The Western Conference of the NBA has dominated the league over the course of the last several seasons, and will likely do so for several seasons to come. So, in order to effectively foresee when exactly the Eastern Conference's next title will come, I'm going to break everything down by season, predicting the Finals match-ups and victors, until I come to the East's lucky year.
Seeing as I am not actually a future-teller, and I am not actually looking in to a crystal ball while writing this, I am going to assume that no key players on each team that I discuss will be traded/cut. I will, however, account for key players changing teams in free agency.
First, though, I should put the current state of the league in perspective through a small basketball history lesson. The Cleveland Cavaliers were the most recent NBA champions to hail from the East, back in 2016. Before that, it was the Miami Heat (twice) in 2012 and 2013. Those teams are the only Eastern Conference teams to win a championship in the last decade.
The one major thing all three of those years' winners have in common? LeBron James. LeBron led the Heat, and most recently, the Cavs, to NBA Finals and won three times in eight trips. Now, following LeBron's departure to the Los Angeles Lakers, the East has lost its Finals stalwart.
2018-2019 NBA Season
So, now that the East is considered to be a three-team race between the Philadelphia 76ers, Boston Celtics, and Toronto Raptors for 2018-'19, let's take a look at the upcoming season.
I'm probably going to come off as entirely biased and just picking the Raptors outright without considering the other two equally-talented teams, but that's not what this is. With the additions of two champions in Kawhi Leonard (also a two-time Defensive Player of the Year) and Danny Green, and the continued development of the explosive young core, the Raptors are my pick coming out of the East over Boston and Philly.
The West should not even be considered a competition this year. Last season, the Warriors had legitimate rivals in the Houston Rockets, but after the loss of (arguably) their best defensive players, Trevor Ariza and Luc Mbah a Moute, and the questionable decision of adding a washed-up Carmelo Anthony, the Rockets have gotten considerably worse.
While everyone loves to expect big things of the Lakers and I'm certainly not one to look down on LeBron James, this roster doesn't have enough pieces surrounding him to be a legitimate contender in the NBA's superior conference. Terrence Ross said it best, when he tweeted that LeBron joined the "Cavs of the West" in the offseason.
Now, although I personally wouldn't go as far as to say that the Lebron-less Lakers are as bad as the Lebron-less Cavs, they aren't good enough to help him to another title.
Add that to the greatly improved roster of Golden State, who simply added the one piece they were missing in their previous ring-winning seasons: a good center. Unfortunately for the rest of the league, however, the Warriors didn't just add a good center. They added a phenomenal center, widely regarded as top-5 in the NBA at his position: DeMarcus "Boogie" Cousins.
I've got the Warriors coming out of the West for the fifth straight year.
As much as I would like to be optimistic, in this case, I think I have to be realistic. In a seven-game series between the 2018-'19 Golden State Warriors and Toronto Raptors, I can't see this series going too far, if at all, past five games.
Golden State just has too many weapons at their disposal. Kawhi can limit KD's production, and JV might be able to hang on to Boogie, but Steph and Klay outmatch the Raptors' backcourt of Kyle Lowry and Danny Green, and the bench of the Raptors is not as superior to that of the Warriors as it needs to be. I've got the Warriors of the Western Conference in a relatively easy six games.
Disclaimer: from here on out I will not speak of anyone other than the Golden State Warriors when I speak of the Western Conference, at least until the end, because when I do, it will be the East taking the league.
With both Klay Thompson's and DeMarcus Cousins' contracts expiring at the end of the 2018-'19 season, 2020 just might be the East's year to break the streak. Unfortunately for basketball fans everywhere, (other than in Oakland, home to Golden State) it's not.
First, one of these key players will likely re-sign with the team, as opposed to moving elsewhere. Klay Thompson was drafted by the Warriors and doesn't have any sort of qualms about, despite his great talent, being a second, or in this case third, fiddle. Expect Klay to re-sign, which will speak volumes to his personality and the genius of the Warriors' front office.
With that being said, regardless of whether Boogie re-signs or leaves, that four-man core of Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Kevin Durant, and Draymond Green, is more than enough to beat whoever comes out of the East.
Speaking of the East, I have Boston competing with the Warriors for the title in 2020. If you keep up with NBA news at all, it should be clear that star point guard Kyrie Irving will still be with the Celtics past the expiration of his current contract, as will young wing, Jaylen Brown, maintaining the core of Brown, Jayson Tatum, (who will still be on his rookie contract) Kyrie, a slightly past-his-prime Al Horford, and Gordon Hayward. That's a scary, scary lineup.
The Raptors, as things currently stand in the fall of 2018, will probably, as hopeful as their fans may currently be, lose Kawhi Leonard in free agency. This takes them back to where they were before they acquired him, minus four-time All Star shooting guard, DeMar DeRozan.
So, with Boston fighting hard in 2020 against the Warriors in the NBA Finals, in what will likely be an all-out war, I still have to go with Golden State. It's just too difficult for me to bet against a team with a 3-1, or if I'm right about 2018-'19, a 4-1 Finals record. Golden State Warriors in a hard-fought seven games.
I already said it, but here's just a quick reminder that I expect the Warriors to rule the West for the fore-seeable future, and so will not talk about any other team in their conference in a Finals.
As for the Eastern Conference, the Celtics are once again my favourite to appear in the Finals, with Gordon Hayward in a contract years, thus attempting to prove himself in order to get paid the following season.
The only weakness of this Celtics lineup would probably be a steadily declining Al Horford, who turns 34 before the start of the 2020-'21 season.
Once again, we see the C's playing the Dubs in the Finals, and once again, it's close.
With Golden State having lost DeMarcus Cousins in free agency two off-seasons prior to the 2021 Finals, the Celtics would likely have the stronger center. In addition, the C's bench would be better than the Warriors, with Warriors' bench unit leaders Andre Igoudala and Shaun Livingston nearing 40 years of age.
As for the backcourt battle, Steph Curry still has the edge over Kyrie, but in the fourth year of his career, don't be surprised if the much more explosive, athletic player in Jayson Tatum, is better than a 31 year old Klay Thompson, whose only ability outside of tiny, tiny spurts of midrange shots and open layups, is to shoot from outside. Admittedly, Klay can shoot the three-ball better than anyone in the league, with the exception of his own point guard, but in terms of overall ability, I like Tatum over Klay by 2021.
The one guy who stands heads-and-shoulders above his match is Kevin Durant. That's not to say that Hayward isn't a good player. He's good. Great, even. Unfortunately for him, he's squaring up against the man who, at this point, will be the best player in the world.
I do believe that Hayward can limit him enough on the defensive end and contribute just enough on the offensive end for the Celtics to eke out a series win in seven games. Boston Celtics in a hard-fought seven.
So, there you have it folks. The Boston Celtics will once again be champions, bringing both the Eastern conference and their own franchise back from the depths, taking seven games, but finally beating the Warriors in the NBA Finals, year 2021.