I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that the Cleveland Cavaliers are going to win the NBA’s Eastern Conference this season. Why do I think that? Because a LeBron James-led team has won the Eastern Conference each of the past six years and his Cavaliers are heavy favorites to do so again this year. The Cavs have a wins total of 57 in the NBA odds.
Take a Closer Look at the 2016 NBA Eastern Conference Season Win Total Prediction
— Double Clutch NBA UK (@DoubleClutchUK) October 15, 2016
The Cavaliers are pretty much back intact. Of course they stunned the Golden State Warriors in the NBA Finals by rallying from a 3-1 deficit to win the franchise’s first-ever title and become the first team to rally from that hole in the NBA Finals. LeBron was very deservedly named Finals MVP in winning his third ring in seven tries. Over the series, James averaged 29.7 points, 11.3 rebounds and 8.9 assists with an effective field goal percentage of 53.3. He became the third player to record a triple-double in Game 7 of the Finals, joining Jerry West in 1969 and James Worthy in 1988. James was the first player in NBA history in any series of any length — regardless of round — to lead outright or tie for the lead among all players from both teams in points, rebounds, assists, steals and blocks for an entire series.
James punctuated his Finals performance with an amazing final two minutes of Game 7. With the game tied 89-89, James pursued the reigning Finals MVP, Andre Iguodala, on a Warriors fast break and recorded one of his trademark “chasedown” blocks as he rejected Iguodala’s layup attempt.
Roster changes were kept to a minimum in the Cavaliers offseason. The most notable loss is guard Matthew Dellavedova, a motor guy whose value was limited during The Finals. Biggest additions? Veteran shooter Mike Dunleavy and Heat big man Chris Andersen. The last piece of business was taken care of last week when J.R. Smith finally re-signed to a deal potentially worth $57 million.
The deal struck Friday will push Cleveland’s payroll to a league-record $125 million for the coming season with a luxury-tax bill in the $30 million range. The Cavs paid a league-record $54 million in taxes last season, but the NBA’s well-chronicled offseason salary-cap spike will ultimately lead to a lower tax bill for 2016-17. Smith had declined his $5.3 million player option for the 2016-17 season in July, becoming an unrestricted free agent after averaging 12.4 points, 2.8 rebounds, 1.7 assists and 1.1 steals while hitting 204 3-pointers in 77 starts last season.
Boston Celtics (52.5 Wins)
I only give one team a realistic shot of knocking off the Cavaliers in the East and that’s Boston. The Celtics are actually deeper than the Cavaliers but weren’t able to convince Kevin Durant to sign with them in free agency. But the C’s did add free-agent big man Al Horford on a four-year max deal worth $113 million. Horford has played his entire nine-year career in Atlanta, which drafted him third overall in 2007. The four-time All-Star averaged 15.2 points, 7.3 rebounds and 3.2 assists per game last season.
Horford should be a big upgrade both offensively and defensively at center for the Celtics. Boston’s starting centers (Jared Sullinger, Kelly Olynyk, Tyler Zeller, Amir Johnson) ranked last in the NBA in field goal percentage last season and 28th in blocks. Sullinger was allowed to leave in free agency and signed with Toronto. As a stretch big with a deadeye midrange game, Horford creates even more space for All-Star Isaiah Thomas to exploit on offense. Thomas made his first All-Star appearance last season, and the 5-foot- 9 point guard finished the season averaging a career-high 22.2 ppg.