The East is definitely wide open, and probably will remain so unless the Heat can retain the big3 and fill out the roster, and the Bulls do not get a Melo type addition to their roster.
I expect the conference to be much more competitive than it was last season. Looking at the teams, I do not think there is a single one that will be clearly tanking this season. I think every team will be trying to win as many games as possible. That clearly wasn't the case last season with Philly, Milwaukee, Boston, and Orlando fielding obviously less than competitive clubs. And then there were the horror stories out of Cleveland, Detroit, and NY. I think it will be much more difficult to get wins in the East this upcoming season. The only team in the conference that may be worthy of a tanking label IMO, is the Knicks, and that would be without Melo. If he stays, they will try to win of course. So I'm expecting a much more competitive conference, and even matching our win total from last season should be considered a success, but it's unlikely to reward us with a 3rd seed.
There is lots of offseason left so it's hard to predict of course.
Indy and MIA should still be very good teams. Unless LBJ and Bosh depart, I expect the Heat to remain competitive as long as one of them are there with Wade. The Bulls are a wildcard, as there are a lot of if's surrounding there roster. If DRose returns to form, if they can grab a Gasol or Melo, if they trade or anmesty Boozer, if McDermott can contribute right out the gate, and what's up with Mirotic? The Bulls could be the team to beat in the East next season, or they may struggle to make the playoffs if things don't go their way this offseason. The last few offseasons have been this way for that team.
I think the Hornets will also be better next season, and if they add a decent FA they will be even tougher. WASH is also another up and coming team, and with the Wall/Beal combo continuing to improve the should remain very competitive. The Knicks are unlikely to be great next season, with or without Melo, but if he returns you have to expect them to try and make the playoffs. The Nets are hard to guage, they will be a different team next year, but I expect them to be in the playoffs. If healthy, they could be better than last year. Boston and Philly could very well be bottom feeders next year. Philly, I imagine will not be a great team, but I expect them to start trying to get their young guys to win and develop a system. It may not be as easy to beat them next year. Boston could very well hang out at the bottom again next season, they can afford another subpar year for asset accumulation if they chose, but a couple of moves this offseason could out them back in the playoff hunt. But regardless of how their roster shapes up, I expect them to compete, they have lots of assets so bottoming out next season 'on purpose' may not be a priority. Winning games may be more of a priority, and we all know how winning changes asset evaluation. Bradley @ 8mil per is mind boggling however.
The Hawks should be better next season, as long as they are healthy. And they have money to spend so they could be much tougher next year. Orlando are primed to start winning again. They have a young roster, so my expectations are low, but I think they are done with tanking for now and will attempt to develop their core and win some games. MIL are gonna try and turn things around quickly and they have some great young pieces to make that happen. They just have to be taught to play together in a system. I expect Kidd will employ a system similar to what brought him success in BKN. MIL should be better next year.
Who's left: the horror shows in DET and CLE. Hard to believe those teams will be as bad next season. Van Gundy will get the Pistons playing better regardless of the roster. And CLE has got some talent there, if they can get it together and alleviate the chemistry issues, they should be headed up the standings.
Obviously, it's certainly too early to tell, and I'm not sure how accurate my brief assessments are, but when you look at all the teams it seems like all of them, minus a couple of exceptions perhaps (i.e. NYK without Melo; Boston if a slow offseason), are clearly trying to move ahead. No one seems primed to take that step back next season in order take two steps forward later. That part of the process is done for most of those teams. So, unless we see some more unexpected horror shows next season, the conference should be much more competitive, and getting wins that much more difficult.
Competing for the top seed isn't gonna happen IMO. Back to back division titles are certainly a possibility. I think the team actually improves as a unit next season and I can see guys like DD, Ross, and JV making individual improvements as well, however, I hesitate to suggest that this will result in more wins or a better seed.