The teams in the Atlantic Division have undergone a major switch in the last few years. The Celtics have traded their good players. The Raptors are mess as usual. Philadelphia is in full fledged rebuilding mode after trading their best player to the Pelicans for a first round pick. The Knicks are the defending champions, but have many questions. The Nets made the biggest trade of the offseason by trading for Pierce and Garnett.
1) Brooklyn Nets
The Nets made the biggest trade in the offseason and it may enable them to be the most improved team in the league. Although the additions of Pierce, Garnett, Terry, and Kirilenko have generated much criticism, the team is better than last year’s team and is more suited to go deep into the playoffs in a difficult Eastern Conference. On paper, the Nets look like one of the best team’s in the NBA because they have a complete roster. Although the Nets have a solid team on paper, they have many flaws and issues that they must overcome, in order for them to succeed and meet expectations. The whole roster is old and injury prone. As long as the Nets’ roster stays moderately healthy, they will easily win a depleted Atlantic Division and compete for one of the top three positions in the Easter Conference. Although Garnett does not have the skill to carry a team, like Minnesota or his early days in Boston, he is the best leader in the league and provides an abundance amount of energy and passion to the court. Last year, the Nets were below average at defense. However, Garnett will not stand for anything but greatness. During his days with Minnesota and Boston, the teams were always great at defense. He will hold player accountable for their actions, which will make them a better team instantly. On offense, the Nets should be one of the top teams in the league. They have numerous options on offense, which should lead to open opportunities. Compared to last year, the Nets will not be slowed by two horrific offensive players, Reggie Evans and Gerald Wallace. Like last year, the Nets bench should be steady. Andre Kirilenko is a competitor for the sixth man of the year and Andre Blatche is one of the most talented bench players in the league. Although they made need time to gel, since Williams has not been able to play during the preseason, the Nets will be a top three team in the East and make it to at least the second round of the playoffs.
2) New York Knicks
After winning the Atlantic Division and earning the number two seed in the East, the Knicks look to repeat their success from last year. The Knicks have many questions that must be answered if they are going to make the playoffs this season. The Knicks have many injury prone players that are part of their core. Besides for Anthony, the Knicks do not have consistent options on offense. Last season, the Knicks second best scorer was JR Smith. However, Smith cannot be the second scorer for a quality playoff team. As seen from their playoff results, if Smith is not playing at a extraordinary high level, the Knicks will have trouble scoring and lose many games against quality opponents. The Knicks have the talent, if healthy, to compete with the Nets for first place in the Atlantic. If Stoudemire and Chandler can revive their careers and return to their All-Star status, the Knicks will be a solid team that can score and play feisty defense. Fortunately for the Knicks, they have Carmelo Anthony. During his career, Melo has never missed the playoffs. Anthony is one of the top three scorers in the league and can carry a team for a few weeks. If Stoudemire, Hardaway, or Shumpert can become offensive weapons, Melo will not be required to score 30 points a night and strain himself through a 82 game season. In the postseason last season, Anthony was unable to perform at such a high level because his body was worn and his shoulders could not handle the stress of carrying the Knicks. This season, the Knicks may be more suited for the postseason. During the regular season, the Knicks will not win 54 games, like last season, because they will not be able to maintain their three point consistency. However, if the Knicks can rest their stars and keep Stoudemire, Bargnani, and Chandler healthy, the Knicks will be a tough out because they have the ability to play suffocating defense and have a dominant scorer that can will a series by himself.
3) Toronto Raptors
After a fantastic preseason, 6-1, the Raptors hope that they can be successful in the regular season. The Raptors have improved over the last few years and may compete for a playoff spot this season. After losing Chris Bosh three years ago, the Raptors finally found a star that could replace him in Rudy Gay. Although he is not worth his $19 million contract, Gay is a proficient scorer that can create shots for himself and his teammates. The Raptors have their best team in the last few seasons. The Raptors offense should experience a lot of success because of the talent on the team. If Terrence Ross can meet expectations as a lottery pick from last season, the Raptors will have three good scoring options that can score 20 points on any given night, Ross, Gay, and DeRozan. The Raptors should continue focusing on improving their young players, DeRozan, Ross, and Valanciunas. Although the Raptors do not have the talent to currently contend with the Nets and Knicks, they have the potential to become contenders in a few more years. Besides Ross, the biggest X Factor for the Raptors is Jonas Valanciunas. Jonas, the Raptors first round pick from two years ago, has the potential to be one of the best big man in the league. Although Jonas did not have a great first season due to injury, Jonas ended the season strong, especially on the defensive side of the ball. Jonas is a big, versatile man, who can protect the rim and effectively defend his man. Jonas will be important for the Raptors because they do not have the best perimeter defenders. Jonas will need to protect the rim and set the defense so that they rotate correctly and prevent easy buckets. The Raptors will improve from last season, but they will not win enough wins to make a playoff spot or compete for the Atlantic Division crown.
4) Boston Celtics
The Celtics are in rebuilding mode. After a five year run that netted a championship, two trips to the finals, and numerous memorable moments, Danny Ainge decided to restart and trade away part of the core. Although the Celtics trade two sure fire Hall of Famers, they were able to obtain future draft considerations that will help them quicken the rebuilding process. The next interesting decision will be whether the team keeps or trades All Star point guard Rajon Rondo. Rondo is an absolute magician with the ball and under a team friendly contract for the foreseeable future. If Ainge decides to trade Rondo, he would receive at least one first round pick and a budding star. However, it is unlikely that he will be traded because he is coming off of a major knee injury and his trade value is quite low. This season, the Celtics’ fans should not have high hopes for their team. The first half of the year will be incredibly rough as Brad Stevens, first year head coach, will have to become acclimated to being an NBA coach and the team must learn to gel without their best player and starting point guard. The Celtics will probably win about 20 games this season. For much of the season, they will be led by starting small forward Jef Green. Green is a versatile and solid player, but far from a superstar in the league. Although they do not want to admit their intentions to the fans, the Celtics brass is hoping that the team loses enough games to secure a top pick in next year’s star studded draft. With a lucky ping pong ball, the Celtics fortune could be changed, if they can draft Wiggins, Parker, Randle, or Gordon. However, Ainge hopes that Brad Stevens can convert his college success to NBA success and his young players, Bradley, Sullinger, Olynyk, and Brooks, improve as the season wears.
5) Philadelphia 76ers
If people feel bad for the Celtics’ fans, I do not know how they would feel toward the 76ers’ fans. This season, the 76ers are going to be absolutely horrible. In terms of talent, this team compares to the Bobcats of two years ago and the Nets of four years ago, each teams that won less than 20 games. After good 2012 season where they made the second of the playoffs, the 76ers had a horrible years last season, partly due to the Andrew Bynum disaster. Besides for losing their coach, the 76ers traded away their lone All-Star and best player Jrue Holiday to the Pelicans for Nerlens Noel and a first round pick in next year’s draft. Michael Carter Williams, the 76ers other first round pick, does not have the talent to turn around the struggling franchise and make the team competitive this year. The 76ers have a really young team that should continue to develop and improve as the season progresses. The 76ers will be leaning on “veterans” Evan Turner and Thaddeus Young to carry the team, while the young players get their feet wet. Unfortunately, the 76ers will probably be without the 6th overall pick, Nerlens Noel, for the entire season, as a returns from an ACL injury. The 76ers are hoping that next year’s draft class will turn around their future and lead them to the playoffs in the next few years. They will probably have a top 3 pick because of their lack of talent and inability to win games. Also, they obtain the Pelicans’ pick, which should be inside the top 10 or at least the top 15. The 76ers are hoping that the combination of two more lottery picks, Nerlens Noel, and Michael Carter Williams will be able to lead them to a title or at least multiple playoff berths. Although it seems difficult to understand, the 76ers could be the best team in the division in five years because of the assets and cap space that they currently obtain.
stats from espn.com