The final stretch of the NBA offseason is here. On October 3rd, training camp will be open for all NBA teams, with the preseason starting on October 5th. With training camp right around the corner, there are questions that haven’t been answered and questions that need to be asked ahead of the 2023-24 season.
Will Damian Lillard Join the East?
For the last two months, one of the biggest stories has been Damian Lillard. Since requesting a trade in July, there has been little traction in a trade and plenty of drama. Specifically requesting to go to the Miami Heat has made trading Lillard difficult, as Miami has limited assets and Portland doesn’t want some of those assets. The biggest piece being discussed is sharpshooter Tyler Herro. Many reports over the last two months have noted Portland is not interested in Herro and was looking for a third team to get involved in a trade. On Thursday night, a report came out noting Portland wants to get a trade done before training camp starts. Lillard moving to the East would cause a shift in the standings with Miami likely becoming one of the top teams in the conference. Many sports betting outlets have had the over/under for the Heat around 48.5 wins, with Lillard being on the Heat as the main reason for the line. Earlier this week, a new report came out noting a mystery team in the East could be interested in Lillard, with the Milwaukee Bucks, Chicago Bulls, and Toronto Raptors being speculated as that team. Lillard has made it clear that if he’s traded to a team that’s not the Heat, he would request another trade to Miami. While it’s likely that a trade will happen, there is no guarantee Lillard will end up in a Heat jersey.
Will the Bulls blow it up at the trade deadline or keep their core?
The Chicago Bulls have been one of the most talked about teams in the NBA over the last couple of seasons, for all the wrong reasons. Following a great start to the 2021-22 season, the Bulls lost Lonzo Ball, dropping from first in the East to sixth in the span of three months. The 2022-23 season was ugly for the Bulls, missing Lonzo the entire season, falling apart in the clutch, and finishing 10th in the East. With Lonzo set to miss another season and DeMar DeRozan being in the last year of his contract, the Bulls are in a bad spot with little to no assets. Bulls big man Nikola Vucevic noted in an interview during the FIBA World Cup that this is likely the last season for the Bulls to prove their core can compete in the East. Looking at the early part of their season, the Bulls have one of the harder schedules. Before the new year, the Bulls played Miami four times, Denver twice, Milwaukee three times, Phoenix, Dallas, Philly, and Cleveland. If the team is failing at the trade deadline, it’s likely the Bulls will finally blow it up. Even though he will be a free agent, DeMar would be valuable to any team in serious championship contention. Alex Caruso would also have tremendous value, being a member of the All-Defensive first team. Zach Lavine’s friendlier contract could also be valuable for teams looking to add a second star. Legitimately being in playoff contention is the only way the Bulls could justify not blowing up the team at the trade deadline.
How will the Sixers be affected by the James Harden situation?
If there is one championship contender that’s in a dangerous spot right now, it is the Philadelphia 76ers. For the entirety of the Joel Embiid era, the Sixers have had a strong regular season, only to fall apart in the playoffs. In the seven seasons Embiid has been on the court, the Sixers have lost in the Eastern Conference Semifinals five times. The 2023 playoffs were especially disappointing as Philly lost in seven to the Boston Celtics in the second round. With James Harden requesting a trade and doubling down on that request, there are questions for the future of the Sixers. While no Harden trade is in sight, a surprise trade could happen at any time. Embiid can carry the team but for only so long. With a history of injuries, he could go down at any time, and his superstar prime can end at any time. If the Harden situation drags on into the season and Embiid goes down, the Sixers will more than likely fall in the standings, something that could push Embiid to request a trade. While the Sixers still have Tyrese Maxey and recently signed Kelly Oubre Jr., there is no telling if either could be the second star on this team. For Philly, the first few months of the 2023-24 season could determine the future of the organization for years to come.
Will the Knicks make a surprise move?
One team that has been surprisingly quiet over the last couple of seasons is the New York Knicks. While signing Jalen Brunson and trading for and re-signing Josh Hart have both been great moves for the team, the Knicks have not made a move for a superstar, yet. Last season, the Knicks were rumored to be interested in Bulls guard Zach Lavine, but a trade never happened, something that would benefit the Knicks. Finishing top five in the East and making it to the second round of the playoffs, New York is ready to take a leap. During a podcast earlier this month, Bill Simmons guaranteed that the Knicks will have a superstar by the start of the 2024-25 NBA season. Simmons mentioned a few notable superstars including Joel Embiid, Donovan Mitchell, and even Giannis Antetokounmpo. Mitchell has been linked to the Knicks for years, while Embiid and Antetokounmpo have both said they want to win, no matter the team. Could a blockbuster trade happen during the 2023-24 season though? Many have reported Donovan Mitchell will likely end up with the Knicks, one way or another, but a rough start to the Cleveland Cavaliers’ season could see Mitchell request a trade. Thankfully for the Knicks, they have a war chest of assets. Notable trade pieces include RJ Barrett, Immanuel Quickely, and Quentin Grimes. The Knicks also have numerous draft picks, including 11 first-round picks between 2024 and 2030. With the futures of several conference foes in a shaky position, a blockbuster move by the Knicks this season could immediately make them championship contenders.
Will a bottom-tier team take a leap?
Last season, there were several teams in the East that were underrated or just a piece away from becoming an NBA playoff contender. Although they had a rough start to their season, the Indiana Pacers were an overlooked team. Indiana made it as high as the fourth seed early in the season but quickly dropped when All-Star Tyrese Haliburton went out with an injury. The team was never able to fully recover, finishing 11th in the East. They had a good NBA offseason though, signing Haliburton to a max contract and trading for Knicks forward Obi Toppin. Many believe Toppin will have a breakout season as he will likely be given a bigger role after several difficult seasons with the Knicks. Another team that has been overlooked is the Orlando Magic. Even though they finished 13th in the East with a 34-48 record, they won 12 more games than the 2021-22 season. Orlando has a great roster full of young players including Paolo Banchero, Franz and Mo Wagner, Wendell Carter Jr., as well as promising rookies Anthony Black and Jett Howard. The Magic feel like their one veteran player away from taking that next step. If they can find that missing piece, the Magic could make a run for the 2024 NBA playoffs. With several teams in the conference expected to take a step back, can one of these teams move into playoff contention?