Welcome to part two of our two-part series! If you haven’t already checked out the ultimate Western Conference team, make sure you do so before reading this one. Just a reminder, there are two rules in place while constructing the ultimate Eastern Conference team: there is a $94,000,000 hard salary cap, and there can only be one player from each team. 15 roster spots, 15 teams – pretty simple. Also keep in mind, the roster was formulated with only the 2016-17 season in mind, not the long term future. The goal of this roster is to put together a balanced team comprised of players with complementary skill sets and team-friendly contracts. Without further ado, let’s get right into it.
The Ultimate Eastern Conference Team
PG – Kyle Lowry, TOR – $12,000,000
SG – Jimmy Butler, CHI – $16,400,000
SF – LeBron James, CLE – $28,000,000*
PF – Giannis Antetokounmpo, MIL – $2,995,421
C – Myles Turner, IND – $2,463,840
Similarly to the ultimate Western Conference team, roughly two thirds (65.8%) of the salary cap will be taken up by the starting lineup. At the point guard position, there were many enticing players to choose from. Jeff Teague ($8,000,000), Isaiah Thomas ($6,587,132), and Kemba Walker ($12,000,000) are all above average point guards on team-friendly contracts. Ultimately, Lowry’s superior skill set and track record, combined with the fact that Indiana and Boston both have multiple other quality value players (Charlotte, not so much), made Lowry the easy choice. Kyrie Irving and John Wall are both elite point guards, but the salary difference between them and Lowry isn’t worth it, especially since it can be argued that Lowry is just as good if not better than both of them.
With Jimmy Butler, LeBron James, and Giannis Antetokounmpo, the East will roll out a starting lineup comprised of freakishly athletic small forwards who will be absolutely dominant on the defensive end. What this roster lacks in interior defense will be made up for with stifling perimeter defense. Deciding whether to dish out a lot of cash to either Jimmy Butler or Paul George was extremely difficult, but the presence of the Myles Turner on the Pacers made the decision a bit more clear-cut. The possibility of passing up on LeBron James in order to free up more cap space was under slight consideration, but the lack of talented Cavaliers on team-friendly contracts made that idea short-lived. Plus, James has won the Eastern Conference Finals in six straight seasons, so he knows a thing or two about dominating the conference. A side note on LeBron James: he has not yet officially re-signed with Cleveland, so we approximated a $28,000,000 salary for him for next season.
As mentioned before, Teague and George are both great candidates to represent the Pacers; however, Turner’s cheap contract and emerging talent made him the best value, especially when factoring in the surplus of economical point guards and wing players in the East in comparison to the few inexpensive centers available. Of course this roster is constructed with only next year in mind, but the NBA better watch out for Turner the next few years; this kid is the real deal.
Rotation Players Off the Bench
PG – Dennis Schroder, ATL – $2,708,582
SG – Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, DET – $3,678,319
SF – Jae Crowder, BOS – $6,500,000
PF – Kristaps Porzingis, NYK – $4,317,720
C – Nerlens Noel, PHI – $4,384,490
Off the bench, Schroder will look to provide a spark with his quickness and energy. Deciding between Isaiah Thomas and Jae Crowder to represent Boston was a toss-up, but Crowder is the better fit for this team, even though Thomas is probably the better player. Having a high volume scorer like Thomas who needs the ball in his hands to be effective – and is a liability on defense – isn’t ideal for a star-studded team like this with many other scoring options. Crowder’s defense and versatility will be valued highly on this roster.
In the frontcourt, Porzingis is a transcendent talent who will add another legitimate threat beyond the arc. This team may not play at the same pace as the Western Conference team, but they certainly will play with similar spacing. Spreading the floor with shooters in halfcourt offensive sets will be key to letting point forwards LeBron James and Giannis Antetokounmpo attack the hoop. Nearly everyone on the roster is more than capable of knocking down open shots off of LeBron James kick outs to the perimeter.
Ben Simmons’ playmaking ability would have been a tremendous asset to the roster, but this team needs the shot blocking and rebounding of Nerlens Noel much more than it needs Simmons. It seems as if all of the defensive-minded centers in the East just signed massive contracts this summer; Dwight Howard, Andre Drummond, Hassan Whiteside, Joakim Noah, and Bismack Biyombo are all far too expensive for this roster after taking advantage of the increased salary cap this off-season. Most of the economical centers who can anchor a team’s defense in the paint – Rudy Gobert, Steven Adams, Clint Capela – play for Western Conference teams and are of course on the ultimate Western Conference team. Therefore, Nerlens Noel is much needed by this roster.
Borderline Rotation Players – And One Scrub
PG – Elfrid Payton, ORL – $2,613,600
SG – Josh Richardson, MIA – $874,636
SF – Bojan Bogdanovic, BKN – $3,573,020
PF – Daniel Ochefu, WSH – $543,471
C – Frank Kaminsky, CHA – $2,730,000
After rounding out the roster, just $216,901 remains in cap space. Payton is probably the most talented of the group, but he could see limited action with both Lowry and Schroder ahead of him. His inability to shoot well prevents him from playing alongside Schroder or Lowry too often. Bogdanovic and Kaminsky are both solid shooters who offer little to nothing on the defensive end, and Josh Richardson is a nice young piece with an extremely low salary on a depleted Miami Heat team. As for the Ochefu, the NCAA Champion Villanova Wildcat signed a three year minimum deal as an undrafted free agent with the Washington Wizards a few weeks ago. It’s safe to say he’s only here because of his low salary and Washington’s dearth of team-friendly contracts.
With LeBron James leading the way, the ultimate Eastern Conference team will rely on its playmaking forwards to create shots for themselves and others on the perimeter. Interior defense and rebounding could be an issue, but the elite perimeter defense and supreme offensive talent of this well-balanced team should make up for it.
An interesting yet pointless side note: the Central Division is represented well with four of the five starters playing in that division, meanwhile the Southeast Division is home to four of the five players classified as borderline rotation players (and a scrub).
Now that both the Western Conference and Eastern Conference rosters have been constructed, which team is better? Who would you place your money on in a seven game series? How would you have formulated the rosters differently? Let us know in the comments or on Twitter!
All salary cap and contract information can be credited to basketball-reference.com.