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NBA Eastern Conference Tiers for the 2020-21 Season

Christmas is coming a little early for all of us NBA fans and I personally cannot wait for the new season to get started! On the latest episode of the Shoot or Pass podcast (OUT NOW), Chevy, Gabe, and I put the spotlight on the NBA Eastern Conference. Additionally, we put a little twist on POWER RANKINGS, nominating each of the teams out East to five fun, original TIERS.

Check out Chevy’s NBA Eastern Conference – Early 2020-2021 Preseason Power Rankings here!

Here are the five NBA Eastern Conference Tiers and the teams I am nominating to each one!

THE BOTTOM FEEDERS

Irrelevant teams no one cares about

Cleveland Cavaliers – I have absolutely nothing to say about this team. NEXT!

Detroit Pistons – Had a decent draft, brought in Jerami Grant and Mason Plumlee. To add, they also brought in a couple of guys people regard as draft busts in Josh Jackson & Jahlil Okafor. I suppose Troy Weaver deserves an “A” for effort here.

New York Knicks – I want be the first to congratulate the New York Knicks on NOT being the bottom bitch this year, as that title goes to the Cavs. The greatest thing Leon Rose is doing for this team is…ABSOLUTELY NOTHING noteworthy. So, bravo Leon, BRAVO!

Orlando Magic – They are going to be that team that is not terrible enough to get a top pick in next year’s draft but not good enough to pull off a deep playoff run. The perfect two words to describe this team? REMARKABLY MEDIOCRE.

Chicago Bulls – Considering the way Billy Donovan coached the Thunder in that first round series against the Houston Rockets, the bar isn’t set very high for him and this roster.

THE DUMPSTER FIRES

Teams making headlines for all of the WRONG reasons

Brooklyn Nets – At this rate, I am making some flyers and passing them out to anyone who will take them. I am opening the doors and welcoming everyone to a celebration in June/July and calling it “The Nets Dumpster-Fire party” at Prospect Park in Brooklyn. We can roll a dumpster out, light that shit on fire, and dance around it to the sounds of Jay-Z and Beyonce too. Kyrie Irving is already skipping out on Media Day. Kevin Durant is signing up for new burner accounts. This all REEKS of a dumpster fire and I am digging my heels in on this take!

Charlotte Hornets – Mainly because I want front row seats to the implosion of LaVar Ball. Honestly, that’s really it.

THE SNEAKY GOOD ONES

Teams flying under the radar

Philadelphia 76ers – I do this every year. I just can’t help myself. Am I setting myself up for more disappointment? Probably. But, I believe the Philadelphia 76ers are going to surprise us this year. They’ve got some shooters on this team now and I have to imagine that will bode well for team chemistry. I really think this season Ben Simmons is going to shoot AND make a three. Joel Embiid is going to rise as a potential MVP candidate. And then in true Sixers fashion and under the helm of Doc Rivers, they will blow a 3-1 lead in the playoffs.

Washington Wizards – In a previous episode of the Shoot or Pass podcast after the Seeding Games were over, I predicted the Wizards making the playoffs this year. Did I also predict the John Wall-Russell Westbrook trade? Absolutely not. But, we can just assume I did, right?

THE PRETENDERS

Teams whose bullshit I see right through

Atlanta Hawks – While the Hawks did make some big moves this off-season that can certainly get them back to the playoffs, I am not entirely sold on this team. Looking at the roster, you see a ton of great offensive pieces, but don’t they say “defense wins championships”? DEFENSE is the biggest question for this team, particularly in close-out situations and they are just not there yet. I will say they will make the fight for the 8th seed a lot more interesting. This is a play-in tournament ready team in the NBA Eastern Conference.

Indiana Pacers – I am going to call the Pacers the IDLE team. Undoubtedly so, Bubble Warren was a farce and the Miami HEAT proved it in the bubble. Victor Oladipo can shout his loyalty to Indiana from the mountains, but we all know he wants out. Catch him auditioning for other teams by giving them the keys to beat this team night in and night out. Will they make the playoffs? Sure. Can they actually win a game in a playoff series? Sure. But let’s be real, this is not a team in title contention.

THE CONTENDERS

Not sure if they cook or clean, but let me tell you how they’ll get this RING

Miami HEAT – The defending Eastern Conference champs re-signed some important pieces, while addressing some key defensive issues with the additions of Avery Bradley and Moe Harkless. In case you missed it, they also got Precious Achiuwa in the NBA Draft. Jimmy Butler is already coming out and telling the media that he has NO TIME for any consolation or concern and is only looking ahead. Reddit folklore says he even took the rear view mirrors off his car. That’s quite the commitment to make in a city where no one can drive for shit. Trust me, I know. I’m one of them. I got my driver’s license at the Hialeah DMV.

Milwaukee Bucks – How successful can this team be with the elephant in the room lurking around for an entire season? Giannis’ response to this will set the tone for the Bucks season. All things considered, this team is still a contender. Jrue Holiday is an upgrade over Eric Bledsoe. There’s some depth there with the other guys they brought in during free agency. What will matter most is how this team competes in the playoffs, but it wouldn’t surprise me if they’re the top seed again. Vegas seems to agree as well.

Toronto Raptors & Boston Celtics – In my opinion, both of these teams are very similar. They didn’t acquire any big, shiny pieces during free agency. Instead, they unloaded key veterans, appearing to give notice to their young stars that the time is NOW for them to take a leap forward. While I do believe they will be in the playoffs, their playoff runs will rely heavily on how big those leaps are. No pressure, Jayson, Jaylen, Pascal, and Fred!


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NBA 2020-2021 Off-Season Power Rankings

Update : Post preseason Power Rankings now available!

The NBA is set to return on December 22, 2020. All rankings below reflect rosters as of December 3, 2020. Free agency, draft picks, and re-signings are considered. All hail the first NBA 2020-2021 Power Rankings!

In case you missed any of the reported signings, trades, and player movement you can track that here with our 2020 Off-Season Tracker!

Check out the Shoot or Pass Crew: 2020 NBA Free Agency Winner & Losers


  1. Los Angeles Lakers
    After a successful free agency period, the Lakers move on to secure their core by signing Anthony Davis to a max deal worth $190 over the next five years. Beyond that LeBron James has also agreed to a two-year extension worth $85M. Safe to say the defending champions are locked and loaded again for the top spot into the 2020-2021 season.


  2. Los Angeles Clippers
    After securing Serge Ibaka and losing Montrezl Harrell the Clippers re-signed Reggie Jackson. Oh, Nicholas Batum also signed a one-year deal. Again, on paper, the Clippers are looking good and primed to compete for the best record in the regular season.

  3. Brooklyn Nets
    Thus far, the Nets acquiring James Harden rumors have gone quiet. Beyond Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving is still a supporting cast with plenty of talent that could start on other ballclubs. The Miami Heat come in as the reigning Eastern Conference Champions. It doesn’t get any easier for them. Here we are in the power rankings having to rank the Nets ahead already.

  4. Denver Nuggets
    Denver earns the respect to be in the top five at this time. Coming off an overachieving year and Western Conference Finals appearance. Michael Porter Jr. should have a little bit more flexibility and playing time. Out goes Jerami Grant who signed a contract in Detroit. Nuggets President Tim Connelly also wants MPJ to take the next step as the Nuggets want to be taken as a serious contender.


  5. Miami Heat
    An interesting extension for Bam Adebayo as he would be expected to win MVP to tap into the full max deal he recently signed. This particular contract allows for flexibility in the 2021 off-season. Pat Riley planning ahead? If rumors have it, Zack Lowe reported that “people” around the league believe Miami’s bubble finish was a fluke. Can this get back to Jimmy Butler’s ears and light a fire to win the East again?

  6. Milwaukee Bucks
    The league’s best defensive team according to the NBA’s advanced defensive statistic ratings. Coming into the 2020-2021 season they will have a new look at point guard with Jrue Holiday and D.J. Augustin as the back-up. Did their stock drop slightly after a disappointing second round against the Miami Heat? Absolutely. There shouldn’t be any worry about the Bucks dropping off this season. They’ll still be a defensive force out of most of the NBA again.

  7. Dallas Mavericks
    Luka Doncic is primed for an MVP-caliber season at this point. Last season’s suspension at least allowed us to witness the first glimpse of Doncic and Kristaps Porzingas. The Mavericks didn’t upgrade their roster but improved their cap space this offseason. With higher expectations for the upcoming season, the Mavericks sit here for now. I’m personally hoping for a Luka MVP and Rick Carlise Coach of the Year season.


  8. Portland Trailblazers
    Another team that when healthy looks as if they can overthrow a team favored against them. A quiet offseason as they traded for Enes Kanter and re-signed Rodney Hood. Gary Trent Jr. emerges as a sharpshooter and Dame Time will always have the last say. The uncertainty of becoming a contender always seems like a repetitive thing with Portland.


  9. Golden State Warriors
    Sometimes when things are great and they stay great. They say all good things come to an end. Well, that didn’t mean to Klay Thompson’s season yet again. Stephen Curry will have a tall task but the man that can lead his team. He’ll still have Draymond Green and drafting James Wiseman gives the Warriors a potential for some “bigger” fun.


  10. Boston Celtics
    Danny Ainge may be expecting Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown to take leaps this year and that wouldn’t be a bad thing at all. However, can we say the Celtics roster has improved? Losing Gordon Hayward and replacing that with Tristan Thompson and Jeff Teague is a weird flex? I don’t know how confident I am with saying Boston makes the leap to win the East this year.


  11. Toronto Raptors
    Only removed as champions of two seasons ago now. Toronto didn’t engage in any long-term deals with Serge Ibaka or Marc Gasol. Furthermore, they opted to re-sign Fred VanVleet to a nice four-year $85M deal. Coach of the Year Nick Nurse will now have more room for Pascal Siakam without Ibaka. Still should be seen as a threat out East.


  12. Phoenix Suns
    We’ve seen some teams change over the course of the free agency period but nothing like the Suns this year. Within days the Suns roster settles at Chris Paul, Devin Booker, Jae Crowder, DeAndre Ayton, Cam Johnson, Mikal Bridges, and Dario Saric just to name a few guys. We saw CP3 push the Thunder to a 44-28 regular season finish last season. Time to only imagine what this team can possibly become and if a serious threat out West.


  13. Utah Jazz
    No significant moves here besides giving Donovan Mitchell a max deal. Derrick Favors returns to Utah and they re-signed Jordan Clarkson. With that being said Defensive Player of the Year candidate Rudy Gobert is still a factor to the Jazz defensive success. Keeping their core intact will help them remain a questionable contender team. I hate to be cliche but in. stacked Western Conference at this point lateral movements bum me out.


  14. Philadelphia 76ers
    I suppose kudos to Sam Presti. Taking on the contract of Al Horford for a little financial relief and allowing the Sixers to also get a shooter in Danny Green. Seth Curry and Alec Burks are also in Philly to bolster up a point guard spot that may become available if Ben Simmons starts to shift to the point-forward or power forward role. Now, can Doc Rivers right the ship for the 76ers? To be seen in 2021.


  15. Indiana Pacers
    While it was rumored that Victor Oladipo wanted out of Indiana he remains committed to playing the last year of his contract. T.J. Warren was one of the bubble’s biggest surprises last season. The biggest this season is with new Head Coach Nate Bjorkgren. Malcolm Brogdon has emerged as a third piece next to Warren and Oladipo. A huge year to convince Oladipo to re-sign. Former Head Coach Nate McMillian coached this current roster to an overachieving 4th seed last season. The talent and potential are there to compete with the East’s bests.

  16. New Orleans Pelicans
    Replacing Alvin Gentry with Stan Van Gundy is an upgrade. Acquiring Eric Bledsoe and Steven Adams are complementary pieces that shouldn’t interfere with Zion Williamson’s capabilities. Re-signing Brandon Ingram to a max deal and keeping a shooter like J.J. Redick is also nice. Now to hoping Lonzo Ball can shoot better this season.

  17. Memphis Grizzlies
    Likewise the Pelicans another young team in a stacked Western Conference trying to prove their worth. The unfortunate in losing Jaren Jackson Jr. early on in the seeding games of the bubble led to some disappointment. The Grizzlies entered the bubble with the 8th seed in the West but ended going home before the playoffs even started. Acquiring Desmond Bane in the draft this year is a little bit of a sleeper for this young and upcoming core.

  18. Washington Wizards
    Trading for Russell Westbrook weeks before the season starts now pairs him with Bradley Beal and a Wizards team that can compete for the 8th Seed in the Eastern Conference without question. No shade or ill-wishing against the duo but that’s about realistic this roster may provide at this time. Unless Westbrook and Beal find a way to create havoc this team has slightly better upside than the other end of the trade.

  19. Atlanta Hawks
    Another team similar to Phoenix that reshapes its starting five. The plus side is Rajon Rondo signs fresh off an NBA Championship to mentor a young Trade Young. Securing Danilo Gallinari and Bogdan Bogdanović are two nice additions to a young Atlanta team that needs some veteran support. While Atlanta didn’t have the worse record last season with 20 wins, they certainly can’t afford to rank third-to-last in Team Defensive Rating.

  20. Houston Rockets
    A Kentucky reunion? DeMarcus Cousins signs a one-year deal to be a Houston Rocket and then weeks later he’s welcoming former Kentucky teammate John Wall as the newest acquisition. Both have had a long road to recovery as Wall hasn’t played a game in 2018 while Cousins last saw playing time in the 2019 NBA Finals. Together with James Harden makes a lot of questions to be asked here. Stephen Silas steps in as the next up as Head Coach. Finding a new way to coach this Rockets franchise to the top of the West only gets tough with teams ahead of them getting better.

  21. San Antonio Spurs
    We can never count out Coach Popovich and the Spurs. However, during these teams maybe father time has it where the Spurs are now watching from the outside in when it comes contenders in the Western Conference. Sticking with DeMar DeRozan and LaMarcus Aldridge as their 1-2 punch the Spurs haven’t been able to attract a third suitor to elevate this team to the next level again.

  22. Charlotte Hornets
    Well, there is definitely a buzz around with a Ball drafted by Charlotte. LaMelo Ball joins also the new Hornet Gordon Hayward for a joy ride under Michael Jordan’s command. Sadly, the Hornets were one of the teams not invited to the NBA bubble last season but somehow finished with a better record than the Washington Wizards who did attend. For now, they will be staying put battling with the mediocre of the Eastern Conference.

  23. Minnesota Timberwolves
    We heard the draft night concern from number one pick Anthony Edwards. His first love is football and basketball to him is like a regular job. Well, depending on how you take that Minnesota has a long way to go in a stacked Western Conference. D’Angelo Russell only played in 12 games in a Minnesota uniform before the season suspended. A miserable 19 wins in the 2019-2020 season wasn’t enough time to turn their season around even if COVID-19 didn’t exist.

  24. Chicago Bulls
    Marc Eversley steps in as General Manager for the Bulls and do they need a turnaround. The bright spots of Zack LaVine and Lauri Markkanen give new Head Coach Billy Donovan something to work with. The Bulls either have a direction to take being rank this low. That’s probably tanking and we’ll confirm that if Zack LaVine goes for some draft picks.

  25. Sacramento Kings
    Signing De’Aron Fox to his max deal is the vote of confidence that Sacramento is committed to its lottery pick. Now comes the direction of Monte McNair as the newly hired General Manager to make basketball exciting again in Sac-town. However, Luke Walton as a coach to develop talent in a short turnaround time? Not sure about that.

  26. Orlando Magic
    The Magic have made the playoffs the previous last two seasons. In doing so they’ve captured a victory in each of their first-round matchups only to lose to a highly favorable Eastern Conference contender. Jonathan Isaac went down in the bubble with a knee injury and is said to be out the 2020-2021 season. Orlando also welcomes Chuma Okeke to the roster after he spent a year rehabbing. Sounds like Orlando will be spending some time developing young talent this season.

  27. Detroit Pistons
    Signing Jerami Grant to a multi-year deal almost seems like he’s the next biggest piece to fill a void. Grant expressed his offensive role will be more important in Detroit next to Blake Griffin. In the 2000s the Pistons spent 8 years in the playoffs. In the 2010s only a total of two times. Another team that has set itself up for a lottery-bound future.

  28. Oklahoma City Thunder
    It’s been 11 straight seasons the Thunder and their fans have been able to enjoy the playoffs. Featuring teams with Kevin Durant, Russell, Westbrook, James Harden, Paul George, and Chris Paul in an entire decade surely means you’d come out with at least one championship right? Nope! Sam Presti has pulled out the reset button and OKC’s best player appears to be Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. Welcome to lottery tank mode as if the Thunder need any more draft picks.

  29. Cleveland Cavaliers
    The Cavaliers had a nice pick up on the draft night by picking Isaac Okoro. Pairing him next to Collin Sexton and the remainder of Kevin Love and Andre Drummond fills out a nice roster for new Head Coach J. B. Bickerstaff. Unfortunately, a trial and error season yet again for Cleveland who is never the same without LeBron James.

  30. New York Knicks
    Knicks fans, I know you’re at the bottom. Let’s look at the bright side and the reason why shall we? No overcommitting too much money to a C-list All-Star you’ll regret signing. Also, your draft pick? Obi Toppin? Yeah, that’s pretty nice I would say. If the short small deals to Elfrid Payton and Nerlens Noel are a good thing. Breathe and be patient.


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