Where does the Heat stand in the Eastern Conference hierarchy after a flurry of trades and free agent transactions around the league? A glimpse at how the East looks after significant moves involving every team:
THE TOP TIER
▪ Milwaukee: The Bucks could not afford point guard Malcolm Brogdon — who was shipped to Indiana, which gave him $75 million over five years — but retained their second-most important piece in Khris Middleton (five years, $178 million) and replaced Brogdon by re-signing George Hill (three years, $29 million) and signing Wes Matthews (10.9 points per game for Indiana last season). Matthews is the likely front-runner to start alongside Eric Bledsoe.
And not only did the Bucks retain Brook Lopez, who was a big part of their success last season, with a four-year, $52 million contract, but also they signed his brother Robin Lopez (9.5 ppg with Chicago last season) with a two-year, $10 million deal. Even without Brogdon, they’re likely the front-runners in the East or at least co-favorites with the 76ers.
▪ Philadelphia: The starting lineup of Joel Embiid, Al Horford, Josh Richardson, Ben Simmons and Tobias Harris is as good as anyone in the East. The question, after losing J.J. Redick to New Orleans and Jimmy Butler to Miami, is whether they will have championship-level offense, unless Simmons (0 for 17 on his career on three-pointers) can develop his long-range game.
The 76ers retained some wing depth with Mike Scott (two years, $9.8 million) and James Ennis (two years, $4.2 million) while adding center Kyle O’Quinn (one year, $1.2 million).
THE NEXT TIER
▪ Boston: The Celtics’ front-court depth took a hit with the loss of Horford to Philadelphia and Arron Baynes to Phoenix, but they recovered from losing Kyrie Irving by acquiring Kemba Walker and added a quality interior scorer and rebounder in Enes Kanter, though he’s defensively deficient. The wings (Walker, Gordon Hayward, Jayson Tatum, Jalen Brown, Marcus Smart) are good enough to compete for a top-two seed. The bigs probably aren’t. Swingman Romeo Langford and forward Grant Williams were added in the draft.
▪ Toronto: The question is how dramatically the Raptors will fall after losing Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard and to a much lesser extent, Danny Green. The Kyle Lowry/Pascal Siakam/Marc Gasol/Fred Van Vleet quartet — with some good supporting pieces — still should be competitive for a fifth-through-eighth seed. Without cap space to replace Leonard, the Raptors have made only minor moves, including signing ex-Net Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and former Pistons first-rounder Stanley Johnson. Keep in mind the Raptors were 17-5 when they played without Leonard last season.
▪ Indiana: The Pacers took a hit by losing underrated Bogan Bogdanovic to Utah and Thaddeus Young to Chicago but made a big move by taking Phoenix’s T.J. Warren (18 ppg last season) into cap space via trade and improved at point guard in replacing retired Darren Collison with Brogdon. Indiana also replaced the scoring of Milwaukee-bound Matthews and suspended Tyreke Evans by signing Charlotte’s Jeremy Lamb (three years, $31.5 million). T.J. McConnell (two years, $7 million) was added as a backup point guard.
Whether the Pacers compete for a top-four seed depends on how soon Victor Oladipo returns from a ruptured quadriceps tendon (he’s expected back in December or January) and how long it takes him to round back into form.
▪ Brooklyn: If Kevin Durant hadn’t been sidelined this upcoming season with a ruptured Achilles tendon, the Nets would be in the top tier. Even without him, by moving from De’Angelo Russell to Kyrie Irving and signing DeAndre Jordan, they’re improved from the team that won 42 games last season. The question is how much so.
Jordan (10.9 points, 11.9 rebounds) will form a solid center combo with Jarrett Allen. Irving (23.8 points, 6.9 assists) is an upgrade over Russell (21.1 points, 7.0 assists), but not necessarily a significant one if Russell keeps ascending. Taurean Prince (13.5 points per game last season, acquired from Atlanta for Allen Crabbe), plus Garrett Temple (three years, $10 million) and Wilson Chandler (one year, $2.6 million) add depth to a talented wing rotation including Irving, Joe Harris, Caris Lavert and Spencer Dinwiddie. DeMarre Carroll was dealt to San Antonio.
THE THIRD TIER
▪ Miami: Even though the Heat acquired an All-Star in Jimmy Butler and talented rookie in Tyler Herro, projecting a dramatic jump from 39 wins seems risky in light of Miami losing three of its six best players: Dwyane Wade, Josh Richardson and Hassan Whiteside (who, with Wade, was the only 2018-19 Heat player who ever led the NBA in anything meaningful — rebounds and blocks). Perhaps a jump from 39 to 43 wins is in order. If Miami acquires Chris Paul, it likely would move to the second tier.
▪ Orlando: The Magic — which won 42 games to claim the seventh seed — retained center Nikola Vucevic (four years, $100 million) and valuable bench scorer Terrence Ross (four years, $54 million). Al Farouq Aminu (three years, $29 million) gives Orlando another defensively skilled frontcourt player to back up Aaron Gordon and Jonathan Isaac, with Auburn power forward Chuma Okeke added at No. 16 in the draft.
▪ Detroit: A Pistons team that won two more games than Miami added Derrick Rose (two years, $15 million) and Markieff Morris in free agency and wing Tony Snell in a trade with Milwaukee, three moves that should upgrade what had been shaky depth. Rose, based off last season, should be an upgrade over underrated Ish Smith, provided Rose stays healthy (always a big if with him). The Pistons added a high-ceiling forward in the draft in Sekou Doumbouya.
▪ New York: Though free agency was nothing like the Knicks expected, the addition of Duke’s RJ Barrett in the draft and the signing of seven solid pros should lift them from a 17-win team to a potential contender for the eighth spot. They added skilled shooters in Wayne Ellington (two years, $16 million) and Reggie Bullock (two years, $21 million).
They snagged four solid power forwards — seemingly excessive — in Julius Randle (three years, $63 million; 21.4 points, 8.7 rebounds for New Orleans last season), Marcus Morris (13.9 ppg), Bobby Portis (two years, $31 million; 14.2 points, 8.1 rebounds for Chicago and Washington last season) and Taj Gibson (two years, $20 million; 10.8 points, 6.5 rebounds for Minnesota). Some of those four can play together.
And they might have upgraded a bit at point guard by moving from Emmanuel Mudiay to Elfrid Peyton (two years, $16 million; 10.6 points, 7.6 assists for New Orleans).
▪ Atlanta: Perhaps the Hawks still belong in the lowest Eastern tier, but a case could be made to place them here because they weren’t nearly as bad as the Knicks, Bulls and Cavaliers last season and they’re ascending, bolstering their young John Collins/Trae Young/Kevin Huerter nucleus with De’Andre Hunter and Cam Reddish in the draft and with Jabari Parker (15 ppg) in free agency. They also added veterans Evan Turner, Allen Crabbe and oft-injured Chandler Parsons in trades that sent Kent Bazemore, Taurean Prince, Solomon Hill and Miles Plumlee elsewhere.
▪ Washington: A case could be made to move the Wizards to the previous tier, and move the Hawks down to this tier. After all, Washington won 32 games last season — three more than Atlanta. But the Wizards will be without John Wall for the entire season; traded Dwight Howard for CJ Miles and lost Bobby Portis (Knicks) and Trevor Ariza (Kings).
They’ll try to get by at point guard with Ish Smith (two years, $12 million) and Isaiah Thomas (one year, $2.3 million), but it’s unclear how much Thomas has left. On the positive side, they drafted Rui Hachimura and re-signed Thomas Bryant (three years, $25 million). And they added young Lakers prospects in center Moritz Wagner, forward Jemerrio Jones and guard Isaac Bonga.
▪ Charlotte: The Hornets likely went from a 39-win team to something far worse after losing their best player (Walker) and then Lamb. Terry Rozier (three years, $58 million) is a serviceable replacement at point guard, but the Hornets didn’t have the cap space to do anything else to replace Walker, Lamb and Phoenix-bound Frank Kaminsky, beyond drafting Kentucky power forward P.J. Washington.
▪ Chicago: The Bulls, who won 22 games, should be better after drafting Coby White and adding forward Thaddeus Young (three years, $41 million) and point guard Tomas Satoransky (three years, $30 million) and three-point shooting center Luke Kornet from the Knicks. With those moves and the improvement of their young players, perhaps they get to the high 20s or low 30s in wins.
▪ Cleveland: All the augmentations for a 19-win team have come from the draft with first-rounders Darius Garland, Dylan Windler and Kevin Porter Jr. Trading Kevin Love remains an option.