With opening night just over one week away, the time feels right to take an expanded look at the Celtics' competition in the Eastern Conference. Let's go through the squads, from worst-to-best, to get a better sense of why the East as a whole will be taking a pretty step back this season.
15. Chicago Bulls: I’m not sure how this team is going to score. Five of their top seven scorers from last season play for new teams now, and the biggest asset they acquired in the Jimmy Butler deal (Zach LaVine) won’t play for a couple more months as he continues his recovery from a torn ACL. There are several intriguing young players (Justin Holiday, Jerian Grant, Kris Dunn, Bobby Portis) but no one is really capable of being a top 2-3 scoring option on a decent team. Combine that talent with a couple slow-footed defenders in Robin Lopez and Nikola Mirotic, and it’s hard to find a team that has a roster set to tank as much as this squad will for a loaded 2018 draft class.
14. Atlanta Hawks: More compelling names than the Bulls have to work with, but no real creators in this group outside of point guard Dennis Schroder. Dwight Howard was given away for a second round pick. Paul Millsap is out the door for nothing. It’s beyond bizarre that they didn’t trade the power forward midseason given how their first round went (lost in six games), but a new front office has set up a clear direction: They are set up to nosedive in the East. Mike Budenholtzer’s offense will keep them respectable most nights, but when Schroder and Kent Bazemore are your top scoring weapons, you are in trouble.