2010-2011 NBA Atlantic Division Preview
As the phrase has long been applied to life is recited: for every action there is a reaction. Three teams in this division were greatly affected by free agency this summer, even though they all ended up empty handed when it came to their pursuit of any of the prized free agents this July. Two of the teams, though, plotted for two years with hopes of landing LeBron James, only to be spurned as he left for the Miami Heat. Another one of the teams had one of the prized free agents, and his leaving for the Miami Heat left them in freelance as well. Meanwhile, the three-time defending Atlantic Champions lost in the NBA Finals and had to react promptly. The loss of Kendrick Perkins did not help either in the NBA Finals or at the start of this season, and the Celtics looked to add to their list of established veterans for what feels like one last run at a championship. And then there’s the Philadelphia 76ers. After years of being an afterthought in the league, one of the league’s most prominent cities is taking huge steps towards relevance again. They reached back and hired Doug Collins to return to Philadelphia to help advance this process and it will be interesting to see how those new players mesh.
All in all, the Atlantic Division had a lot of turnover on most of the rosters and could see significantly new change among the production of three of the worst teams from last season in New York, New Jersey and Philadelphia. With all three of those teams now positioning themselves for victory and with Boston continuing to add players primed for one last run, the change could be even more evident in the coming seasons. But even though there’s a reaction for every action, the Celtics reacted accordingly to last year’s NBA Finals loss to the Lakers, and are still the team to beat in the Atlantic Division.
1) Boston Celtics
Incoming Players: Avery Bradley, Luke Harangody, Semih Urden, Jermaine O’Neal, Shaquille O’Neal, Von Wafer, Delonte West
Outgoing Players: Rasheed Wallace, Tony Allen, Brian Scalabrine, Michael Finley, Shelden Williams
Team Report: The Celtics walk into this season as the clear favorites in the division and are among the favorites for an NBA Championship this season as well. The Celtics were up by 13 points in the 3rd quarter of last season’s Game 7 of the NBA Finals before conceding to the Lakers in a heartbreaking defeat. A lot has been made of their age in recent years, but they showed last postseason that they’re one of the few teams capable of flipping a switch on and off. Whether they would want to walk that tightrope again this season remains to be seen, but the players on the team don’t necessarily give any encouragement of a change of the times coming in Beantown.
Shaquille O’Neal and Jermaine O’Neal are the most high profile additions to the team. The two big men fit right into what the Celtics are looking for: smart, seasoned veterans willing to use what’s left of their ability to contribute to the ultimate goal of the team. Both come at an opportune time as well with the injury to Kendrick Perkins. Perkins injured his knee in Game 6 of last year’s NBA Finals and should be out until January. His loss will be greatly felt across the board in Boston, but the Celtics will hope it’s offset by the continued improvement from point guard Rajon Rondo. While it’s hard to argue that at least Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett aren’t more important to a championship for the Celtics, it’s also hard to argue that Rondo isn’t currently the team’s most talented player. Overall, the Celtics still enter this season with a chip on their shoulder and with a lot to prove. They also are the most stable of the rest of the teams in the division, and that’s why they’ll be winning the division title come next April.
2) New York Knicks
Incoming Players: Larry Fields, Andy Rautins, Jerome Jordan, Timofey Mozgov, Kelenna Azubuike, Patrick Ewing, Jr., Raymond Felton, Roger Mason, Jr., Anthony Randolph, Amar’e Stoudemire, Ronny Turiaf, Shawne Williams
Outgoing Players: Earl Barron, David Lee, Chris Duhon, Sergio Rodriguez, J.R. Giddens, Al Harrington, Jonathan Bender, Tracy McGrady, Eddie House
Team Analysis: The Knicks have been bad for years now, it seems. Since 2004, the Knicks have regularly been among the worst teams in the league. A fantastic city and fan base has really been negated by the lack of overall production on the court and the turmoil that occurred off of it. However, after Isaiah Thomas left New York, Donnie Walsh was hired to clean the mess. He hired Mike D’Antoni, rid himself of some of the ridiculous contracts on the team, and built towards the famed 2010 NBA Free Agent class. The Knicks have been telling their fans to accept defeat the last two seasons, a hard sell to New Yorkers, because a great star was on the horizon. After whiffing on LeBron James and Dwyane Wade, the team signed Amar’e Stoudemire to a big max contract this offseason instead. It still may be a hard sell to New Yorkers that he was worthy of being the light at the end of the tunnel.
But the Knicks made other moves this offseason to reshape the roster. They brought in the extremely promising Anthony Randolph over in a trade with Golden State and hope that he can partner up with Stoudemire to create the ideal frontcourt for head coach Mike D’Antoni. But, for the first time since D’Antoni was hired in 2008, the pressure is now on for him to win in New York. After being patient with a struggling team the last two seasons, the Knicks were told they would be much better in 2010. It’s fair to say they will be much better, but it’s debatable if they’re a lock to make the postseason. D’Antoni has h is work cut out for him, as do the rest of the Knicks franchise.
3) Philadelphia 76ers
Incoming Players: Evan Turner, Tony Battie, Craig Brackins, Spencer Hawes, Andres Nocioni, Darius Songaila
Outgoing Players: Samuel Dalembert, Rodney Carney, Willie Green, Jason Smith, Francisco Elson, Allen Iverson
Team Analysis: The Philadelphia 76ers traded Allen Iverson in 2006 and have been largely irrelevant since. Sure they’ve made the playoffs a couple times since that trade, but they’ve been no real threats among the NBA’s elite and the team really wasn’t in Iverson’s last years with the team either. So it seems a tad ironic now that the 76ers are building towards and selling hope; again at a time when Iverson is leaving. The 76ers brought Iverson back last season in an attempt to sell tickets and regain relevance, but it went for nothing as Iverson couldn’t stay on the court due to injuries and other factors and was a large non factor in the team’s horrendous 27-55 season. After only one season, Eddie Jordan was fired and the 76ers again went back to the drawing board.
The Sixers interviewed a lot of candidates and wound up with Doug Collins as the team’s new head coach coming into this season. Collins isn’t “new” by any means. He’s been a coach for three different franchises before and had mild success with all of them. His name is largely important because of his broadcasting gig with TNT moreso than what anyone remembers him doing as a coach. But Collins is a 76er at heart. He was drafted by Philadelphia and made an NBA Finals with the team in 1977. He wants, just as much as the rest of the city, for the 76ers to be relevant. How quickly that happens will largely land on the shoulders of second overall pick Evan Turner. Turner is a “do-it-all” type talent who led the Big 10 in scoring and rebounding last season. The Sixers will look to him to possibly spearhead a new era in Philadelphia. Andre Iguodala remains the man in Philadelphia, but for how long is anyone’s guess. How he and Turner mesh this season will go a long way towards determining how quickly Philadelphia can turn around in a shallow Eastern Conference. The 76ers are still a team with a lot of uncertainty, but they’ll take that as long as it can generate a lot of excitement.
4) New Jersey Nets
Incoming Players: Derrick Favors, Damion James, Jordan Farmar, Anthony Morrow, Troy Murphy, Travis Outlaw, Johan Petro, Joe Smith
Outgoing Players: Courtney Lee, Yi Jianlian, Chris Douglas-Roberts, Chris Quinn, Josh Boone, Trenton Hassell, Bobby Simmons, Keyon Dooling, Tony Battie, Jarvis Hayes
Team Analysis: The Nets were close to becoming, historically, the worst team in NBA history last season. A late season “surge” by the Nets helped them avoid the NBA’s futility mark and allowed the team to finish 12-70 last season. There wasn’t a lot to be happy about in Jersey last season, but at least there’s hope on the horizon for this upcoming season. The Nets have a new owner now in the hugely interesting and insanely rich Mikhail Prokhorov as their brand new owner, the impending move to Brooklyn (which seems like it’s been in the works forever) is finally going to happen by 2012, and they’ve introduced a new coach to the team in Avery Johnson. Johnson, who won an NBA Championship as a player with the Spurs and went to the NBA Finals as a coach for Dallas, will at least command the attention and respect of the young talent in New Jersey.
Speaking of that new talent, nobody is more promising on the team than the third overall pick in the draft: Georgia Tech PF Derrick Favors. Favors has drawn early comparisons to Dwight Howard in terms of body structure and athletic ability, but is still very raw and will be brought along slowly by the Nets. The team lacked a lot of fortitude last season, and it’s no guarantee that they’ll develop that toughness just from the presence of their new coach. But they will be better. Troy Murphy, Jordan Farmar, Travis Outlaw and Anthony Morrow all make great additions to the team. Will it be enough to make them a playoff team? Probably not. But after last season’s 12 win season, everything is looking up for New Jersey.
5) Toronto Raptors
Incoming Players: Ed Davis, Solomon Alabi, Leandro Barbosa, Linas Kleiza, Julian Wright
Outgoing Players: Chris Bosh, Hedo Turkoglu, Marco Belinelli, Rasho Nesterovic, Patrick O’Bryant, Antoine Wright
Play Analysis: Although the Knicks and Nets cut salary and lost games on purpose to be players this offseason, the Raptors signed and traded for talent to please one player who was going to be on the market: Chris Bosh. Bosh, however, never was going to stay in Toronto and he now resides in South Beach. The Raptors didn’t respond as harshly as Cleveland did with LeBron, but they’re going to move along with life after Bosh anyways. The talent that the team acquired last season did not gel at all, and with more turnover this season as well, chemistry will still be a huge problem with this Toronto team.
With the selection of Ed Davis in the first round, the Raptors hope to have found Bosh’s replacement immediately. Davis is a North Carolina product who is a very solid offensive talent. However, they can’t expect him to replace Bosh’s production right away. Andrea Bargnani should be primed for a huge break out year for Toronto, but I feel like that’s been said for about three straight seasons. But the talent gap between him and the next best player on the team is huge. The Raptors deserve credit for not going into complete firesale mode without Bosh and trying to still compete even though they lost their best player. But the moves they made this offseason won’t do much to help the team make the postseason. Coaching, chemistry and defense were the biggest problems last year; they’re still problems this season.