By Jalon Dixon, Columnist
The offseason game known as free agency has turned the league upside down. With so many moving parts, forward Kawhi Leonard being the biggest piece as he heads to the Clippers, what team will steal the Eastern Conference crown from the Toronto Raptors.
The Eastern Conference remains weak amongst its bottom half, leaving only two teams I see as good enough to come out of the East: Philadelphia 76ers and Milwaukee Bucks
The Bucks are essentially running it back as they bring back the reigning MVP in Giannis Antetokounmpo along with All-Star forward Khris Middleton, Brook Lopez, Eric Bledsoe and others. With Leonard no longer in the conference, and the bitter taste of blowing a 2-0 series lead in the Conference Finals, the Bucks should be heavily motivated.
The loss of point guard Malcolm Brogdon to the Indiana Pacers is a huge hit to their depth and guard rotation and Nikola Mirotic leaving the NBA entirely to go play in the Euro League does not help either. On the bright side, they were able to acquire Wesley Matthews in free agency who provides defensive versatility and three point shooting.
Antetokounmpo averaged 27.7 points, 12.5 rebounds and 5.9 assists without a reliable 3-point shot. I do not know how much better he can get statistically, but you cannot put anything past him. Antetokounmpo has improved every year since entering the league and now he knows what it is like to be within arm’s reach of an NBA Finals appearance. Expect another MVP caliber season from him to put the Bucks amongst the best teams in the league once again.
Then, there are the 76ers, who go into next season with a highly talented starting five looking to overwhelm opposing teams with their star power.
Despite losing guards Jimmy Butler to the Miami Heat and JJ Redick to the New Orleans Pelicans, the Sixers were still able to supplement those losses with quality pick-ups in free agency, trades and the draft. By resigning forward Tobias Harris, stealing All-Star center Al Horford from the Boston Celtics and getting a growing playmaker in Josh Richardson out of the Butler trade, they are maintaining are promising starting lineup.
There are also players like last year’s draft pick in guard Zhaire Smith and this year’s pick, guard Matisse Thybulle, who both provide wing depth and shooting off the bench in a rotation containing a lot of versatility on both sides of the ball. As a talent heavy team with center Joel Embiid and guard Ben Simmons leading the charge, this Sixers squad has the makeup of a championship roster. They just need to put the talent to good use.
The East is always up for grabs as the weaker of the two conferences, but from a talent perspective, it is a two-team race for the top spot.