NBA Atlantic Division Preview
1. Brooklyn Nets
Brooklyn is absolutely in win-now mode. This offseason, they added to their already mega-talented starting line-up consisting of Deron Williams, Joe Johnson and Brook Lopez with a mega-trade with the Boston Celtics. They acquired future Hall of Famers Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett, while also adding bench scorer Jason Terry. They have arguably the best starting five in the league, but it remains to be seen if their bench can be effective enough to make a significant push in the Eastern Conference. There have been plenty of outstanding starting line-ups over the years, but it’s been proven time and time again that a championship team needs a bench to succeed. Another question going into the season is how new coach Jason Kidd will handle his first coaching experience, especially with a team full of veterans. The Nets will have an interesting year, but they should win the East handily.
2. New York Knicks
The Knicks come into the season as a similar team from last year. They added Metta World Peace in the offseason and sharpshooting big man Andrea Bargnani in a trade with Toronto. They also drafted Tim Hardaway, Jr., a shooting guard out of Michigan who could make a fairly significant impact this season off the bench. They didn’t make many moves this offseason, but overall they had effective transactions and they should make up for the losses of Jason Kidd, Steve Novak and Chris Copeland. They still have two of the best pure perimeter scorers in the league in Carmelo Anthony and J.R. Smith, while Amar’e Stoudemire provides a formidable post presence when healthy. Tyson Chandler will continue to anchor the defense and overall, the Knicks have a good chance to take the division and potentially do some major damage in the playoffs.
3. Toronto Raptors
Even though Andrea Bargnani was the cornerstone of the Raptors franchise for much of the past 5–6 years, the former number one overall pick became expendable when Toronto acquired Rudy Gay last season in a trade with Memphis and when young big man Jonas Valanciunas began to have a break out season. They added some key complementary pieces that can help them make the playoffs for the first time since the days when Vince Carter donned the purple and black. Tyler Hansbrough and D.J. Augustin are two young players that can make a huge impact off the bench, and Rudy Gay was once the focal point of Memphis’ offensive attack. He began to fade for the Grizzlies, but he played well in his limited time in Toronto last season, and it will be interesting to see if he can regain his old form when he is once again the star of the team. The Raptors are on the way up, but I don’t see them earning more than a seventh or eighth seed in the playoffs this year.
4. Boston Celtics
Boston made a blockbuster trade this offseason and completely changed the identity of their team. They lost Paul Pierce, the face of their franchise for the past decade, and Kevin Garnett, an instrumental part of their championship run in 2008. The only starter that remains from that team is point guard Rajon Rondo and he could be on his way out the door soon. It appears that the Celtics have decided to rebuild under new coach Brad Stevens, previously coaching in the NCAA for Butler. They have added a few young players with upside, and are obviously looking toward the future. There is a lot to like about their first round draft pick, Kelly Olynyk out of Gonzaga and it looks as though he could be their center of the future alongside Jared Sullinger. They can also allow forward Jeff Green to grow this season and see how his play style fits with Rondo’s. I wouldn’t be surprised if Rajon is traded by midseason, however, as Boston has tried to trade him multiple times in the past. This will be a rough season for the Celtics, and they will be competing with Philadelphia for first pick in next season’s talent-loaded draft.
5. Philadelphia 76ers
The 76ers are looked at by many as the worst team in the NBA this season, and for good reason. In this year’s draft, they shocked everyone by trading their All-Star point guard Jrue Holiday to the New Orleans Pelicans for next year’s first round pick and this year’s sixth overall pick, Nerlens Noel. They also allowed streaky scorer Nick Young to leave in free agency along with Dorell Wright. The Sixers struggled to score last season, even with those three players, so without them it will be almost impossible to beat even the middling teams in the league. This season will be Evan Turner’s final chance to prove that he can be an effective NBA player, as his contract expires after the season, but this will be his perfect opportunity. He will be the focal point of the offense and will be able to showcase his abilities. Philadelphia should definitely be in the running for the number one pick this season.