Atlantic Division Offseason Report: Chase the title or chase the lottery
We've already gone team-by-team thought the Atlantic Division. Now, a bigger-picture look at the division and how it did this offseason.
The Atlantic Division has everything you'd want to examine in terms of different stages of building a team. You've got a couple of teams bringing in big name and relatively big name players to their roster in very different ways as they try to catapult themselves to contenders. You've got a team currently stuck in the middle but using their existing middling talent as a springboard for their new executive. And you've got two tanking teams that are going about the process in very different ways.
With the Brooklyn Nets, they've decided the Collective Bargaining Agreement doesn't really apply to them. You know those extra punitive luxury threshold payment increases that were supposed to stop teams from trying to be the New York Yankees of the NBA? Mikhail Prokhorov is turning his army of miniature giraffes on those increased taxes and laughing. The Nets aren't concerned with penalties as long as it turns them into the hottest ticket in town and a team ownership hopes can challenge the Miami Heat.
The New York Knicks are a bit of a different story. They're still paying a lot of money for their team and they'll be hit with luxury tax payments on the increased scale. However, they're not staring an $87 million luxury tax bill in the face like the Nets. Instead, the Knicks decided to bring in a couple of names (Andrea Bargnani, Metta World Peace) to a team and just hope they fit into the plan. They've been more modest about their plans to jump into the East's elite.
The Toronto Raptors are using a very solid core of Jonas Valanciunas, Rudy Gay, Amir Johnson, Kyle Lowry, DeMar DeRozan, and Terrence Ross to compete for the eighth seed in the Eastern Conference and give new executive (and the 2013 NBA Executive of the Year) Masai Ujiri room to restructure the roster as he did with the Denver Nuggets. In a way, you could compare it to what Daryl Morey did with the Houston Rockets for years. Ujiri will have the Raptors remain competitive, yet flexible and willing to deal to set themselves up for future success.
The Boston Celtics are an example of a team beginning the rebuilding process but not totally letting go of past success. They traded Doc Rivers, Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce this offseason and they have Rajon Rondo coming back from an ACL tear at some point. But they still have a decent amount of veteran talent with Gerald Wallace, Jeff Green, Courtney Lee and Kris Humphries. If they're serious about rebuilding, they need to jettison that talent and get much worse, but Danny Ainge doesn't seem willing to admit they need to dive into the tank headfirst.
Then you have the Philadelphia 76ers who make no secret of their plans. They got rid of Doug Collins, Andrew Bynum, and Jrue Holiday. They grabbed a draft pick who won't be ready to play until around Christmas time. They went out and got two young passing point guards that can't shoot a lick. If they manage to move Thaddeus Young and Evan Turner for cheap assets, we may not only see them get a top pick in the loaded 2014 draft but they also might make us forget all about the historically horrendous season the Charlotte Bobcats had two years ago.
The Atlantic Division is a great cross-section of how different your team can be in regards to the stages of competing in the NBA.
Here it is, team by team:
The Nets got better by landing big names, which also will sell more tickets and merchandise. They didn't make any terrible signings, addressed team needs, and took a big step forward. It was a huge summer for them.
Are they a contender? Sure. They seem a good lock to win at least 50 games, possibly 55 or even 60.
Sure, their draft future is compromised, they're massively overpaying their players relative to production, they're reliant on a whole lot of guys more than 30 years old, and Garnett may kill Lopez, but still.
All in all, super fun summer. Plus I bet they sell a lot of t-shirts.
The biggest question regarding the Brooklyn Nets is how much do you believe in their depth being healthy enough to challenge the rest of the elite in the Eastern Conference? Are Garnett and Pierce going to be able to hold up over the course of the season or will the fact that they're no longer the best players on their team allow them to scale back their efforts and pace themselves like we see the Spurs do with their older players? If the Nets can figure out that balance without fighting each other for the ball, you can really seem them become one of the toughest outs in the playoffs. But is that enough to beat out LeBron James?
|New York Knicks|
What I really want to give the Knicks is an "incomplete" because I haven't been able to figure out how the Bargnani move is going to work out. They ended up saving one year on the salary cap by getting rid of Novak's deal, but was that worth a first round pick and a couple of second round picks just so you can have a cluttered frontcourt with Bargnani in the mix now?
The Udrih move and World Peace move are ones you can get behind because they're low risk and high reward. They allowed Chris Copeland to leave as a restricted free agent because they didn't have much flexibility to keep him aboard, but would not play ahead of Bargnani anyway. The Knicks have depth but some of that depth is awkward. They still have scoring but we don't know how the minutes and shots will divvy up after Melo gets to feast within the offense.
And if Chandler isn't able to be 100 percent for much of next season, they may not have addressed their needs for better defense, even with Metta in tow.
If Carmelo Anthony is better suited at the power forward position so you can stretch the floor with your best player, then where do Andrea Bargnani and Amar'e Stoudemire fit in? I liked this Knicks' team a lot last year and thought, at worst, you can just plug Amar'e Stoudemire into the second unit and allow him to cook inside for 20 minutes per game. The money he's receiving didn't bother me because it's James Dolan's money, not mine.
But once you get into trying to fit three high-priced players like Anthony, Bargnani, and Stoudemire into essentially the same position, it's just hard to see how that works. The good news is their 3-point shooting identity hasn't been weakened at all, and really they utilize that to thrive within their offensive capabilities.
Overall, though, the Celtics accomplished a lot of necessary goals. They moved on from the Big 3 era, and they did it by pulling in a pretty good haul of assets. Remember: Garnett is 37 and Pierce is 35. It's not like these guys had extreme amounts of trade value. To pull three future first-rounders out of them is pretty good. Having to take Wallace's contract back wasn't great, but look around the league and ask yourself: Who else would've wanted both Garnett and Pierce, and who could've given more than the Nets? The Nets are desperate and prime fodder to exploit because of their thirst. They wanted Garnett and Pierce desperately and weren't going to let them slip. So they paid a steep price, and probably one bigger than anyone else would've paid.
And then there's Rivers. He was the heart and soul of the organization for a decade, but off he goes to avoid rebuilding. His choice, his wishes. He wants to contend. He doesn't want to rot in the lottery. He's threatened retirement the past few seasons, dangling it over the Celtics' head like an anvil. But instead of calling his bluff and making him do it, the Celtics "traded" him for a future first-round pick, while also unloading his bloated $24 million contract. Money saved, an asset acquired. Not bad at all.
Hard to really get excited about an offseason that saw downgrades all over and trades made with 2016 in mind, but the Celtics did well in trying to move on from the Big 3 and still recoup talent and assets. There's a quality young core in place with Rondo, Avery Bradley, Jeff Green, Jared Sullinger and possibly Olynyk. Ainge has the flexibility to add to it and maybe turn this thing around sooner than later. It's one big step back to hopefully take two big leaps forward.
The Celtics won't admit to tanking because that seems to be a taboo thing to do. However, let's just pretend they are tanking this season in order to properly set themselves up for a strong bounce back into being a contender in a couple seasons. Should they be worried they're a little too much like the Orlando Magic in the first half of last season? Injuries and trades ended up helping the tanking process for the Magic in the second half of the season and it worked out with them getting the second pick in the draft.
However, with this Celtics' team, you have to worry a little bit about them getting worse this offseason but not bad enough. It will ultimately depend on how quickly Rajon Rondo returns and how long it is before he's back to being his old self. KG and Pierce could withstand the loss of Rondo last season; Jeff Green and Gerald Wallace probably can't do that.
Why did the Raptors get such a high grade from me when it looks like they didn't do much at all? Because they finally did some house cleaning that was probably long overdue. Yes, Colangelo did get them Rudy Gay and he could end up being a great perimeter weapon for them. Whether you think he's deserving of his contract or not, the team did find a way to play much better in the second half of the season with him. We don't know if that will continue into next year, but we've at least seen evidence that they can play better with him on the court.
The departures of Colangelo and Bargnani prove to the organization and the fans that the past won't be held onto any longer. Few executives are as aggressive and savvy in the trade market as Ujiri and with his scouting team in place, we could see this team turned around in a relatively short amount of time. You have to find a direction before you can start moving and it's easy to feel like Ujiri is good at finding direction for a team.
Out with the old, in with the new. The Raptors' biggest get this offseason went to their front office when they moved Bryan Colangelo around like Milton in "Office Space" so they could bring in Masai Ujiri to act as The Two Bobs. He's reevaluating players, scouts, and executives by asking them, "What would you say you do here?" Ujiri's presence in the front office will finally give this team a definitive direction for their franchise, which isn't something they've really had since losing Chris Bosh in free agency. It's already worked out by moving Andrea Bargnani off the roster so the organization can move on to something new. It'll be interesting to see where Ujiri has positioned this team after next summer.
They got considerably worse. They got amazingly worse. Kwame Brown could see serious minutes this season. It's going to be a disaster of the worst order and it's honestly a waste of every player with more than three years' experience to even show up.
It's genuinely impressive how bad this team will be. How much they committed to the tank effort. They didn't even hire a coach! They didn't even get sign and trades for their guys! They just bailed! It's amazing, truly.
The only criticism I have is that Thaddeus Young is still on the team. They have to trade that poor guy so he doesn't go crazy. Someone, please, go save Thaddeus Young.
The Sixers are going to be horrible, and that's the only way they're going to be great.
You know those questions I had about the Celtics' rebuilding plan this season? I don't have to worry about those questions with the Philadelphia 76ers. They're being quite transparent about their plan right now, and they just have to hope they lose a lot of games and that the Pelicans don't become very successful. It's kind of refreshing to see the job Sam Hinkie is doing. There aren't any smoke and mirrors; there are only ping pong balls dancing around the Liberty Bell right now.
Offseason Power Rankings
1. Nets: Acquired Garnett, Pierce, Terry (let's just pretend he's not a zombie), and Kirilenko. This team turned themselves into a contending team and all it took was four easy payments of $Texas.
2. Raptors: This doesn't mean the Raptors are better than the Knicks because they simply aren't. It just means I like their offseason much more than the Knicks. Bringing in Ujiri as an upgrade over Colangelo is just a huge win.
3. Knicks: I don't mind their moves; I just don't totally understand the Bargnani deal. It's like James Dolan just went out and said, "get me a former number one pick!" and Michael Olowokandi couldn't find his phone when it rang.
4. 76ers: I hope Sam Hinkie drives to Sixers games in Master P's gold-plated tank.
5. Celtics: It's a start in the rebuilding process but is it the best course of action? They probably need to gut the team a bit more.
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