5 Teams That Can Challenge Cleveland for the Eastern Conference Title

The Cleveland Cavaliers won't be the only competitive team in the NBA's Eastern conference next season.

NBA Eastern Conference Finals

This summer's NBA free agency season has been one of the most chaotic in recent memory. Two of the most prominent moves: former Oklahoma City Thunder star Kevin Durant joined the Golden State Warriors, and former Miami Heat "lifer" Dwyane Wade moved to the Chicago Bulls.

With the league turning upside down, both conferences have experienced turnover, for better or for worse.

The Eastern Conference is getting better. In recent years, it has generally been considered inferior to the West, but it showed its potential last year. Western conference playoff teams had a combined regular season winning percentage of .635; Eastern conference playoff teams had a combined .600 winning percentage.

The Cleveland Cavaliers won the NBA championship, a sure sign that the Eastern conference is getting stronger. The Cavs will be the team to beat, but they may have more competition next season. Here are five Eastern Conference teams that will challenge the Cavs in 2016-17.

Jeff Teague

Indiana Pacers

Free Agent Signings and Trade Acquisitions: Jeff Teague (traded from Atlanta Hawks), Thaddeus Young (traded from Brooklyn Nets), Al Jefferson (three-year, $30 million deal), Jeremy Evans (traded from Dallas Mavericks)

  • Teague's 2015-2016 stats: 15.7 PPG, 5.9 APG, 43.9 FG%, 40.0 3FG%
  • Young's 2015-2016 stats: 15.1 PPG, 9.0 RPG, 51.4 FG%
  • Jefferson's 2015-2016 stats: 12.0 PPG, 6.4 RPG, 48.5 FG%
  • Evans's 2015-2016 stats: 2.4 PPG, 1.8 RPG, 54.2 FG%

How They Finished Last Season: 45-37, 7th in the East; lost to the Toronto Raptors in seven games in first round of the playoffs.

Outlook For Next Season: The Pacers are back. After a brief retooling period that lasted from 2014-2016, they have the potential to be a force in the East again. All-Star Paul George is coming off the best season of his career, averaging 23.1 points and seven rebounds per game. George and the Pacers fought until the end against the Raptors, showing they were only a few players away from being a legitimate contender in the East. Teague will provide solid point guard play in place of George Hill, who was traded to the Utah Jazz. Young and Jefferson will be good options down low, providing scoring and rebounding. The Pacers were the seventh seed last season, but their new additions give them the potential to be a top-three seed in the East next season.

Jimmy Butler

Chicago Bulls

Free Agent Signings And Trade Acquisitions: Spencer Dinwiddie (traded from Detroit Pistons), Rajon Rondo (two-year deal with second year partially guaranteed, $28 million), Dwyane Wade (two-year deal, $47.5 million)

  • Dinwiddie's 2015-2016 stats: 4.8 PPG, 1.8 APG, 35.2 FG%
  • Rondo's 2015-2016 stats: 11.9 PPG, 11.7 APG, 6.0 RPG, 45.4 FG%
  • Wade's 2015-2016 stats: 19.0 PPG, 4.6 APG, 45.6 FG%

How They Finished Last Season: 42-40, 9th in the Eastern Conference.

Outlook For Next Season: This past season, the Chicago Bulls failed to make the playoffs for the first time since the 2007-2008 season. They had a down year. Because of past knee injuries, Derrick Rose wasn't the explosive player he used to be, and Joakim Noah suffered a shoulder injury in January. But as the Bulls retool with Wade and Rondo, they should be more competitive next season. Last season, Wade, 34, showed he could still play at a high level; he averaged 19.0 points per game on 45.6 percent shooting. Rondo can provide solid point guard play; he averaged 11.7 assists per game for the Sacramento Kings. With a facilitator like Rondo distributing the basketball, wing players like Wade and Jimmy Butler will get open shots. The Bulls won't be amazing, but with their recent additions, they have the potential to improve their record next year.

Avery Bradley

Boston Celtics

Free Agent Signings And Trade Acquisitions: Al Horford (four-year deal, $113 million).

  • Horford's 2015-2016 stats: 15.2 PPG, 7.3 RPG, 1.5 BPG, 50.5 FG%

How They Finished Last Season: 48-34, 5th in the East; lost in the first round of the playoffs to the Atlanta Hawks in six games.

Outlook For Next Season: The Celtics were on the cusp of contending for a top spot in the East last season, boasting a roster filled with solid players such as Avery Bradley, Evan Turner and Isaiah Thomas. But they needed a go-to guy. They acquired him in former Atlanta Hawks center Al Horford. The Celtics lost Turner and Jared Sullinger to free agency. Turner signed a four-year, $70 million deal with the Portland Trail Blazers and Sullinger signed a one-year, $6 million deal with the Toronto Raptors.

Despite these losses, the Celtics should be a force in the conference next season. They have good young talent—their average age is approximately 25 years old. They also have nine future draft picks from other teams, which can be valuable trade assets, allowing them to possibly acquire another star player to complement Horford. The Celtics are a young team with playoff experience. They were the fifth seed in the playoffs last season. And the addition of Horford means they could move up even higher in the conference next season.

New York Knicks

New York Knicks

Free Agent Signings And Trade Acquisitions: Derrick Rose (traded from Chicago Bulls), Joakim Noah (four-year deal, $72 million), Courtney Lee (four-year deal, $50 million), Brandon Jennings (one-year deal, $5 million), Lance Thomas (re-signed four-year deal, $27 million)

  • Rose's 2015-2016 stats: 16.4 PPG, 4.7 APG, 42.7 FG%
  • Noah's 2015-2016 stats: 4.3 PPG, 8.8 RPG, 1.0 BPG, 38.3 FG%
  • Lee's 2015-2016 stats: 9.6 PPG, 2.6 RPG, 45.1 FG%
  • Jennings's 2015-2016 stats: 6.9 PPG, 3.5 APG, 36.8 FG%
  • Thomas's 2015-2016 stats: 8.2 PPG, 2.2 RPG, 44.2 FG%

How They Finished Last Season: 32-50, 13th in the East

Outlook For Next Season: The New York Knicks are finally making legitimate moves in the off-season. By acquiring former Chicago Bulls players Rose and Noah, they surround stars Carmelo Anthony and Kristaps Porzingis with talent. Though Rose and Noah have suffered injuries in the past, the Knicks made a low-risk, high reward move in acquiring them. If Rose and Noah return to top form, the Knicks could be a competitive team in the East next season.

Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan

Toronto Raptors

Free Agent Signings And Trade Acquisitions: DeMar DeRozan (re-signed 5-year deal, $145 million), Jared Sullinger (one-year deal, around $6 million)

  • DeRozan's 2015-2016 stats: 23.5 PPG, 4.5 RPG, 4.0 APG, 44.6 FG%
  • Sullinger's 2015-16 stats: 10.3 PPG, 8.3 RPG, 43.5 FG%

How They Finished Last Season: 56-26, 2nd in the East; lost in the Eastern Conference finals to the Cleveland Cavaliers in six games.

Outlook For Next Season: The Raptors lost Bismack Biyombo to free agency, but for the most part they brought everyone back for the upcoming season. Biyombo signed a four-year deal with the Orlando Magic worth $72 million. The Raptors still have DeRozan, Kyle Lowry, DeMarre Carroll and Jonas Valanciunas—all important pieces—so don't expect them to regress next season. They did a good job of maintaining the status quo, and she should be able to compete again for a top spot in the conference next season.

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