Atlantic Division Preview

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BOSTON CELTICS

Offseason Summary – I bet most people don’t remember that Boston got off to one of the hottest starts in NBA history last year. There was real talk of 70 wins. They went 28-5 through the end of December. Injuries to Garnett, Perkins, Powe, and Tony Allen slowed them in the second half, but they still won 62 games and took the Magic to 7 games in the EC Semis without Garnett. In the off-season the C’s picked up Rasheed Wallace and Marquis Daniels from free agency. They lost Leon Powe and Stephon Marbury.

Probable Starers

PG Rajon Rondo
SG Ray Allen
SF Paul Pierce
PF Kevin Garnett
C Kendrick Perkins

Key Reserves

PF/C Rasheed Wallace
PG/SG Marquis Daniels
SG Eddie House
PF Glen Davis
G/F Tony Allen

The Celtics are enormous favorites to win the Atlantic. They may in fact be favorites to win the East. Age and health are huge concerns for this team, but they have the talent and depth to win it all. The pick-up of Rasheed gives them considerable flexibility up front. He is a skilled, disciplined defender with size who offers a nice counter to the inside game of Perkins with his face up shooting and a nice low post game to mix with Garnett’s high post skills. They should be able to average less than 32 minutes a piece with the inclusion of Big Baby in front court rotation, and that’s their best chance to all stay healthy. The evolution of Rondo, a blur of a playmaker on offense and possibly the best defensive point guard in the league, promises to add even more fire power to a perimeter squad that boasts Ray Allen and Paul Pierce, two of the most consistently reliable scoring swingmen of this generation. Gang Green has got the defense, the versatility, and the clutch players to contend.

TORONTO RAPTORS

Offseason Summary – Brian Colangelo was busy as usual. Out are Anthony Parker, Shawn Marion, and the expectations of yesterday. In come Hedo Turkoglu, Marco Belinelli, Reggie Evans, Antoine Wright and Jarrett Jack. Not exactly a facelift, but the team got a makeover. Again. I’m a Hedo fan, but he isn’t hugely efficient and neither are Chris Bosh or Bargnani as big men go. They picked up DeMar Derozan as the future of the swingman position.  However, the Nets are in full rebuild, the Knicks are in a talent holding pattern until 2010, and Phili scares me for reasons to be named later, so Toronto gets my nod for 2nd in the Atlantic by default.

Probable Starters

PG Jose Calderon
SG Antoine Wright
SF Hedo Turkoglu
PF Chris Bosh
C Andrea Bargnani

Key Reserves

PG/SG Jarrett Jack
SG Marco Belinelli
PF Reggie Evans
C Rasho Nesterovic

This team has not had a first-rate shooting guard since they lost their Vansanity, and it continues to be a weak spot. They are also looking at a pretty soft rebounding core up front outside of reserve Evans. What they do have going for them is a ton of skilled scorers and one of the great classic distributing point guards in the league in Jose Calderon with an aggressive back-up Jarrett Jack. They will continue to be a very dangerous pick and roll team and now should have the ability to shoot their way into most games with the firepower of Hedo and Marco on the wings. They should be consistent enough to win in the low forties and make the playoffs.

PHILADELPHIA 76ERS

Off-Season Summary – They made their splash last summer with the acquisition of Elton Brand. This summer they lost Andre Miller, their starting point guard. I think that’s going to cost them some games. The 6ers did have one notable pick-up when they drafted Jrue Holiday out of UCLA. He could be a solid replacement to Miller in a year or two. Point guard is a notoriously difficult position to adjust to for rookies, and it is probably too much to expect him to fill in right away. That leaves veteran gunner Lou Williams as the defacto point for the season.

Probable Starters

PG Lou Williams
SG Andre Igudala
SF Thaddeus Young
PF Elton Brand
C Samuel Dalembert

Key Reserves

C/F Marreese Speights
SG Jason Kapono
SG Rodney Carney
PG Jrue Holiday

I’m a Brand fan, but I’ll believe he’s back to his old form and able to give a full season’s work when I see it. Health concerns aside, Brand was never a great fit for this team. He’s a half court post player trying to fit into a full court team. His skill set requires shooters to keep the floor spaced and empowers shooters by drawing extra defenders into the paint. The Sixers are mostly slashers, not shooters. It’s a bad fit, and to me the team seems unlikely to duplicate the 41 win season of last year without Miller running the show. They have no true point guard, and a team of slashers surrounding a former star post player. Of course if Igudala, Young, and Speights show significant improvement, they may be too athletic and talented to fall from last year’s win total.

NEW YORK KNICKS

Offseason Summary – Like Phili, New York Donnie Walsh had a conservative summer and is hoping to benefit from his pick-up last year, 2nd year forward Danilo Gallinari who spent most of last year hampered by a back injury. This summer the Knicks did manage to keep productive restricted free agents David Lee and Nate Robinson, though both are now inked to one year deals and will be going into contract seasons, which can cause distractions. The other addition appears to be Eddie Curry. The 300+ pound center who was bolted to the bench last season has lost a garbagebarge load of weight and is reportedly ready to take back his spot as the team’s go-to post player. The Knicks also drafted a few rookies, the most important of whom promise to be Arizona star forward Jordan Hill and Toney Douglas, a touted point guard out of Florida State, who could become D’Antoni’s point guard of the future 7 seconds or less squad.

Probably Starters

PG Chris Duhon
SG Jared Jeffries
SF Danilo Gallinari
PF Al Harrington
C/F David Lee

Key Reserves

F Wilson Chandler
PF Jordan Hill
SG Nate Robinson
PG Toney Douglas
C Eddie Curry

The Knicks’ big problem right now isn’t that they don’t have talent so much as that the talent doesn’t fit together yet. Nate Robinson is their most explosive perimeter scorer, but they don’t have a big point guard to play him next to. Chandler, Gallinari, and Harrington are all tweener forwards with a lot of offense and very little defense. David Lee is a strong rebounder at forward who is being show-horned into the center position to make room for all the skilled forwards on the team. I’m not sure where former #2 pick Darko Milicic fits at all.  Curry is going to be a conundrum of sorts. It makes sense from a financial / futurist perspective to feature Eddie in the offense. You have to think Walsh wants to move the big guy to open up more money in his bid for a big free agent in the summer of 2010, and the only way that could happen is if Curry can show that he’s once again the healthy and productive player that Isiah broke the bank on. But of course Coach D’Antoni doesn’t feature post players for the most part. His whole philosophy is built around pushing the tempo with smaller, multi-talented players. It will be interesting to see what happens with New York, but it’s unlikely to be successful.

NEW JERSEY NETS

Offseason Summary – The final dismemberment of the former EC Champ and perennial playoff team is now complete. No more Kidd, no more Jefferson, and now Carter is gone. The Nets had a lot of turnover. They traded Vince and last year’s second draft pick, Ryan Anderson, for Courtney Lee, Raefer Alston, and Tony Battie. With the 11th pick in the draft, they chose Terrence Williams, a powerhouse shooting guard out of Louisville. They’ve changed a lot, but it’s hard to say they’ve improved when the best player in their big trade was the one they lost. An improvement for the future? Maybe. A nice cost-cutting maneuver? No doubt. An uptick in wins for next season? Only if they get a lot of internal improvement.

Probable Starters

PG Devin Harris
SG Courtney Lee
SF Chris Douglas-Roberts
PF Yi Jianlian
C Brook Lopez

Key Reserves

PG Raefer Alston
SG Terrence Williams
PF Josh Boone
PF Eduardo Najera
SG Keyon Dooling
SF Jarvis Hayes

The Nets are actually pretty deep with serviceable veterans, but they lack explosiveness outside of Harris. Off the bench they have tough guy forwards Boone and Najera, streak scorers Dooling and Hayes, shotblock specialist Sean Williams, defensive swingman Trenton Hassell, and utility forward Bobby Simmons as well as a very solid back-up PG in Raefer and what they hope is a future star in rookie Terrence Williams. What they don’t have is the stars to allow those role players to concentrate on playing roles. Too much is asked of these players because they don’t have horses to take the pressure off. Devon Harris and Brook Lopez will be impressive again, but unless Yi, Lee, and CDR show marked improvement, the wins could be tough to come by.

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