the layoff has given some of Boston’s linchpins a chance to get back to full health (Kemba, Hayward, Smart), you could argue nobody was hotter than Jayson Tatum. Tatum seemed to be pushing his already high ceiling higher with some standout performances against the Western Conference elite…
So long as health doesn’t derail the C’s in the bubble they will be more than capable of coming out of the East. They also could have the most interesting roster card to play out of anyone in the bubble…with a move of super small lineup of Tatum at Center flanked by Brown, Hayward, Smart, and Kemba. Which highlights their most glaring weakness in that of an above average big. This off-season expect Danny Ainge to do his best to find a rim-running defensive big (remember they were in the Clint Capela market).
Toronto Raptors – few believed the Raptors would be as good as their were this season and the Raptor doubters certainly won’t make the same mistake when evaluating the Nick Nurse led squad. Pascal Saikam (that’s Mr. Spicy to you) has somehow taken his most improved 2018-2019 season and gone to another level yet again. They have weather injuries to key players (Lowry, VanVleet, Siakam, and Gasol) and gotten tremendous seasons from Serge Ibaka, OG Ananoby, and Norm Powell. They are a real threat to the top seeded Bucks and I can only hope that the Raptors will go full AAU style and breakout their full court diamond press come July 30th. Looking ahead to the off-season they will have to decide if they want to bring back an aging, but still good Gasol or could they let him walk and look to a Lowry for Horford swap and turn over full Point Guard duties to VanVleet.
Milwaukee Bucks – this season we’ve seen a lot of teams “double down” on what they believe they excel at whether it’s the Rockets and small ball, the Heat and developing young talent, the Knicks and being poorly run, or the Raptors believing in their institutional structure to continue to compete; but perhaps no one has “doubled down” and hit quite like the Bucks have. Budenholzer implemented a 5 out offense last year and surrounded Giannis with shooting. This season ratcheted it up another notch by adding more plus 3 point shooters (Wes Matthews and Kyle Korver) and giving more minutes to Donte DiVincenzo. With their shooting and some back to back MVP alien guy named Giannis the Bucks should be the favorite to win it all. Especially if you’re a believer in the old school mentality of teams need to take playoff lumps and continuity mattering. But the under the radar issue with the Bucks that’s coming fast is that they have an sneaky aging roster. The Lopez brothers are 31 and will begin to show signs of decline soon, George Hill is 33, Eric Bledsoe is on the wrong side of 30, Wes Matthews is 33, and Middelton will be 29 next season. This certainly isn’t an OH MY GAWD we need to get young but should the Bucks underwhelm in the bubble and/or next season in their title chase these things could be weighing on Giannis’s mind when he contemplates his future in the summer of 2020-2021. If you were someone who liked to read the tea leaves they might just be saying that this scenario sounds eerily similar to Lebron and Cleveland circa 2010, but you’d have to ask them.