With a blockbuster trade in the works, the Atlantic Division is changing once again. While Dwight Howard is the centerpiece of the trade, as it appears he’ll end up on the Los Angeles Lakers, other teams are involved including the Philadelphia 76ers, who are expected to receive Andrew Bynum.
If the trade goes through (and it seems it will), it would complete a shake-up, rebuild, or strengthening of all five teams in the division. The New York Knicks, Brooklyn Nets, Boston Celtics, Toronto Raptors, and 76ers have all changed their rosters fairly drastically this offseason. Big moves or signings could still happen, of course, but if things stand as they are, here are my predictions for how the Atlantic Division will breakdown:
1.) Boston Celtics
Last Year: 39-27, first in division, fourth in conference
Key Additions/Retained Players: Jason Terry, Jeff Green, Fab Melo (R), Jared Sullinger (R), Courtney Lee, Jason Collins, Kevin Garnett, Brandon Bass, Chris Wilcox, Keyon Dooling
Lost: Ray Allen, Greg Stiemsma, Ryan Hollins
As tough as it is to say, the Boston Celtics have made themselves title contenders again. Not that they were far away. Last year, the Celtics were one win away from going to the NBA Finals instead of the Miami Heat. Now, with a productive offseason, they’ve retained depth upfront, bringing back Kevin Garnett and Brandon Bass, while adding some in rookies Jared Sullinger and Fab Melo, and signing Jason Collins. Their center rotation is still weak, but they have plenty of size.
Meanwhile on the wings and in the backcourt, they brought back Jeff Green (in a $36-million overpay), used a sign-and-trade to get Courtney Lee from the Rockets, and used their mid-level exception to snag Jason Terry. The Terry move could be a particularly critical move that gives the Celtics someone to space the floor and be a secondary playmaker next to Rajon Rondo, or to run the offense when Rondo is off the floor. Combined with the eventual return of Avery Bradley, the Celtics figure to have a productive, four-deep backcourt.
Simply said, the Celtics have bolstered their frontcourt and their backcourt, added both youth (Green, Sullinger, Lee) and veterans (Terry), and have become deeper and more athletic. Add their new toys to the always-steady, now-Big 3 of Paul Pierce, Garnett, and Rondo, and the Celtics will likely remain the kings of the Atlantic Division unless the pieces somehow don’t all mesh.
2.) New York Knicks
Last Year: 36-30, second in division, seventh in conference
Key Additions/Retained Players: Raymond Felton, Marcus Camby, Kurt Thomas, Jason Kidd, Ronnie Brewer, Pablo Prigioni, J.R Smith, Steve Novak
Lost: Jeremy Lin, Landry Fields, Jared Jeffries, Josh Harrellson, Toney Douglas, Jerome Jordan
The Knicks’ offseason exploits have been well-documented across all platforms of media this summer, and it seems the general consensus is this: they’ve gotten better, deeper, but is it enough? Minus the back-stories, drama, and tactical plots, the Knicks were essentially outbid for Jeremy Lin and Landry Fields, two of the only young, productive players on the team heading into the offseason. The Knicks have undeniable depth – they can go two-, or even three-deep at some positions with a fully healthy roster. But again, is it enough to vault them into the elite category in the Eastern Conference?
While the Knicks made the controversial decision of not matching Lin, they did acquire two steady hands (four hands, technically) at the point guard in Raymond Felton and Jason Kidd. They re-upped J.R Smith and Steve Novak, two bench scorers with a good chemistry, and really the only two outside threats on the team. Ronnie Brewer was a sneaky veteran’s-minimum signing who could play an important role as a wing-stopper for the Knicks. Upfront, the Knicks got older, but tougher with the acquisitions of Marcus Camby and Kurt Thomas.
The Knicks figure to be a good defensive team, and a capable offensive team, but despite their multitude of weapons on their depth chart, their ultimate success depends on how well Carmelo Anthony, Amar’e Stoudemire, and Tyson Chandler can mesh, and that still remains to be seen.
3.) Brooklyn Nets
Last Year: 22-44, fifth in division, twelfth in conference
Key Additions/Retained Players: Joe Johnson, C.J Watson, Mirza Teletovic, Reggie Evans, Keith Bogans, Deron Williams, Gerald Wallace, Brook Lopex, Kris Humphries
Lost: Jordan Farmar, Johan Petro, DeShawn Stevenson, Anthony Morrow, Gerald Green
The Brooklyn Nets have had one of the most interesting offseasons in the NBA. They managed to re-sign (albeit overpaying) Gerald Wallace, pulled off an unlikely trade for Atlanta’s All-Star guard Joe Johnson – which was enough to convince Deron Williams to re-sign -, and after months of flirting, came oh-so-close to trading for Dwight Howard. But alas, that trade fell through and the Nets re-upped their big men, Brook Lopez and Kris Humphries. The Nets also quietly put together a bench that figures to be productive with C.J Watson as the back-up point guard, MarShon Brooks entering his second season, the Bosnian scorer Teletovic, who figures to be a stretch-four type player, and Reggie Evans.
The Nets have a chance to be one of the most productive offensive teams in the NBA. Deron Williams is a top-five point guard on his worst days; perhaps the best point guard in the NBA on his best days. Johnson is a consistent scoring threat, who can also set other players up. Lopez is one of the best offensive centers in the league when he’s healthy. And the rest of the crew aren’t slouches at scoring the ball either. Defense and rebounding will be the Nets’ real struggles. Johnson is a competent defender and Wallace is excellent at times, and Humphries and Evans can both rebound the ball, but neither have ever carved out vital roles on successful teams. If Lopez can stay healthy, he has to improve on his abysmal rebounding numbers – 6 rebounds per game in 2010-11.
The Nets will outscore teams on a lot of nights, but close games often come down to stops, and on paper, the Nets don’t figure to be a team that’ll lock their opponents down very often. In the long run, that may end up hurting the Nets from becoming an elite team.
4.) Philadelphia 76ers
Last Year: 35-31, third in division, eighth in conference
Key Additions/Retained Players: Andrew Bynum, Dorrell Wright, Nick Young, Kwame Brown, Spencer Hawes, Lavoy Allen
Lost: Lou Williams, Andre Iguodala, Elton Brand, Maurice Harkless (R), Nikola Vucevic
Up until the Dwight Howard trade broke through, the Sixers looked one of the losers of the offseason. They used the amnesty clause on Elton Brand and then proceeded to re-sign Spencer Hawes to huge money, acquire Dorrell Wright, Nick Young, and Kwame Brown. For a team with youth, potential, and money to spend, they hadn’t really taken the necessary next step to become the contenders many people contended they would be. But this Andrew Bynum deal shakes it up a bit. Bynum gives them the second best offensive force in the post in the league, with real size on rebounds and in the paint on defense. He also gives them (potentially) a go-to scorer, which they lacked most of the time.
However, they just lost Andre Iguodala, who is the almost the perfect complementary player on any roster. He’s one of the best wing defenders in the NBA, and plays like a LeBron James-lite: scoring, passing, running players, rebounding, just at a lower rate. Lou Williams was the team’s leading scorer last year, and while Nick Young isn’t the smartest player, or as good as Williams, he replaces Williams as a floor-spreader, and someone who can create their own shot.
Doug Collins has proven to be perfect for the Sixers, getting the most he can out of every player. They’ve got plenty of youth and potential on their team – Evan Turner, Jrue Holiday, Bynum, and Young – and if those guys grow into all that they could be, the Sixers will be in a good position. The problem is, we’re still waiting for Holiday, Bynum, and Young to actually turn into those players, and the time is winding down. Unless one of them takes a big leap into an elite positional player (and they all have the potential to do so), the Sixers still won’t be much more than a solid playoff team.
5.) Toronto Raptors
Last Year: 23-43, fourth in division, eleventh in conference
Key Additions/Retained Players: Kyle Lowry, Landry Fields, Jonas Valanciunas, John Lucas III, Terrence Ross (R), Aaron Gray
Lost: Gary Forbes, James Johnson
Predicting the Raptors to finish last in the division isn’t meant to be a slight to the team; I actually quite like what they’ve done this offseason. However, there’s a clear difference between them and the rest of the teams in the Atlantic Division. That said, the Raptors figure to at least make a playoff push this season. The point guard combination of Jose Calderon and Kyle Lowry is one of the best in the league, and gives them a nice mixture of scoring, passing, and defense. The Raptors highly overpaid for Landry Fields, in an attempt to lure Steve Nash back to Canada, and strip the Knicks of trade assets to Phoenix. But given the Raptors’ team, Fields may return to being the player we saw in the productive early months of his rookie season. The Raptors have spacing and good passers, which will open up the floor for Fields to cut, slash, and run backdoor for easy hoops. DeMar DeRozan has emerged as young, impactful scorer and slasher on the wings.
Upfront, the Raptors are OK, but nothing terribly impressive. Andrea Bargnani has still never reached the franchise-center level he was projected to be. At his best, he’s a high scoring center who doesn’t bring much more than average rebounding and below average defense. Ed Davis and Amir Johnson are both role players who can rebound, block shots, and scrap for points. Incoming rookie, 2011-12 lottery pick Jonas Valaciunas has had a disappointing Olympic tournament, and hasn’t inspired much confidence.
The Raptors will likely be good enough to make the playoffs, and they’ve certainly upgraded the talent on their team, but they’re currently outmatched in a soon-to-be competitive division.
Follow Scott Davis on Twitter @WScottDavis