Hawks fans have had to be patient for a long time, but this rebuild has slowly taken place piece by piece. It started by developing a young core led by superstar point guard Trae Young and high-flying power forward John Collins. Now, Atlanta has gone out and spent the money in free agency to surround that core with veteran playmakers. The upgrades they’ve made this offseason are undeniable. They should not only make the playoffs in a much stronger Eastern Conference than it has been, but they should compete when they get there. Let’s take a look at how the East projects heading into a season that — surprisingly enough — begins this month.
*I’ll be ranking teams by their Vegas odds to win the Eastern Conference, then provide my own ranking
1. Milwaukee Bucks
Vegas Rank: 1 (+225 to win the EC)
My Rank: 1
It is difficult to argue with this. The Bucks have consistently been the best team in basketball over the last two regular seasons. Unfortunately for them, that success hasn’t translated to the playoffs, where they have struggled. However, after the addition of Jrue Holiday, they deserve to be considered the favorite to win the Eastern Conference. They now have another legitimate playmaker outside of Giannis as well as an elite defender. Holiday will have a substantial impact on the Bucks chances of finally getting over the hump and reaching The Finals.
2. Boston Celtics
Vegas Rank: 2 (+450 to win the EC)
My Rank: 4
I’m a bit surprised Boston has the second-best odds to win the Eastern Conference. They are a very complete team, but I’m not sure they did enough this offseason to be considered better than the Heat or the Nets with Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant returning. The Celtics are a well-coached gritty bunch, but do they have enough star power to reach The Finals this season?
3. Brooklyn Nets
Vegas Rank: 3 (+500 to win the EC)
My Rank: 3
The Nets will be the most intriguing team to watch next season. I highly doubt they make a blockbuster trade for James Harden, but I’m not sure that is necessary to raise a banner in Brooklyn. They already have a pretty good supporting cast, and the addition of Kevin Durant will make all the difference. Sure, there’s a possibility this all implodes, given the personalities of this team and a first-year head coach in Steve Nash, but the star power is too much to ignore.
4. Miami Heat
Vegas Rank: 4 (+600 to win the EC)
My Rank: 2
I’m not sure why the Heat aren’t getting more love from Vegas. They ran through the Eastern Conference last season, and they did it way earlier than expected. Their young pieces are only going to get better; I don’t expect them to go anywhere for a long-time, which is why they are my second-best team in the Eastern Conference heading into the season.
5. Toronto Raptors
Vegas Rank: 5 (+700 to win the EC)
My Rank: 6
The Raptors proved last season that they are still a threat, even without Kawhi Leonard, and I don’t expect that to change this season. They will be a tough out for whoever they matchup with in the playoffs. I’m just not sure they have enough firepower to win three rounds in a row.
6. Philadelphia 76ers
Vegas Rank: 6 (+1000 to win the EC)
My Rank: 5
A lot has been made up of Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid not being able to win together, but I can’t help but think about the fact that they might have won the NBA Championship two years ago had Kawhi not made that unbelievable shot to seal the series at the buzzer of Game 7 in the Eastern Conference Semifinals. I absolutely believe these two superstars can find a way to win together, and they improved significantly after ridding of Al Horford‘s gaudy contract.
7. Atlanta Hawks
Vegas Rank: 7 (+3000 to win the EC)
My Rank: 7
As you can see, there is quite a drop-off in terms of odds to win the Eastern Conference after the 76ers. The Hawks come in at number 7 for Vegas and for me, but while Vegas views them as a considerable long shot to win the East, I don’t think it’s that far-fetched. As long as the Hawks find their way in, they have the star power to be a tough out for anyone in the conference. Winning three-straight playoff series would be a shock for this group in their first year together; however, none of the top seeds will want to play Atlanta in the first round.
8. Indiana Pacers
Vegas Rank: 8 (+3000 to win the EC)
My Rank: 8
The Hawks and the Pacers have the same odds to win the Eastern Conference, according to Vegas. Personally, I think that’s blasphemous. Not only do the Hawks already have a significantly better roster than Indiana, but the Pacers also might be seriously considering dealing Victor Oladipo at some point before the trade deadline. Meanwhile, the Hawks are in a prime position to make a run at any superstar players that become available via trade. Given the two teams’ records last season, I understand why their odds to win the Eastern Conference are the same, but these are two organizations heading in opposite directions.