NBA Preview: Atlantic Division
By Andrew “Jamey” Schilling
It’s that time of year. The leaves slowly begin to change into a variety of different colors, the wind starts to pick up and everything begins to feel a bit colder. Amidst all the change in weather, there’s also a change in the sports landscape. As college football and the NFL are in full swing, another certain sport begins to creep into the radar. It’s curling! Just kidding, I’m talking about basketball, specifically, the professional league, the NBA. And in this article, we’ll cover the preview of the NBA’s Atlantic division of the Eastern Conference!
The Boston Celtics
Head Coach: Brad Stevens, 2nd year in Boston (25-57 overall….sigh….I miss Doc Rivers).
2013-2014 finish: 25-57, 4th in the Atlantic Division.
Projected Starters: Marcus Smart (Rookie, and starter until Rondo is back from Injury,) Avery Bradley, Jeff Green, Jared Sullinger and Kelly Olynyk.
Team Preview: What was once a proud, consistent winner has now become somewhat of a bottom dweller in the NBA. Ever since the departure of Ray Allen, Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and coach Doc Rivers (fun fact, he’s a Marquette grad!!) things just haven’t been the same for the Celtics. Coming off a rough season last year, the Celtics weren’t even close to reaching a .500 record, much less contending for the playoffs. They finished with a record of 25-57 in coach Brad Steven’s first year in Boston.
The season outlook for this team continues to look as hopeless as a shipwrecked man stranded on an island. Extending that metaphor, the man’s name is Rondo. Rondo came to Boston in 2006, but he first became a starter in 2007. In his first few years he was surrounded by an amazing pool of talent: Allen, Garnett and Pierce. With championship caliber players around him, Rondo thrived, and became the all star we all know him as today. But then, the dark years came, with all the trades, and now, Rondo looks very much like a shipwrecked man on a desolate island (team). Surrounding Rondo this season (after he returns from wrist injury) are most likely Avery Bradley, Jeff Green, Jared Sullinger and Kelly Olynyk. Not the most amazing supporting cast, and certainly nothing to get excited about.
There is hope for the Celtics though as President of the Celtic’s operations, Danny Ainge’s trades has caused the Celtics to receive numerous draft picks for years to come. That being said, it helps this year’s inevitable poor finish become a little more acceptable, because there’s hope for the future. But as for this year, it might be best if you bring a brown paper bag to cover your head to Celtics games, because it’s looking like it’ll be a rough year.
Head Coach: Lionel Hollins, 1st year in Brooklyn (214-201 overall in seven year career).
2013-2014 finish: 44-38, 2nd in the Atlantic Division. (Eliminated by the Heat in the second round of the NBA playoffs)
Projected Starters: Brook Lopez, Deron Williams, Kevin Garnett, Joe Johnson, and Andrei Kirilenko.
Team Preview: The one crucial factor for the Nets this season evolves around one man: Brook Lopez. He only played 17 games in the 2013-2014 season due to an injured foot that. At seven feet tall, he provides a huge presence in the paint that could have helped a lot against the Miami Heat in the playoffs last season. Before his injury he was averaging 20 points and 6 rebounds per game, numbers that could have made a huge difference in the playoffs last year. If Lopez can remain healthy and contribute to the team as he has been accustomed to do in the past, then the Brooklyn Nets will thrive and will be a very real contender to win the Atlantic division, and go far in the playoffs.
Besides Lopez, the Nets actually have a very solid starting lineup. They feature all star Deron Williams, as well as a defensive veteran in Kevin Garnett. Once again though the key factor in the Net’s success will depend on whether or not the team can remain healthy. Williams and Lopez missed playing time last year, and this hurt the Nets. Some losses to the Nets this year were Paul Pierce, (traded to the Wizards) and Andre Blatche (who decided to transfer to a Chinese Basketball league for whatever reason….) although they did acquire several new assets including Jarrett Jack and Bojan Bogdanovic. All in all though, the season looks very bright for the Brooklyn Nets, who appear to be the only legitimate team in the Atlantic to beat the Raptors.
The New York Knicks
Fun Fact: I hate the New York Knicks because they ended the Big Three era in Boston
Head Coach: Derek Fisher, 1st year in New York (0-0 overall….technically 100% win percent!)
2013-2014 finish: 37-45, 3rd in the Atlantic Division.
Projected Starters: Jose Calderon, Iman Shumpert, Carmelo Anthony, Amar’e Stoudemire and Samuel Dalembert.
For yet another season it looks like the entirety of the Knicks offense will evolve around Carmelo Anthony. Because honestly, look at the rest of the team. Shumpert? Okay he can contribute a little. Stoudemire? He’s a has been. Calderon? Pretty average. And Dalembert? Who? Exactly. But unfortunately the rest of the Atlantic has to watch out for the Knicks simply because of Carmelo Anthony, who puts up an obscene amount of shots every game, but also makes makes a ridiculous amount of those shots. He demands a lot of defensive focus and that causes some other members of the Knicks to become open for shots. That’s all I’ve got on the Knicks. I’m still salty about the Knicks ending the Big Three era in Boston. But my dad is a Knicks fan, (and he couldn’t name you a single person who plays for them, shows how irrelevant they are!) So for that reason, I’ll give the Knicks a little hope for the season, just for you dad. But dad, learn the name Carmelo Anthony, he’s kind of a big deal.
The Philadelphia 76ers
Head Coach: Brett Brown 2nd year in Philadelphia (19-63 overall)
2013-2014 finish: 19-63, 5th in the Atlantic Division.
Projected Starters: Michael Carter Williams, Joel Embiid, Nerlens Noel, Nerlens Noel’s Afro and Luke Mbah a Moute.
Team Preview: Just like the Celtics, things are not looking good for the 76ers. A mere two years ago Philly was one win away from reaching the Eastern Conference finals against the Miami Heat. Fortunately the boys in green (the Celtics) took care of business and knocked them out. A lot can change in a short few years, and the 76ers roster is a prime example. A look at the roster reveals that not a single players remains from that successful 2012-2013 campaign. The last member of that team was Thaddeus Young, who was sent over to the Minnesota Timberwolves this past offseason. The key to a solid team is experience in both coaching and players, unfortunately for the 76ers, they have neither.
Now, if you’ve become used to my cynicism about teams with poor records, I’ll bet you’re expecting me to predict a poor season and make a bunch of jokes about how bad the 76ers are. Right? Wrong! In a crazy turn of events that are likely going to be wrong, I predict Philadelphia to finish better than fourth place in the Atlantic division! I get a weird feeling that this young group is going to do a lot of unexpected damage. Michael Carter Williams is a phenomenal player, and I expect Embiid (when he comes back from injury) and Nerlens noel to immediately contribute to the team and add some tenacity to a team that was about as threatening as a teddy bear last season (Okay, it wouldn’t be an article by me if I DIDN’T take one jab at a shitty team). If you put all of these players together, they stay healthy and they learn from coach Brown, I see good things from this team. It’s sad that I have higher aspirations for the lowly 76ers than my Celtics, but hey, that’s what the world has come to. I predict the 76ers will finish near .500 this year. I’m either going to be a genius when I reread this article in May, or I’m going to look questionably at this prediction and ask “why the hell would I say such a thing?” Regardless, the 76ers will improve in the 2014-2015 season.
The Toronto Raptors
Head Coach: Dwane Casey, 3rd year at Toronto (159-193 overall in five seasons)
2013-2014 finish: 48-34, 1st in the Atlantic Division (Eliminated by the Nets in the first round of the NBA playoffs)
Projected Starters: Kyle Lowry, DeMar DeRozan, Terrence Ross, Amir Johnson and Jonas Valanciunas.
Team Preview: We finally get to the team to beat in the Atlantic, the Toronto Raptors! Wow…who’d have thought I’d be saying that two years ago? (They finished in the gutter of the Atlantic Division.) In a situation that completely mirrors that of the 76ers, the Raptors are now enjoying great success. Last year, in what was supposed to be a rebuilding year, wonderful things happened in Toronto. Lowry and DeRozan became stars and actually made the Toronto offense fun to watch. Throw that together with someone who won the Slam Dunk Contest (Ross), a big tall white dude (Valanciunas) and Amir Johnson, and you’ve got yourself the 2014-2015 Raptors.
We’ll start with the main question about the upcoming season for the Raptors that will determine their success. How will Valanciunas play? Last season saw an increase in his points, rebounds and minutes. If he can continue growing as a player the Raptors can be even better this year. One of the main focuses this year for Valanciunas is on the defensive side of the ball, where his coaches want him to be one of the best rim protectors in the league. Will that happen? I guess we’ll have to wait and see!
There are many reasons to believe this year will be even better for the Raptors. First, they have their entire starting lineup and head coach back! Not a lot of teams in the Atlantic can say that. As I mentioned before, a crucial part of a good team is having consistency and experience in coaching and players, well guess what? The Raptors have got that! In addition, another reason the Raptors are going to be even better are because of a 19 year old (holy crap he’s only one year older than I am!) import from Brazil by the name of Bruno Caboclo. Althogh he’s only 19, he’s been contributing solid numbers in the preseason (4.3 ppg, 37.5% shooting). In addition he also plays some crazy good defense. I’m hoping he becomes a great defensive player and changes his last name to CaBLOCKo, anything less than that would be an extreme disappointment for this 18 year old sports writer. But expect to hear about Bruno as the Raptors march toward a second straight postseason and another Atlantic Division title.
1) The Toronto Raptors
2) The Brooklyn Nets
3) The Philadelphia 76ers (Still not sure why I’m predicting this.)
4) The New York Knicks
5) The Boston Celtics (It hurts me to write that.)