Culture of Hoops

One Man’s Atlantic Division Preview

Atlantic: Celtics | Nets | Knicks | 76ers | Raptors | Division Preview 1 and 2
Central: Bulls | Cavaliers | Pistons | Pacers | Bucks | Division Preview
Southeast: Hawks | Bobcats | Heat | Magic | Wizards | Division Preview
Pacific: Warriors | Clippers | Lakers | Suns | Kings | Division Preview
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Perhaps more than any other division in the league this year, the Atlantic Division is bound to be a tale of what-you-see is what-you-get. For any of the five teams to not finish around about right where they’re already anticipated to finish would truly be a surprise. Two are surefire playoff teams, two are not, and one will likely end up residing somewhere either just south of the 8th seed in the East, or they’ll just barely grab it.

In order of best to worst, here’s how it will probably all shake out.

Philadelphia 76ers
Unless Michael Carter Williams and Nerlens Noel – their two lottery picks – each make strong cases for NBA Rookie of the Year (an improbability with Noel, seeing as he’s not scheduled to return from injury until around Christmas), the Sixers are foreseeably going to be dwelling in the proverbial cellar of the Eastern Conference. After having shot themselves in the foot with the Andrew Bynum trade debacle, as well as giving their best player in Jrue Holiday away for the rights to Noel – a hobbled, very young, and altogether dubious prospect – a reasonable goal for Philadelphia, this season, will be to win 30 games.
(Projected Record: 29–53)

Toronto Raptors
Will the Raptors ever be better than slightly below mediocre? Ever? Seriously? This year, it looks as if they’ll be hanging out on the cellar staircase, perhaps a step or two above Philly. Rudy Gay is the type of player who shows to be somewhat great when part of the roster of a great team, as he had with the Memphis Grizzlies; however, when forced into the role on a sub-par team like Toronto of having to shoulder both the defensive and offensive playmaking responsibilities, he’ll more than likely be reduced to whining and pointing fingers and thus, underperforming. Other than Gay, the Raptors have some grit in Quincy Acy, D.J. Augustin, Kyle Lowry and newly acquired Tyler Hansbrough, but in terms of talent and potential chemistry, that simply does not a winning team make.
(Projected Record: 33–49)

Boston Celtics
If there is a team in the Atlantic Division for which it might be difficult to gauge their place in the East, it’s the Boston Celtics. Following an offseason of attrition and abolishment facilitated by general manager, Danny Ainge, it’s somewhat unclear how much of a threat the new-look Cs will be. In Rajon Rondo, they’ve at least been able to retain one of the top point guards in the league – a jack-of-all trades player with championship experience and a ton of fight. Come January, if Jeff Green is legitimately vying for an NBA All-Star nod; if Avery Bradley is making noise with his purported defensive play; if Kelly Olynyk is contributing mightily as a scrappy rookie big man; and if Brad Stevens has miraculously whipped up some rich batch of chemistry and seasoned it with that yes-we-can-even-though-they-say-we-can’t aura, then the Celtics might sneak into the NBA Playoffs – where they’d likely face the Miami Heat. And while, granted, that’s a lot of ifs – there isn’t anything outrageous about the prospect of the lot of those factors coming together in the end. I suppose, then, when it comes to the Celtics, we’ll just have to wait and see on which side of the middle of the pack they’ll end up.
(Projected Record: 37–45)

New York Knicks
On paper, it doesn’t much look like New York is any better or any worse than they were a year ago. A team, on paper, that’s stacked with potential – and one that boasts easily one of the top ten head coaches in the league as well – the Knicks will be busy throughout the course of the year battling for home-court advantage in the first round of the playoffs, in all likelihood, with the Chicago Bulls. Should something extraordinary play out – such as Carmelo Anthony finally deserving and winning league MVP or Amar’e Stoudemire having a resurgent season and averaging somewhere in the vicinity of 18 points and nine rebounds – then New York could fare better than the 4 or 5 seed in the East and potentially beat out Brooklyn to claim the Division; however, in the end, I don’t see anything so extraordinary on the horizon for this team.
(Projected Record: 53–29)

Brooklyn Nets
It could turn out to be a tight race between city rivals for the Division crown, though it does seem a foregone conclusion that Brooklyn will end up on top. The Nets have, arguably, the best starting five in the league, and a bench that will just keep coming in waves to boot. In the end, the great unknown has mostly to do with the coaching job Jason Kidd will do. While it appears the squad is unvaryingly rallying around Kidd, the effects of having a coach who just last season was a peer to the players he’s leading – simply put, they remain to be seen. That being said, however, there is too much talent on the Nets and, in Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Andrei Kirilenko, too much overall veteran governance for them not to be able to edge out the Knicks in the Atlantic.
(Projected Record: 57–25)

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