Philadelphia 76ers - Winner
During the summer, when it became clear that James Harden was going to get his trade one way or another, all signs pointed toward the Philadelphia 76ers, with little to no leverage, as a team that was going to take a step back this season in the Eastern Conference. It was natural math. With less talent, how could the expectation be that the Sixers were going to take a step forward in the standings?
However, through the midway point of the season, that hasn't exactly happened. Sure, the Sixers may not have the ceiling that they had last year, but they're still one of the best teams in the Eastern Conference. Philadelphia is sitting as the third seed in the East at the moment and is just a half-game back of the second-seeded Milwaukee Bucks. They're also just four games back of the top seed.
It's fair to still believe that the Sixers are one star move away from being taken as a serious contender in the East. However, at the same time, you have to credit what this team has been able to do even after losing a player as productive as Harden was for them just a year ago.