Eastern Conference power rankings
1. Cleveland Cavaliers
2015-16: 57-25, 1st (.695 pct.)
You get what you pay for, and with a $133 million payroll, the Cavs have bought a lot, including the game’s greatest player and rising star Kyrie Irving. New coach Tyronn Lue convinced the Cavs to defend – see Kevin Love’s crucial NBA Finals’ Game 7 stand — and share the ball .
2. Toronto Raptors
2015-16: 56-26, 2nd (.683)
The loss of Bismack Biyombo and his defense to free agency (Orlando) will hurt. The return of DeMarre Carroll to good health and an expanded role for big man Jonas Valanciunas will help. The Raptors’ Kyle Lowry-DeMar DeRozan backcourt remains suspect for the playoffs.
3. Washington Wizards
2015-16: 41-41, 10th (.500)
Coach Scott Brooks proved in Oklahoma City that he can massage egos and manage two young stars. He’s been hired by the Wizards to do it again with the gifted but unrealized John Wall-Bradley Beal backcourt. There’s lots of young talent here.
4. Boston Celtics
2015-16: 48-34, 5th (.585)
GM Danny Ainge hasn’t yet made the blockbuster trade he seeks, but Al Horford’s free-agent signing speeds a solid rebuilding process due in good part to Brad Stevens’ astute coaching. Still, the Celtics have no superstar in a conference where the top competition might have two of them.
5. Detroit Pistons
2015-16: 44-38, 8th (.537)
Coach/GM Stan Van Gundy has a young team on the rise. He rebuilt the roster around the Andre Drummond and Reggie Jackson inside-out combo and has upgraded the defense. Look for two-way guard Kentavious Caldwell-Pope to show why Wolves coveted him in the 2013 draft.
6. Indiana Pacers
2015-16: 45-37, 7th (.549)
The Pacers are a sexy pick because they’ve added Jeff Teague, Al Jefferson and Thaddeus Young to a core that features the great Paul George. But they’ll miss the grit George Hill and Ian Mahinmi provided; they’ll need Myles Turner to shine on that end.
7. Atlanta Hawks
2015-16: 48-34, 4th (.585)
Horford and Teague are gone and the Hawks brought injury-prone Dwight Howard back home and re-signed underrated Kent Bazemore to a huge contract. Point-guard Dennis Schroder has the keys, and underrated Paul Millsap remains.
8. Charlotte Hornets
2015-16: 48-34, 6th (.585)
A team on the rise lost Jeremy Lin, Jefferson and Courtney Lee from last season. But dynamic guard Kemba Walker remains and stopper Michael Kidd-Gilchrist is back healthy for defensive-minded coach Steve Clifford, who needs to develop offense.
9. New York Knicks
2015-16: 32-50, 13th (.390)
In theory, the Knicks are bound to make a leap after last year’s lousy season. The additions of Derrick Rose, Joakim Noah, Courtney Lee and new coach Jeff Hornacek alongside Carmelo Anthony and Kristaps Porzingis should make them an Eastern presence.
10. Orlando Magic
2015-16: 35-47, 11th (.427)
A team that will struggle to score has invested in its frontcourt and defense, starting with Biyombo’s signing and hiring of former Indiana coach Frank Vogel. Newly acquired Serge Ibaka will help.
11. Chicago Bulls
2015-16: 42-40, 9th (.512)
Dwyane Wade has come home to Chicago to play with Rajon Rondo and Jimmy Butler, a combo that’d be great if this were 2012. Good health will be an issue, as will shooting and defense for a team likely better on paper than the court.
12. Miami Heat
2015-16: 48-34, 3rd (.585)
Hello, Goran Dragic and Hassan Whiteside, now that Chris Bosh’s career apparently is over and Wade has returned home to Chicago. Erik Spoelstra is an excellent defensive coach, but not even he’s good enough for a team that lacks scoring and depth.
13. Milwaukee Bucks
2015-16: 33-49 (12th, .402)
Freakish Greek Giannis Anetokuonmpo is headed toward All-Star status, but his Bucks won’t come along with him for the ride, not with valuable Khris Middleton out until probably March because of hamstring surgery.
14. Philadelphia 76ers
2015-16: 10-72, 15th (.122)
The 76ers’ time finally is coming, just not yet. And at least not until No. 1 pick Ben Simmons’ broken foot heals. They’re still lopsided with mismatched frontcourt players (don’t forget Joel Embiid) and very thin in the backcourt.
15. Brooklyn Nets
2015-16: 21-61, 14th (.256)
The Nets once gambled on their future, lost big time and now they’ll pay the price. The NBA’s worst team, they’ve traded away their most valuable draft picks until 2019 and are starting from scratch with new GM Sean Marks and coach Kenny Atkinson.