When LeBron James left the Miami Heat to go back home to the Cleveland Cavaliers, he changed the balance in the Eastern Conference. The East has long been seen as a joke, but the Heat and the Indiana Pacers were elite teams everyone knew would eventually meet up in the Eastern Conference Finals. Now that LeBron is on the Cavs again, the East feels wide open.
Miami has made strides to retool and remain Eastern favorites, re-signing Chris Bosh, Mario Chalmers and Chris Andersen while also adding Luol Deng, Josh McRoberts and Danny Granger. Despite their near-mental breakdown to close out the season, the Pacers only need to find a way to re-sign Lance Stephenson to stay competitive. The Washington Wizards and Charlotte Hornets will improve next year, but they aren’t ready to contend.
Though they have the league’s best player, the Cavaliers still aren’t overwhelming favorites in the East. LeBron said it himself, and unless Cleveland relents and packages No. 1 pick Andrew Wiggins in a deal for Kevin Love, the Cavs are still too young to be seen as the cream of the crop just yet. Even though the Chicago Bulls missed out on Carmelo Anthony, they’ve quietly had a tremendous offseason. Here are five reasons they could be Eastern favorites next season.