- Associated Press - Thursday, October 20, 2016

Team-by-team capsules for the NBA’s Eastern Conference, listed alphabetically within divisions:

___

ATLANTIC DIVISION

BOSTON CELTICS

LAST SEASON: 48-34, lost in Eastern Conference quarterfinals.

COACH: Brad Stevens (fourth season, fourth NBA season).

PROJECTED STARTING FIVE: F Jae Crowder (14.2 ppg), F Amir Johnson (7.3 ppg), C Al Horford (15.2 ppg), G Avery Bradley (15.2 ppg), G Isaiah Thomas (22.2 ppg).

ADDED: Horford, F Jaylen Brown.

LOST: G-F Evan Turner, F Jared Sullinger.

PLAYER TO WATCH: Horford. The Celtics definitely improved around the rim by adding Horford on the inside. He also has the ability to stretch the floor as a shooter, which should open up things more for Boston’s backcourt, and gives the Celtics a much-needed veteran presence.

OUTLOOK: Some bad luck on the injury front late in the season stunted Boston in the playoffs, and the Celtics aren’t expected to have Kelly Olynyk (offseason shoulder surgery) ready to start this season. But with a young core - Thomas, Bradley, Crowder, Marcus Smart and Terry Rozier - to combine with Horford, and with the highly respected Stevens leading the way the Celtics could be Cleveland’s biggest challenger in the East.

___

BROOKLYN NETS

LAST SEASON: 21-61, missed playoffs.

COACH: Kenny Atkinson (first season, first NBA season).

PROJECTED STARTING FIVE: F Rondae Hollis-Jefferson (5.8 ppg), F Trevor Booker (5.9 ppg), C Brook Lopez (20.6 ppg), G Jeremy Lin (11.7 ppg), G Bojan Bogdanovic (11.2 ppg).

ADDED: Lin, Booker, G Randy Foye, G Greivis Vasquez, G Joe Harris, F Luis Scola, F Justin Hamilton, F Anthony Bennett, F Caris LeVert.

LOST: F Thaddeus Young, F Thomas Robinson, G Jarrett Jack, G Wayne Ellington, G Shane Larkin, G Donald Sloan, G Markel Brown.

PLAYER TO WATCH: Lin. Nearly five years after Linsanity briefly lit up New York, the point guard returns to the city coming off a strong season as a backup in Charlotte and believing he’s ready to lead a team again as a starter. Playing under Atkinson, who was a Knicks assistant during that 2011-12 season, should help his transition.

OUTLOOK: The Nets are thinking about the long term in building the team, which means the now isn’t going to be pretty. Absent the star power they tried to line the roster with in their first few years in Brooklyn, the Nets should be one of the worst teams in the NBA and miss the playoffs for the second straight season.

___

NEW YORK KNICKS

LAST SEASON: 32-50, missed playoffs.

COACH: Jeff Hornacek (first season, fourth NBA season).

PROJECTED STARTING FIVE: F Carmelo Anthony (21.8 ppg), F Kristaps Porzingis (14.3 ppg), C Joakim Noah (4.3 ppg), G Derrick Rose (16.4 ppg), G Courtney Lee (9.6 ppg).

ADDED: Rose, Lee, Noah, G Brandon Jennings, G Justin Holiday, C Guillermo “Willy” Hernangomez, C Marshall Plumlee, F Mindaugas Kuzminskas.

LOST: C Robin Lopez, G Arron Afflalo, G Langston Galloway, G Jose Calderon, G Jerian Grant, F Derrick Williams, F Kevin Seraphin.

PLAYER TO WATCH: Rose. The oft-injured guard played in 66 games last season for Chicago, his most since his MVP season of 2010-11. He said he’s healthy now and was able to focus on basketball during the offseason instead of rehabbing from injury, but the transition to his new team has been delayed while he missed most of preseason because of his now-completed rape civil trial in Los Angeles.

OUTLOOK: The talent Phil Jackson brought in is good enough to get the Knicks into the playoffs for the first time since 2013. But they have to stay healthy, and that’s been a problem in particular for Rose and Noah.

___

PHILADELPHIA 76ERS

LAST SEASON: 10-72, missed playoffs.

COACH: Brett Brown (fourth season, fourth NBA season).

PROJECTED STARTING FIVE: PG T.J. McConnell (6.1 ppg), SG Nik Stausukas (8.5 ppg), SF Robert Covington (12.8 ppg), PF Jahlil Okafor (17.5 ppg), C Joel Embiid (missed first two seasons).

ADDED: G-F Ben Simmons, G Gerald Henderson, G-F Timothe Luwawu.

LOST: G Ish Smith.

PLAYER TO WATCH: Embiid. Surgeries cost him his first two pro seasons, meaning he hasn’t played since his lone season at Kansas - and therefore could win rookie of the year, three years after he gets drafted. The versatile 7-foot-2 center has become a hit in Philadelphia with his social media posts. The 76ers are counting on even more production on the court and have loosened the minutes restrictions they expected to place on him this season.

OUTLOOK: It will still be a struggle. Simmons, the No. 1 overall pick, should be sidelined for months because of a broken bone in his right foot and Okafor and Noel are both battling injuries. The Sixers are no longer tankers, but seem well away from the playoffs. No, they won’t win 10 games again. But more than 20 would be a major success.

___

TORONTO RAPTORS

LAST SEASON: 56-26, lost in Eastern Conference finals.

COACH: Dwane Casey (sixth season, eighth NBA season).

PROJECTED STARTING FIVE: G Kyle Lowry (21.2 ppg), G DeMar DeRozan (23.5 ppg), C Jonas Valanciunas (12.8 ppg), F DeMarre Carroll (11.0 ppg), F Jared Sullinger (10.3 ppg).

ADDED: Sullinger, C Jakon Poeltl, F Pascasl Siakam, G Fred VanVleet.

LOST: C Bismack Biyombo, F James Johnson, F Luis Scola, C Jason Thompson.

PLAYER TO WATCH: DeRozan. After averaging a career-high 23.5 points per game last season, DeRozan opted out of his contract before signing a $139 million, five-year deal to remain a Raptor without really testing the free-agent market. He helped the U.S. win a gold medal at the Rio Olympics, and says he represents Toronto “harder than anybody.”

OUTLOOK: Toronto brings back the core of the team that put together the best regular season record in team history and its deepest playoff run. While Eastern Conference opponents such as New York and Chicago had busier summers, the Raptors continue to build around DeRozan and Lowry. The elusive goal is to unseat LeBron James, whose teams have represented the East in six straight NBA Finals.

___

CENTRAL DIVISION

CHICAGO BULLS

LAST SEASON: 42-40, missed playoffs.

COACH: Fred Hoiberg (second season, second NBA season).

PROJECTED STARTING FIVE: F Jimmy Butler (20.9 ppg), F Nikola Mirotic (11.8 ppg), C Robin Lopez (10.3 ppg), G Rajon Rondo (11.9 ppg), G Dwyane Wade (19.0 ppg).

ADDED: Wade, Lopez, Rondo, G Michael Carter-Williams, G Jerian Grant, G Denzel Valentine.

LOST: G Derrick Rose, F Pau Gasol, C Joakim Noah, G Tony Snell.

PLAYER TO WATCH: Butler. His reputation took a hit last season for calling out Hoiberg and simply not clicking with Rose. But now he has a three-time champion to learn from in Wade, and could take a major step forward.

OUTLOOK: The Bulls figure to be a whole lot more interesting at least with the additions of Wade and Rondo. But will they be better? The Bulls needed to shake things up coming off their first playoff miss since 2008. They sure did that by jettisoning Rose - the Chicago product and former MVP - to New York. Wade comes home to Chicago with three championships and 12 All-Star selections in 13 seasons with Miami, but he and Rondo are both on the wrong side of 30.

___

CLEVELAND CAVALIERS

LAST SEASON: 57-25, won NBA championship.

COACH: Tyronn Lue (second season, second NBA season).

PROJECTED STARTING FIVE: F LeBron James (25.3 ppg), F Kevin Love (16.0 ppg), C Tristan Thompson G (7.8 ppg), G Kyrie Irving (19.6 ppg), G J.R. Smith (12.4 ppg).

ADDED: F Mike Dunleavy, C Chris Andersen, G Kay Felder.

LOST: G Matthew Dellavedova, C Timofey Mozgov, G Mo Williams, F/C Anderson Varejao, C Sasha Kaun.

PLAYER TO WATCH: Irving. He’s healthy and bursting with confidence after winning a league title and Olympic gold medal this summer. It took some time, but Irving has figured out how to play alongside James and vice versa. Irving, still just 24, has matured on and off the floor and has been helped by Lue, a journeyman point guard who is bringing out the best in one of his stars.

OUTLOOK: The pressure is off for James and his teammates, who made history with their comeback from a 3-1 deficit in the NBA Finals to become the first Cleveland team to win a championship since 1964. At 31, James is showing no signs of decline and remains the game’s most complete player. He’s three titles from catching Michael Jordan, and for the first time in his career he’s embracing the chase. A Finals rematch with Golden State looks inevitable.

___

DETROIT PISTONS

LAST SEASON: 44-38, lost in Eastern Conference quarterfinals.

COACH: Stan Van Gundy (third season, 11th NBA season).

PROJECTED STARTING FIVE: F Tobias Harris (14.7 ppg), F Marcus Morris (14.1 ppg), C Andre Drummond (16.2 ppg), G Reggie Jackson (18.8 ppg), G Kentavious Caldwell-Pope (14.5 ppg).

ADDED: G Ish Smith, F Jon Leuer.

LOST: G Steve Blake, G Jodie Meeks, F Anthony Tolliver.

PLAYER TO WATCH: Drummond is the player the Pistons have built around, but his free throw shooting prevented him from being on the court late in some big games last season. He was 35.5 percent from the line in 2015-16, and there’s been no clear evidence of improvement during the preseason.

OUTLOOK: Detroit returned to the playoffs last season for the first time since 2009, and the next step for this young team is to improve to where it can advance past the first round. Van Gundy has helped lift this franchise after some pretty lean years, although the Pistons are facing an immediate challenge in 2016-17 because Jackson could miss at least the first month of the regular season because of knee and thumb problems.

___

INDIANA PACERS

LAST SEASON: 45-37, lost in Eastern Conference quarterfinals.

COACH: Nate McMillan (first season, 13th NBA season).

PROJECTED STARTING FIVE: PG Jeff Teague (15.7 ppg), SG Monta Ellis (13.8 ppg), SF Paul George (23.1 ppg), PF Thaddeus Young (15.1 ppg), C Myles Turner (10.3 ppg).

ADDED: Teague, Young, C Al Jefferson, F Georges Niang, G Aaron Brooks.

LOST: PG George Hill, C Ian Mahinmi, F Jordan Hill, F Solomon Hill.

PLAYER TO WATCH: George. Admittedly not 100 percent last season, the three-time All-Star still played well most of last season and was dominant in the playoffs. Now, after winning an Olympic gold medal, the 26-year-old star appears poised for a breakout season as he chases an NBA championship.

OUTLOOK: Indiana’s offseason moves - including having McMillan replace Frank Vogel - have completely changed the look of this team. The addition of Teague will allow the Pacers to play at Larry Bird’s preferred up-tempo pace. The addition of Young and the maturation of second-year center Myles Turner now make this a true spread team. The question is whether they’re good enough to challenge the defending champion Cavaliers in the East.

___

MILWAUKEE BUCKS

LAST SEASON: 33-49, missed playoffs.

COACH: Jason Kidd (third season, fourth NBA season).

PROJECTED STARTING FIVE: F Giannis Antetokounmpo (16.9 ppg), F Jabari Parker (14.1 ppg), C Miles Plumlee (5.1 ppg), G Matthew Dellavedova (7.5 ppg), G Tony Snell (5.3 ppg).

ADDED: Dellavedova, Snell, F Mirza Teletovic, G Jason Terry, F Thon Maker, G Malcolm Brogdon.

LOST: G Jerryd Bayless, G Michael Carter-Williams, G Tyler Ennis, G O.J. Mayo, G Greivis Vasquez.

PLAYER TO WATCH: Antetokounmpo. The forward-looking Bucks lived up to their motto in signing the athletic fourth-year player to an extension just before the start of the season. Now the 6-foot-11 Antetokounmpo will handle ball-handling responsibilities for a full season for the first time after excelling in the role late last year.

OUTLOOK: Playoff hopes took a hit when leading scorer Khris Middleton (18.2 ppg) was lost for six months to a hamstring injury in September. Antetokounmpo is a matchup problem and should only get better, as should fellow franchise cornerstone Parker. The Bucks have to improve their outside shooting with Dellavedova, Snell and Teletovic, and can’t allow 103 points per game again.

___

SOUTHEAST DIVISION

ATLANTA HAWKS

LAST SEASON: 48-34, lost in Eastern Conference semifinals.

COACH: Mike Budenholzer (fourth season, fourth NBA season).

PROJECTED STARTING FIVE: F Kent Bazemore (11.6 ppg), F Paul Milsap (17.1 ppg), C Dwight Howard (13.7 ppg), G Kyle Korver (9.2 ppg), G Dennis Schroder (11.0 ppg).

ADDED: Howard, G Jarrett Jack, G Malcolm Delaney, F Taurean Prince, F DeAndre Bembry.

LOST: F-C Al Horford, G Jeff Teague.

PLAYER TO WATCH: Howard. The Atlanta native transformed the Hawks’ lineup, giving the team the legitimate center it lacked through much of the past decade, when he signed a three-year, $70.5 million deal in July. Howard’s defensive rebounds and shot-blocking skills could trigger fast breaks, with the super-quick Schroder leading the way.

OUTLOOK: The Hawks were given a mini-facelift after making their ninth straight playoff appearance, the longest active streak in the East. Getting swept by Cleveland in the second round showed the Hawks weren’t title contenders. Howard is in the spotlight, but equally important to the makeover will be Schroder’s ability to utilize his quickness while playing under control as he takes over the point guard position.

___

CHARLOTTE HORNETS

LAST SEASON: 48-34, lost in Eastern Conference quarterfinals.

COACH: Steve Clifford (fourth season, fourth NBA season).

PROJECTED STARTING FIVE: F Marvin Williams (11.7 ppg), F Michael Kidd-Gilchrist (12.7 ppg), C Cody Zeller (8.7 ppg), G Kemba Walker (20.9 ppg), G Nicolas Batum (14.9 ppg).

ADDED: G Marco Belinelli, C Roy Hibbert, G Ramon Sessions.

LOST: G Jeremy Lin, G Courtney Lee, C Al Jefferson, C Tyler Hansbrough.

PLAYER TO WATCH: Walker. He elevated his game last season with vastly improved 3-point shooting and a better working knowledge on how to set up the pick and roll. Several teammates felt like Walker should have been an All-Star. Walker, who is coming off offseason knee surgery, has set that as a goal this season. When the Hornets need a basket late in the game, chances are Walker is going to be the one taking it.

OUTLOOK: The Hornets aren’t going to be as good as they were offensively after losing Lin, Lee and Jefferson. They’re hoping Clifford can help resurrect the careers of Belinelli and Hibbert, who are coming off tough seasons.

___

MIAMI HEAT

LAST SEASON: 48-34, lost in Eastern Conference semifinals.

COACH: Erik Spoelstra (ninth season, ninth NBA season).

PROJECTED STARTING FIVE: G Goran Dragic (14.1 ppg), G Dion Waiters (9.8 ppg), C Hassan Whiteside (14.2 ppg), F Justise Winslow (6.4 ppg), F Derrick Williams (9.3 ppg).

ADDED: Waiters, Williams, F Luke Babbitt, F James Johnson, G Wayne Ellington, C Willie Reed, G Rodney McGruder.

LOST: G Dwyane Wade, F Luol Deng, G-F Joe Johnson, G Gerald Green, C Amare Stoudemire, G Dorell Wright.

PLAYER TO WATCH: Whiteside. He has a $98 million contract for the next four seasons, and with Wade gone and Chris Bosh not in the team’s plans going forward the pressure to lead now falls on his shoulders. Time will tell if he’s ready.

OUTLOOK: The Heat believe they have enough to be in the playoff mix, though there’s obvious uncertainty entering a season without Wade for the first time in 14 years. Waiters could be a major key - he took a $2.9 million deal, saying he’s betting on himself this season. And the Heat will play faster, a pace Dragic likes. Getting Josh Richardson back from his knee injury will be an early season boost.

___

ORLANDO MAGIC

LAST SEASON: 35-47, missed playoffs.

COACH: Frank Vogel (first season, seventh NBA season).

PROJECTED STARTING FIVE: F Aaron Gordon (9.2 ppg), F Serge Ibaka (12.6 ppg), C Nikola Vucevic (18.2 ppg), G Evan Fournier (15.4 ppg), G Elfrid Payton (10.7 ppg).

ADDED: Ibaka, C Bismack Biyombo, F Jeff Green, G Jodie Meeks, G D.J. Augustin, F Damjan Rudez.

LOST: G Victor Oladipo, C Dewayne Dedmon, F Ersan Ilyasova, G Brandon Jennings, F Andrew Nicholson.

PLAYER TO WATCH: Gordon will be a key. Vogel has shifted Gordon to small forward this season, which means his outside game will be called upon more and he’ll be asked to guard smaller - and quicker - players. Vogel envisions Gordon being in the mold of Paul George when he coached him with Indiana.

OUTLOOK: Orlando hasn’t been in the playoffs since Dwight Howard departed in 2012. Vogel hopes to get Orlando there by improving the defense with the offseason acquisitions of Ibaka and Biyombo, who should greatly improve the interior defense. But there’s also scoring questions, and whether Now the Magic just have to find some consistent scoring among Fournier, Gordon, Green and Meeks.

___

WASHINGTON WIZARDS

LAST SEASON: 41-41, missed playoffs.

COACH: Scott Brooks (first season, eighth NBA season).

PROJECTED STARTING FIVE: G John Wall (19.9 ppg), G Bradley Beal (17.4 ppg), C Marcin Gortat (13.5 ppg), F Markieff Morris (12.4 ppg), F Otto Porter (11.6 ppg).

ADDED: C Ian Mahinmi, G/F Tomas Satoransky, G Trey Burke, F Andrew Nicholson, F/C Jason Smith.

LOST: G Garrett Temple, F Jared Dudley, F/C Nene, G Ramon Sessions, F J.J. Hickson, F Drew Gooden.

PLAYER TO WATCH: Wall. Even though he’s coming off a surgical procedure on each knee, Wall is primed for a fourth consecutive all-star appearance at age 26. The 2010 No. 1 pick had career highs in points, assists, rebounds and steals last season and is determined to get the Wizards back to the playoffs, even if he has to carry them there himself.

OUTLOOK: Changes were guaranteed after Washington missed the playoffs following two postseason trips, and it started with replacing Randy Wittman with Brooks. He wants consistent defense and better home-court play to be hallmarks for the Wizards, who have talent to score. If everything goes right, the Wizards will return to the playoffs - a first step toward bigger things down the road.

LOAD COMMENTS ()

 

Click to Read More

Click to Hide