Ahh, my beloved Atlantic Division. The division of kings really. The Atlantic boasts the greatest franchise in the history of the sport as well as the most storied arena in the league. Also, the Raptors, 76ers, and Nets are involved in some way, shape or form seemingly yearly, so I assume that counts for something. Yes, for the past decade or so, this has become one of the more top heavy divisions around the league, lacking in depth and substance, but boy have the times changed as it now consists of THREE playoff teams. That’s what I call competition!
This is the measuring stick for the rest of the league in every way imaginable. Mega-trades to form super teams? Yeah, thank “The Gambler” Danny Ainge for that trend. 17 banners hanging in the Garden? Nope, not Madison Square K.M., but close. And this season is no different. Moves were made. Other moves were reported and apparently false (how I hate you, David West). And some teams just aged another year in hopes that their maturity could give them the extra impact they sorely lacked. Now, enough beating around the bush, it’s preview time.
1. New York Knickerbockers (44-22)
Key Additions: Tyson Chandler, Iman Shumpert (Rookie)
Key Departures: Chauncey Billups
The Knicks made the playoffs last season and were promptly swept out of the first round by the Boston Celtics. Shocking, I know. To be fair, they did not have a full season with Carmelo Anthony and Amar’e Stoudemire. Once the playoffs hit, Billups went down and Stoudemire was mired by back spasms. Now, with an extended offseason to recuperate, the Knicks are in prime position to claim the Atlantic title. With the condensed schedule, their youth and scoring ability will propel them ahead of most teams. Plus, the addition of Tyson Chandler gives them a winner in the middle and an above average shot blocked guarding the rim on defense (yes, there will be a little bit of defense played by the Knicks this season). Landry Fields and Iman Shumpert will have to play significant roles on this offense after the Knicks waived Billups in order to bring in an injured Baron Davis. With Toney Douglas penciled in as their starting point guard (for now) expect Shump and Fields to get plenty of opportunities to contribute, especially considering D’Antoni Ball dictates that any Mike D’Antoni team must average 105 PPG. With STAT and Melo only capable of chipping in a little more than half of that, someone is going to have to score. Once Baron Davis does return, it will be interesting to see what kind of impact he has on this team, if any at all. He played alright at the beginning of last season with the Clippers but once he was traded to Cleveland his “knee started acting up.” If he isn’t getting the playing time he believes he deserves, he may become a distraction. Regardless, the Knicks are heading back to the postseason and should garner a top three seed. If he averages enough points and can secure the top seed in the East, Carmelo Anthony will demand some serious consideration for MVP.
2. Boston Celtics (39-27)
David West, Chris Wilcox, Brandon Bass, Marquis Daniels, Keyon Dooling, E’Twaun Moore (Rookie), JaJuan Johnson (Rookie)
Key Departures: Jeff Green, Shaquille O’Neal, Glen Davis, Delonte West
Doc Rivers and the Celtics will coast. Zero doubt in my mind. 39 wins may actually be five more than they get, but the Celtics will see the playoffs regardless. Kevin Garnett will be playing five minute shifts game in and game out, according to Rivers, as well as playing some minutes at center. Paul Pierce is already doubtful for the season opener with a heal injury (plantar fascitis has marred him for most of his career). Jeff Green is out for the year with a coronary aneurysm (yup, that happened). And David West decided two million more from the Pacers was a better move than coming to the Celtics. Yup, it’s all doom and gloom in Boston. Except, Rajon Rondo and Ray Allen still play in white and green. For some reason, this backcourt is overlooked. Allen is one of the best conditioned athletes in all of the NBA, and while his teammates KG and P-Squared sit out a combined 40 games this season, Allen will likely be as fresh as he is for Game 67 as he is on Christmas. Rajon Rondo is bar none the toughest player in the NBA. Don’t believe me? You dislocate your elbow after being attacked and mauled by Dwayne Wade and then comeback minutes later just to lead your team to victory. Now that he’s fully healed and pissed off after an offseason chalk full of erroneous CP3 rumors, expect for Rondo to remind everyone why he is a Top 5 point guard in the Association. While the Big 4 will be fine, Jermaine O’Neal will be the engine which ultimately ends up leading this team. If he can remain healthy and play 55 games for this team, they may actually eclipse the 40 win mark. If he can give this team 10 and 10 night in and night out, they will be able to average more than 85 PPG, or whatever miserable average it was last season. Remember, O’Neal had similar defensive percentages to DeAndre Jordan last season, so if he’s on the court next to KG, this is still one of the better defensive front courts in the league. Just for fun: the Knicks will beat the Celtics on Christmas.
3. Philadelphia 76ers (36-30)
Key Additions: Nicola Vucevic (Rookie), Phil E. Moose, B. Franklin Dogg
Key Departures: Hip Hop (Mascot)
The 76ers hung with the Heat in the first round of the playoffs last season. One thing this team has is a plethora of point guards (or at least players who can run the point). Jrue Holliday got the starting job when Lou Williams went down last season and did not let it go. The second year player averaged 14 ppg and added six and a half assists per game and expects to grow in his third season. Williams isn’t too shabby himself averaging 13.7 points per contest. Shooting guard Jodie Meeks checked in with 10.5 himself. Talk about a well rounded scoring attack coming out of the backcourt. Andre Iguodala is their franchise cornerstone. He is an athletic freak and a phenomenal on-ball defensive player, but his offensive numbers have been on a steady decline since he averaged a shade under 19 ppg three seasons ago.
The 76ers creeped towards success last season because of two reasons: Elton Brand and Thaddeus Young. Brand had largely been considered a bust since he inked a big deal to come to Philly in 2008. Last season he gave the Sixers rebounding they lacked and points in the low and high post they expected when they signed him. But this team runs on Thaddeus Young. He can play both forward positions, defend both forward positions, and when he is on the court every rebound and loose ball belongs to him. Since Brand and Spencer Hawes start for this team, I expect Young to make a serious run for Sixth Man of the Year this season, especially after how well he played against the Heat during the playoffs.
4. New Jersey Nets (26-40)
Key Additions: Mehmet Okur, MarShon Brooks (Rookie), Shawne Williams
Key Departures: Travis Outlaw, Kim Kardashian
The Nets are a mess, but there is hope yet. Deron Williams will be one of the best players in all of basketball for the first month of the season because of his time in Turkey during the offseason. This may snake them a couple of wins while other teams are still trying to find their legs. In the long run, Williams will still be one of the better players in the league but it will not directly translate into wins. Anthony Morrow is one of the purest shooters in all of basketball. As he has previously led the league in 3PT percentage, he is also hovers around 90% from the charity stripe. While he is not a go to scorer, MarShon Brooks could be as soon as this season. The former Providence star knows how to fill it up on the offensive end. While he lacks maturity or the ability to pass, he puts the ball in the hoop and that’s exactly what the Nets need for the here, now, and the future. If Brooks develops too quickly, however, he may be that illustrious second piece that the Orlando Magic covet in a trade for Dwight Howard. (Editors note: IF the Nets do swing Howard early enough in the season, they are automatically a playoff team and more than likely leapfrog the 76ers…that is all). Brook Lopez will miss some time with a stress fracture in his foot, and for a seven-footer, that could be a lingering injury throughout the season. A starting lineup of Williams, Brooks, Morrow, Humphries, and Lopez could turn into a seven or eight seed in the future but it is not in the cards this season. Lopez needs to develop other aspects of his game (*cough* rebounding *cough* defense * cough cough*) in order to become a top center in the league and until then this team will continue to be a lottery team. The additions of Shawne Williams and Mehmet Okur give this team depth but for a team full of role players they need an impact player to take some pressure off of D-Will (you know, what everyone seems to think Travis Outlaw should be). If the Nets do miss out on Howard, though, Williams may walk and Jay-Z will be bringing one sorry looking team to Brooklyn next season.
5. Toronto Raptors (16-50)
Key Additions: Aaron Gray, Gary Forbes, Jamaal Magloire
Key Departures: Reggie Evans
I was going to give this team 20 wins, but this is a horrible team. Just look at their key additions if you don’t believe me. The Raptors have three guards (Leandro Barbosa, Jerryd Bayless, & Jose Calderon) who can all certainly score. But ask one of them to defend. Go ahead, ask. See what they say. Unless you know Spanish or Portuguese, you may not be able to ask two of them. What the Raptors do have is a bunch of players who would be solid role players on better teams. Andrea Bargnani is a seven footer who can cover exactly zero centers or power forwards in the league. Ed Davis needs to be less Marvin Williams and more Tyler Hansbrough in order to give this team any sort of inside scoring presence. DeMar DeRozan is a huge bright spot for this organization. He seems to add a dynamic to his game each season he has been in the league, and if he can ever shoot better than NINE percent from downtown, he could turn into the All Star this team so sorely needs. Before last season, the Raptors game a sizable deal to Amir Johnson. This is the season he must earn that deal. He has always been a decent big, but this straight from high school player is now in his seventh NBA season and it’s time for him to shit or get off of the pot. This team has some players, but night in and night out they will lose games because they don’t play enough defense and they lack star power. Bargnani and DeRozan would be solid wingmen to a superstar, but until then, this team is going to continue to suffer because Chris Bosh took his talents to South Beach…
Three Atlantic Questions:
1. Will the Nets Land Dwight Howard?
I have long believed the Nets have the best package to land Dwight Howard. Brook Lopez is a seven footer you can’t exactly build around but he can give you 20 points a night and, if he feels like it, will grab a rebound or two. While the Lakers will make a serious push for D12, the Nets desperately need Howard. The idea of bringing basketball to Brooklyn should be enough to keep both D12 and D-Will in town. If they make the trade early enough into the season, they may be able to make the playoffs (and if they ink an Aaron Brooks, Wilson Chandler, or J.R. Smith when they return from China, this may be a legitimate contender this season, but that is a lot to fathom).
2. Will this be the last run for the (actual) Big Three?
I keep going back and forth on this. This is going to be a tough last hurrah for this Celtics team. They finished .500 in Finals appearances. .667 in Eastern Conference Finals appearances, and developed Rajon Rondo into one of the best point guards in the league. When Ainge made this trade, they knew how small the window was that they were dealing with. Ray Allen has years left in him, but will he return just to play along side Rondo or will he try and squeeze another ring out of a different contender next season. Kevin Garnett has the mentality to keep playing, but he has already registered the 15th most minutes played in the history of the NBA. Will he stay in Boston to mold JaJuan Johnson, or will he try to win another ring elsewhere? Pierce is locked up for a few more years, but what kind of role will he have as the Celtics move forward? If they can bring in a huge name in the offseason, perhaps Jesus and KG will come back in even further reduced roles, but I’m not holding my breath.
3. How much does Kris Humphries deserve to be mocked and humiliated?
More than what he got two nights ago. This “man” deserved to be booed like Bill Buckner at a ground ball fielding clinic. This individual saw what Lamar Odom accomplished by marrying one of these Kardashians and wanted to make a name for himself. He married the neighborhood bicycle and broke one of the cardinal rules of being a man: you NEVER try and make a ho into a housewife. C’MON SON! WHAT WERE YOU THINKING?!? DID YOU SEE THE RAY J TAPE? THAT’S THE CHICK YOU BROUGHT HOME WITH YOU? YOUR WEDDING WAS TELEVISED!! NOT EVEN LAMAR DID THAT SHIT! IT’S JUST SO DAMN INFURIATING. BOOOOOOOOO!!! (Long answer short, anything you say towards this Taylor Laudner on steroids looking individual is 100% inbounds.)