The big off-season story-line for the NBA’s Atlantic division was the major trade between the Boston Celtics and Brooklyn Nets. The Celtics sent veterans Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Jason Terry to Brooklyn in exchange mainly for draft picks. There isn’t a clear championship contender in this division, but most early predictions make one of the two New York based teams favorites. Here’s our team-by-team breakdown with a predicted order of finish for the five teams.
New York Knicks
Their in-state rivals Brooklyn might be the talk of the division and they may still not be a serious championship contender, but it’s still dangerous to under-rate what should be a very competitive roster. Andrea Bargnani is the only notable offseason addition and that won’t fill many people with much confidence. However, Bargnani will have the opportunity to play a smaller, less central role in this line-up and that could bring out a slightly better player than has been seen in recent years.
The front court is pretty solid. Tyson Chandler is a genuine big man, Amar’e Stoudemire provides offensive depth, Kenyon Martin is back as a hugely important defensive and emotional piece. Metta World Peace still has a little bit left in the tank as well. All of this will gravitate around one of the NBA’s best pure scorers in Carmelo Anthony. For all the questions surrounding the 29-year old’s playoff performances, Anthony is close to unmatched as a regular season performer.
Raymond Felton, Iman Shumpert and J.R. Smith provide the team with a little bit of back-court skill as well. The Knicks will be found out for their over-reliance on shooting, weak defense and questionable depth in a seven-game playoff series against a good team. Still, in a weak division the Knicks should emerge with a strong record and will win the Atlantic division.
When they made the move to Brooklyn this franchise promised that it would return to being a serious NBA championship contender. A fulfillment of that promised seemed much closer when the Nets pulled off a blockbuster trade with the Celtics to bring in proven veterans Garnett, Pierce and Terry. They also added Andrei Kirilenko, who had a decent year with the Minnesota Timberwolves. There’s no doubt that a roster that already included Deron Williams, Brooks Lopez and Joe Johnson is now better placed to seriously compete for an NBA title.
However, this is a team whose success will ultimately come down to what they do in the playoffs. Fitness concerns are still a major issue for both Garnett and Pierce, while Williams is already dealing with an ankle injury early in the season.
The other major concern for regular season performance is how all of this is going to fit together. How many shots are streaky scorers Johnson and Pierce likely to get? Can this group work together as a team? How will rookie head coach Jason Kidd handle the situation. This is an extremely tough challenge with very high expectations already in place for Kidd, who despite all his experience and ability, is going to have to learn what coaching is all about on the fly.
By April, the success or failure of the trade will be known, but the regular season will surely be an up and down affair where their overall record will ultimately suffer, at least a little bit.
This is Rajon Rondo’s team. That may or may not be a good thing for the long-term future of this franchise. However, there is no more Garnett, no more Pierce and no more Doc Rivers. New head coach Brad Stevens will orchestrate everything around Rondo, and while many are dismissing Boston already. There is a bit more talent on this roster than many people are giving it credit for as well.
Jeff Green, Brandon Baas, Jared Sullinger and Gerald Wallace ensure that there is depth on the front court (though Kris Humphries inspires little as the projected starting center). Courtenay Lee, Marshon Brooks, Jordan Crawford and the fantastically talented Avery Bradley provide lots and lots of depth in the back-court.
Rondo has players to work with. This team should be among the better defensive units during the 2013-14 season once again. His all-round offensive game and ability to create easy shots for his team mates will make this a competitive team.
The Celtics are at best a border-line playoff team and it is very possible that General Manager Danny Ainge will blow this group up rather than fight for an eighth seed. However, the line-up as currently constructed is the third best in the Atlantic division.
Rudy Gay is a very good basketball player and Jonas Valanciunas is a player who should significantly improve this season. The subtraction of Bargnani can also only be good thing for this organization. This front court is solid enough and there is a similar feel about a back-court featuring Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan. The additions from the Indiana Pacers of D.J. Augustin and Tyler Hansbrough are also useful depth players for a team that isn’t blessed with a ton of depth.
Landry Fields and Steve Novak also add some depth, while the team will hope that 2012 eighth overall pick Terrence Ross takes a significant step forward in 2013-14.
This team is extremely similar to the Celtics in that the pieces could come together to make them a seventh or eighth seed. There’s just as much chance that they finish just outside. Whether this team stays together or gets blown up will probably depend strongly upon the first half of the season. A first playoff appearance since 2008 might just be a little too tempting for this Toronto organization though.
There is no need to spend too many words on the 76ers. They are the early favorites to pick up Andrew Wiggins. This is a line-up that will lean heavily upon Kwame Brown. Jason Richardson is already injured, while Thaddeus Young is a solid player, but shouldn’t be relied upon to be the best player on a roster.
Evan Turner has talent and potential even if he has failed to meet his pre-draft expectations, while Michael-Carter Williams is going to enjoy a tough start to his NBA career. It’ll be interesting to see what sort of role, if any, Nerlens Noel plays.