Orlando Magic stuck in between: Eastern Conference Power Rankings

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Trae Young, Atlanta Hawks
Trae Young carried the Atlanta Hawks to the playoffs in a disappointing season. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports /

Preseason Eastern Conference Power Rankings

Vying for their Spot

Atlanta Hawks. 5. team. 125. . .

There are four clear title contenders in the Eastern Conference. The teams on the outside of that top four are still very good, but likely are not ready for real contention. Whether those teams are thrilled to be in this position is another matter.

We will give the Atlanta Hawks the nod for being fifth just outside those top contenders because they have the most reason for optimism that they are on the rise.

Atlanta took its struggles following their Eastern Conference Finals run in 2021 and made some real and major moves to improve. The Hawks get the award for most substantial offseason move in the conference.

After watching some of their veterans begin to age out and watching defenses — the Miami Heat in the playoffs especially — just wear down Trae Young with his high usage rate, the Atlanta Hawks got him a starring secondary ball handler to relieve the pressure on Young.

Dejounte Murray was an All-Star last year for a middling San Antonio Spurs team. He is a great playmaker and scorer. He should be able to help Young work more off the ball. They still have a great pick and roll center in Clint Capela who should give the Hawks plenty of space to attack.

Success for Atlanta will come down to the development for young players like Kevin Huerter and De’Andre Hunter. And John Collins’ health will be key to giving Atlanta some more versatility.

This is a solid team that is due to bounce back and be a real player in the East again this year.

147. . . . Brooklyn Nets. 6. team

What to make of the Brooklyn Nets right now?

This is team turmoil in the NBA with frustrations over Kyrie Irving’s unwillingness to get vaccinated while Irving acted like a martyr derailing the team’s 2022 season. The frustration bubbled over that it cost the team James Harden. And now Kevin Durant has requested a trade and even reportedly asked for Steve Nash’s dismissal.

The whole future for the Nets is in flux.

It is unclear what the Nets will do. And what to expect from Brooklyn this season.

The Nets are in a holding pattern and their supporting cast and team are still wholly reliant on their star players playing and buying in. It is going to be a zoo for Brooklyn for a while.

Still, there is no denying the talent. Durant is one of the five best players in the league. Orlando Magic fans do not need to be told what Irving can do when he is on a roll. And Ben Simmons is still a really good player despite his playoff shortcomings.

The Nets can still contend if they come together. But that feels like a long shot.

team. 81. . . . Toronto Raptors. 7

The Toronto Raptors are the team that will not die. Ever.

Like the Miami Heat, they have a culture that just works. Everyone understands their role and everyone plays it extremely well. It is hard to find fault in the Raptors.

Pascal Siakam is just a solid player who put up some quietly solid numbers throughout last season as the Raptors rallied to make the 5-seed last year and avoid the Play-In Tournament.

With Fred VanVleet, the Raptors have another great scorer. And Toronto should feel like there are endless possibilities with Rookie of the Year Scottie Barnes.

There is something to work with here for the Raptors. And Toronto is the kind of team that can make the mix work.

Still, there is not the upper-end talent to compete for a title. Not yet at least. Barnes could certainly change things. But Toronto is a solid team that will be in playoff contention and likely surprise everyone with where they ultimately finish.