Now, we welcome the teams of the Atlantic Division. We start with last season’s silver medal winners, the Boston Celtics. Yes, they’re old, among the oldest teams in the NBA, but they still managed to take the Lakers to a Game 7, and a good one at that. The Celtics also demonstrated that regular season records meant very little when the playoffs started. They barely scraped by for homecourt advantage in the Eastern Conference, but from there, it became ugly for the other teams. They hammered Miami. They relentlessly pounded the Cavaliers. They ripped the Magic. And they nearly upset the defending champions. To say that the Celtics’ age neutralizes their omnipresent threat is to argue that the Timberwolves will be this season’s NBA champions. However, the Celtics did get even older this season. Signing Shaquille O’Neal and Jermaine O’Neal added a lot of experience and depth, but those advantages come with the disadvantages of age, wear and tear, and some major egos. Getting Delonte West back is a double-edged sword. He’s a solid shooter and a great defender but has a plethora of personal problems and will still have to face his suspension for his weapons charges. Kendrick Perkins being out for several more months can’t help the team either. He’s a critical player, and one of the keys to the Celtics’ success. Five large questions will determine the fate of Boston this year:
1) Will Perkins return in top form and when?
2) Can Shaq mesh with the team and do whatever is necessary, including limiting his minutes and shots?
3) Can Kevin Garnett stay healthy while maintaining his aggressive defense and deadly offense?
4) Can the Celtics once again be fresh enough come playoff time to make it to the Finals and possibly further?
5) Will Rajon Rondo maintain his All-Star level of play?
Give the Celtics around 50 wins this season – maybe even 55. Truth be told, it doesn’t matter all that much for them. They’re a battle-tested team with plenty of experience. In fact, it might make more sense for some of their key players to rest as the season winds down just so they’re fresh for the playoffs. No matter what, however, whoever has to face them in the first round will be in for a handful.
The Atlantic Division was truly a sad thing to witness last season. The top two teams had half as many wins as the bottom teams had losses. That means the Celtics and Raptors won 90 games, while the Knicks, Sixers, and Nets lost 178 games. That is truly upsetting. Even so, the Toronto Raptors were a decent team last season. Despite never being a real threat to the Celtics, they narrowly missed the playoffs as Chris Bosh was hurt in a freak accident towards the end of the regular season. With him gone, this team is going to suffer…a lot. They do not have any go-to players, lack any All-Stars, and seem to be a jumbled assortment of players, although there is talent in the roster. Head Coach Jay Triano is going to have his hands full this season, especially in an upgraded Eastern Conference, where the Raptors are looking at winning 20-30 games.
The New York Knicks have had a tumultuous history. They’ve honored some of the greats of the basketball world, while having their fair share of misery. After a decade of missing the playoffs, 2011 is looking like the year that will end that accursed streak. The arrival of Amare Stoudemire will help this team tremendously. However, there are two problems with this: is Amare better than David Lee? Sure, Amare is a seasoned All-Star; however, he’s older, recovered from serious injuries, and could start to break down any moment, while Lee is only getting better. The second issue is whether Amare is an actual leader. He was recently named co-captain of the team, but is he really a leader? He has a very high opinion of himself, and without Steve Nash to dish out perfect assists, will Amare’s game stay at the All-Star level? The Knicks won 29 games last year, and that number is sure to go up thanks to additions, such as Raymond Felton, Roger Mason, the Big Russian Timofey Mozgov, etc. Head Coach Mike D’Antoni is a skilled offensive and defensive specialist, and he should be able to improve this team rather quickly this season. If Eddy Curry can finally get on and stay on the court long enough to make an impact, this team could very well make the playoffs. I’d give them 35-45 wins and a bottom playoff spot. They’ll be competing with the Cavaliers and Bobcats for those lower playoff berths come April.
Hello Philly! Let’s face it, after winning 27 games and a failed Allen Iverson experiment, the NBA world learned quickly that The Answer was going to come from somewhere else. That answer could come in the form of a healthy Elton Brand and a much-improved Andre Iguodala. The Sixers are one of the teams in the Eastern Conference that I think are similar to the Cavaliers. Both teams have talent, depth, and great new head coaches – love him or hate him, Doug Collins is an intelligent coach. That’s why it’s so hard to predict how well the Sixers will perform next season. If the team develops chemistry and players continue to grow and mature, this team can make it to the playoffs. However, they could just as easily fall into the bottom of the Conference as they struggle to play together cohesively. I’ll give this team around 30 wins, with the potential for more. With the demise of the Raptors, the Sixers could even challenge for second place in the Atlantic Division.
The New Jersey Nets had so little going for them last season that their only chance at notoriety would have been to set the NBA record for futility. Winning 8 games, while losing 74, would have truly been an achievement. Instead, they managed to avoid that dubious honor. Granted, they do have some talent on the roster. Brooke Lopez is getting better and better, and Devin Harris is still young. With a billionaire Russian owner, a new arena under construction, a top draft pick, and a free agency full of All-Stars, the Nets seemed to have it made. Instead, they got the third draft pick (albeit, Derrick Favors shows enormous potential) and none of the top free agents. However, as it currently stands, that may all change if they get Carmelo Anthony. More so if they are actually able to get him to sign some kind of extension, upon which the deal hinges. Unfortunately, it seems like they’d have to give up Devin Harris in order to do that. This would leave the team without a point guard and that could be seriously problematic as they had enough trouble running the floor with a good point guard last season. But the future could become a lot brighter if Nets are able to pull off a “master plan”. Imagine if they sign Carmelo Anthony to a long-term deal. They don’t have Devin Harris’s contract anymore, and after next season, Troy Murphy’s contract can be removed too, and Chris Paul becomes a free agent. The Nets would be in a position to offer him a very lucrative contract, provided the new Collective Bargaining Agreement doesn’t ruin the NBA. Currently, however, these changes may or may not happen, and as the Nets roster currently stands, they’re looking at about 20-30 wins.That’s it for the Eastern Conference. Now we go West!