After a short offseason following an altered league calendar, the NBA 2020-21 season is set to kick tip off with the Chicago Bulls looking to defend their Eastern Conference title against a number of high-powered challengers like the Milwaukee Bucks, Brooklyn Nets and Boston Celtics.
With the new season set to begin, here’s a look at each team in the Eastern Conference and how this year’s playoff race will shake out.
The Cleveland Cavaliers have the worst odds to win the NBA Championship this year, and for good reason.
Even though the Cavaliers do have two former All-Stars in their frontcourt with Kevin Love and Andre Drummond returning, the pair have battled injuries their entire careers and have no consistent production around them.
Even if Love and Drummond do remain healthy and play at All-Star caliber all season, there’s just not enough talent on the Cavaliers’ roster for them to be any better than one of the worst teams in the NBA this season, even in the weaker Eastern Conference.
As a result, Cleveland is tied for the lowest odds to win the East at +12500.
The good news for the Chicago Bulls is that they return the vast majority of their production from last season. The bad news is, they finished last season with a putrid 22-43 record.
The Bulls do welcome new head coach Billy Donovan this season, however, and he will have a strong young core to work with including potential All-Star Zach LeVine along with Wendell Carter, Lauri Markkanen, Coby White and Patrick Williams. Chicago will also have veteran Otto Porter, who is now healthy.
If those young players take a leap under Donovan, the Bulls could be a stronger team this season, but they’re still considered an Eastern Conference bottom-feeder, tied for the worst odds to win the East at +12500.
New York Knicks
This has the potential to be a long season for the New York Knicks as the franchise is amid a multi-year rebuilding process.
The Knicks don’t have a lot of proven stars, but they do have some young potential in RJ Barrett and Obi Toppin with a few journeymen veterans like Julius Randle, Austin Rivers, Nerlens Noel and Alec Burk. They also have plenty of cap space for the 2021 season, but that doesn’t help them this year.
There could be a bright future ahead for the Knicks, but it’s unlikely they’ll see signs of it this year as they’re tied with the third-worst odds to win the Eastern Conference at +8000.
The Detroit Pistons overhauled most of their roster this offseason, but it’s unlikely to lead to much success this year.
After adding solid role players like Jerami Grant, Mason Plumlee, Delon Wright and Wayne Ellington to a roster that already featured star power in Blake Griffin and Derrick Rose, the Pistons do have a solid foundation, but to have any real success this season they’ll need Griffin to get back to his All-Star form which eluded him last season.
Even if Griffin is able to play up to his star potential, this team still has a long way to go to establish itself as a contender in the East, and enters the season tied with the third-worst odds to win the Eastern Conference at +8000.
With the additions of Gordon Hayward through free agency and LaMelo Ball through the NBA Draft, the Charlotte Hornets could be more fun to watch this season, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re going to be a playoff contender.
The Hornets figure to have a strong rotation with Hayward and Ball joined by veterans PJ Washington, Devonte Graham, Terry Rozier, Miles Bridges and Cody Zeller, but they lack star power outside of Hayward and have very little depth.
Charlotte will likely be better than last year’s 23-42 record, but they’re still a long shot to compete in the East, with +6000 odds to win the Eastern Conference.
The Washington Wizards made one of the most high-profile offseason additions in the NBA this offseason with a trade that brought in Russell Westbrook in exchange for John Wall in a move that they hope will get them back to the playoffs.
Westbrook will be joined by former All-Star Bradley Beal in the backcourt along with a solid core of Davis Bertans, Rui Hachimura, Thomas Bryant, rookie Deni Avdija and bench players Raul Neto and Robin Lopez.
Despite the elite backcourt and solid supporting cast, the Wizards are a longshot to compete for the Eastern Conference title this year, opening the season with +6000 odds to win the conference.
The Orlando Magic return the vast majority of their roster from last year’s playoff team and will likely contend for a low playoff seed once again this year.
The Magic have plenty of veteran experience on their roster led by Aaron Gordon, Nikola Vucevic and Evan Fournier, but they did suffer one key loss with Jonathan Isaac suffering a knee injury at the end of March. Isaac was a crucial part of the Orlando defense and his absence could hinder the team’s ability to return to the playoffs.
The Magic enter the 2020-21 season as a +4500 longshot to win the Eastern Conference.
The Indiana Pacers return more production from last season than any other team in the NBA, and that’s good news for a team that made the NBA Playoffs comfortably last season.
Indiana will be led once again by star Victor Oladipo who will be joined by a solid core around him including TJ Warren, Domantas Sabonis, Malcolm Brogdon and Myles Turner. With a talented starting lineup and strong depth on the bench, the Pacers should have no problem making a playoff run his year.
However, even with all the returning talent from a team that finished fourth in the conference last year and, the Pacers still have just +3500 odds to win the East.
The Atlanta Hawks made some big moves this offseason, bringing in a talented group of players to help revitalize a team that finished in the bottom-five of the league last year.
This offseason, Atlanta added multiple key pieces including Rajon Rondo, Bogdan Bogdanovic, Danilo Gallinari, and Kris Dunn to a roster that already included Clint Capela, John Collins and star point guard Trae Young.
Those high-profile additions could turn the Hawks from an Eastern Conference bottom-feeder to a playoff contender. However, Atlanta still has a long way to go before competing for a conference championship as the Hawks enter the season with longshot +3500 odds to win the East.
The Toronto Raptors return the bulk of their production from last year’s team that finished second in the Eastern Conference standings with a 53-19 record, but they do have some key departures they’ll need to replace.
The Raptors return Kyle Lowry, Pascal Siakam, Fred VanVleet, Norman Powell and OG Anunoby forming a solid returning rotation. However, Toronto does enter this season without Serge Ibaka and Marc Gasol, replacing them with Aron Baynes and Alex Len.
Despite all the returning production, including multiple potential All-Stars, the Raptors enter the 2020-21 season with just the sixth-best odds to win the Eastern Conference at +850.
With returning stars and some crucial additions, the Philadelphia 76ers will once again have a chance to contend for the Eastern Conference championship this season.
The 76ers return both of their All-Star caliber players in Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons and added quite a bit of well-fitting talent with Danny Green, Seth Curry, Dwight Howard and Tyrese Maxey joining the fold.
It’s a talented roster, but there’s still some question about whether it’s enough to win the Eastern Conference as Philadelphia enters the season with distant +650 odds to win the conference title.
The Miami Heat are the defending Eastern Conference champions and return the bulk of their production from last season, but they didn’t make many offseason additions to help bolster their lineup.
The Heat will once again be led by Jimmy Butler, Tyler Herro and Duncan Robinson in the frontcourt and have a solid core surrounding them. Though Miami did not make any high-profile additions this offseason, the Heat did bring in Avery Bradley and Moe Harkless, which should help the lineup and depth a little bit.
Despite entering the season as the reigning conference champions, Miami has just the fourth-best odds to win the Eastern Conference title this year at +550.
The Boston Celtics are once again among the top contenders for the Eastern Conference, led by a strong cast of returning talent and some key offseason additions.
The Celtics will once again be led by their two stars, Jayson Tatum and Jalen Brown, who headline a strong roster which includes point guard Kemba Walker, defensive-minded Marcus Smart and new additions Tristan Thompson and Jeff Teague. Even with the departure of Gordon Heyward, Boston might be even stronger this season.
With star power leading the way, a strong core and plenty of depth across the board, the Celtics enter the 2020-21 season with title aspirations and have the third-best odds to win the Eastern Conference at +450.
With its full star-studded roster finally healthy, the Brooklyn Nets are among the NBA’s top title contenders heading into the 2020-21 season.
With Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving leading the way, the Nets boast arguably the most talented lineup in the NBA as they are joined by a strong supporting cast including Caris LeVert, Spencer Dinwiddie, Joe Harris, Jarrett Allen and DeAndre Jordan
There are still many questions surrounding this team with Durant not playing since 2019 and Steve Nash taking over as head coach with no coaching experience, but Brooklyn undoubtedly has the talent to compete for an NBA title this season and has the second-best odds to win the Eastern Conference at +250.
After falling to even reach the Eastern Conference Finals last season, the Milwaukee Bucks enter the 2020-21 season with title aspirations once again, and one of the most talented rosters in the NBA.
The Bucks are once again led by the power combo of Giannis Antetokounmpo and Karl-Anthony Towns, but they also added a few new key pieces this offseason to help bolster its roster. Milwaukee added Jrue Holiday, DJ Augustin and Bobby Portis ahead of the season, filling out a roster loaded with talent.
With a roster loaded from top to bottom led by some of the NBA’s top stars, the Bucks are the favorite to win the Eastern Conference Championship with +225 odds.
Predictions for the 2020-21 Season
Most Likely to Win the Eastern Conference
Despite the way last season ended, the Milwaukee Bucks had the strongest team in the Eastern Conference throughout the year and it showed, as they finished the season with an NBA-best 56-17 record.
This season, the conference’s strongest roster gets even stronger with Jrue Holiday, DJ Augustin and Bobby Portis joining All-Stars Giannis Antetokounmpo and Karl-Anthony Towns, making Milwaukee the team to beat in the Eastern Conference this year.
Most Improved Team From Last Season
The Atlanta Hawks finished the 2019-20 season with a bottom-five record in the NBA, but after an offseason spending spree that brought in a number of key players, the Hawks are no longer an NBA bottom-feeder.
With Rajon Rondo, Bogdan Bogdanovic, Danilo Gallinari, and Kris Dunn joining a roster that already included Clint Capela, John Collins and star point guard Trae Young, Atlanta should go from the bottom of the NBA to a legitimate playoff contender.
Surprise Team of the Year
The Washington Wizards enter the 2020-21 season as a +6000 longshot to win the Eastern Conference championship. But while they might not compete for a title this season, the Wizards will likely be stronger than expected.
Washington made the high-profile addition of Russell Westbrook this season. With Westbrook joining All-Star Bradley Beal as well as a young core of Davis Bertans, Rui Hachimura, Thomas Bryant, rookie Deni Avdija and bench players Raul Neto and Robin Lopez, the Wizards will have one of the more talented rosters in the Eastern Conference.