Basketball season is still approximately two months away, but it’s never too early to start to predict how each division will pan out.
In this particular case, the Atlantic Division has seen a lot of changes since the 2012-2013 season came to an end. A summer loaded with blockbuster deals, a draft that seemed to have a trade per thirty seconds, and coaches being sent to different teams, and you have the summer of 2013 in the Atlantic Division alone.
Last season, the division looked like this after Game No. 82.
- New York Knicks : 54-28
- Brooklyn Nets : 49-33
- Boston Celtics : 41-40
- Philadelphia 76ers : 34-48
- Toronto Raptors : 34-48
More than likely, the Atlantic Division will see changes throughout. Boston and Philadelphia have begun their full fledged rebuilding phases, Brooklyn brought in three future Hall of Fame caliber talents to contend this season, Toronto is an up-and-coming team, and the Knicks stayed put for all intensive purposes.
Here is how the 2013-2014 Atlantic Division looks as it stands
1. Brooklyn Nets
Jul 18, 2013; Brooklyn, NY, USA; From left Paul Pierce , Kevin Garnett and Jason Terry during a press conference to introduce them as the newest members of the Brooklyn Nets at Barclays Center. Mandatory Credit: Debby Wong-USA TODAY Sports
Brooklyn may very well be the most improved team in the NBA this season, and coming of a 49-33 season, that is frightening. GM Billy King managed to not only dump the salaries of Gerald Wallace and Kris Humphries, but acquire veterans Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, and Jason Terry as well.
With Deron Williams, Brook Lopez, and Joe Johnson still under contract, the Nets are now stacked on paper. This year’s Nets may not have a single weakness. Of course they will be stronger in some aspects of the game, but the lack of size that was almost the Heat’s fatality does not exist. Look for Brooklyn to potentially run away with the Atlantic if Jason Kidd can get the egos to exist on the floor together.
Projected Starters: Deron Williams, Joe Johnson, Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, Brook Lopez
Key Reserves: Jason Terry, Andray Blatche, Andrei Kirilenko
2. New York Knicks
Despite not doing much this off-season, the Knicks are easily the second best team in the division. With the Celtics and Sixers rebuilding, and the Raptors just now on the upswing, the Knicks should have no problem trailing only the Nets.Carmelo Anthony will once again be an MVP candidate, and Iman Shumpert will be another year removed from knee surgery. The Knicks managed to re-sign Argentinian sensation Pablo Prigioni and J.R. Smith, trade for Andrea Bargnani, and sign the recently amnestied Metta World Peace.
Projected Starters: Raymond Felton, Iman Shumpert, Carmelo Anthony, Andrea Bargnani, Tyson Chandler
Key Reserves: Amar’e Stoudemire, J.R. Smith, Pablo Prigioni
3. Toronto Raptors
There is no question about it: the Raptors improved last year after the acquisition of Rudy Gay from the Memphis Grizzlies. With young talents alongside Gay such as DeMar DeRozan, Terrence Ross, and Jonas Valanciunas, Toronto finally has its first true assets since the Chris Bosh era.
It has yet to be seen whether or not the trio of slashers including Gay, DeRozan, and Ross can coexist on the court. To try to counteract the lack of perimeter shooting, the team went out and traded for Steve Novak and signed Quentin Richardson via free agency. Toronto also added Tyler Hansbrough and D.J. Augustin to their bench.
Projected Starters: Kyle Lowry, Terrence Ross, DeMar DeRozan, Rudy Gay, Jonas Valanciunas
Key Reserves: Tyler Hansbrough, Steve Novak, Landry Fields
4. Boston Celtics
Jul 5, 2013; Waltham, MA, USA; New Boston Celtics head coach Brad Stevens takes a break between interviews after a news conference announcing his new position with the Celtics. Mandatory Credit: Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports
The Celtics, along with the Sixers, will likely be basement dwellers in not just the division but the Eastern Conference. GM Danny Ainge has completely began the rebuilding phase.
Doc Rivers and Ainge clearly did not see eye to eye, which led to the messy break-up that ended with Rivers in Los Angeles. Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, and Jason Terry were all shipped to the Brooklyn Nets.
Regardless, Rajon Rondo is set to return from the torn ACL he suffered last season, and Jeff Green showed flashes of greatness a season ago. Avery Bradley has established himself as one of the best perimeter defenders in the game today, and Jared Sullinger and Kelly Olynyk are promising young big men.
Olynyk impressed everyone in Boston’s Summer League games, showing a high level of skill and knowledge of the game. While these games do not nearly equate to the level of competition that the former Gonzaga Bulldog will see in the near future, Danny Ainge and company have to like what they see.
With former Butler head coach Brad Stevens now at the helm, the Celtics will look to completely re-tool and build from the ground up. If anyone at the college ranks has shown the ability to get the most out of his players, Stevens is that guy. Back-to-back appearances in the NCAA Championship Game made him a hot commodity.
Projected Starters: Rajon Rondo, Avery Bradley, Jeff Green, Jared Sullinger, Kelly Olynyk
Key Reserves: MarShon Brooks, Gerald Wallace, Courtney Lee
5. Philadelphia 76ers
Rounding out the Atlantic Division for the 2013-2014 season is the Philadelphia 76ers. In two consecutive seasons, the Sixers stumbled across the finish line. After a discouraging 34-48 record, new GM Sam Hinkie began house cleaning.
While still in the midst of a long, drawn out coaching search, Hinkie parted ways with the Sixers’ lone All-Star, 23-year old point guard Jrue Holiday. Holiday was sent to the newly named New Orleans Pelicans in exchange for Nerlens Noel and a first-round pick in next year’s loaded draft.
Hinkie also let Andrew Bynum walk away from the organization in favor of beginning a complete rebuild. Noel will potentially be a rim protector and anchor of a defense for years to come. While there is belief that he may not play this season after tearing his ACL just 24 games into his college career at Kentucky, Noel is easily the most dominant defensive presence in this year’s draft class.
Philly also let Dorell Wright and Nick Young walk, drafted Michael Carter-Williams, and traded for Royce White. This season will test the patience of intense Philadelphia fans, but overall, they should be excited about the future of their beloved team.
Projected Starters: Michael Carter-Williams, Jason Richardson, Evan Turner, Thaddeus Young, Spencer Hawes
Key Reserves: Arnett Moultrie, Royce White, Arsalan Kazemi