The Eastern Conference’s Atlantic Division looks much different heading into the 2013-14 season. The New York Knicks and the Brooklyn Nets will be locked in a NYC battle for the division throne. We’ll also look at the rebuilding process for the Toronto Raptors, Philadelphia 76ers and the longtime Atlantic powerhouse Boston Celtics.
New York Knicks (54-28)
Big Apple basketball is sure to be loaded with stars and competitive games this season. Starting with the Knicks, New York will try to win their second straight Atlantic Division title. The main competition last year for the Knicks was the Boston Celtics. With Boston now set to begin a full on rebuild, the Knicks will have new company in the BK Nets.
Carmelo Anthony is the reigning scoring champ, and comes into preseason looking fit and ready to avenge a second round loss to the Indiana Pacers. Melo is going to need more help this time around for that to be a true possibility. The league’s 6th man of the Year in 12-13, J.R. Smith, will begin the season sidelined with knee problems. Smith is a huge part of the team, so extra offensive help from anyone will be mega valuable.
The Knicks most likely won’t be able to depend much on Amar’e Stoudemire and his troubled knee issues. Enter in players like 2013 24th pick Tim Hardaway Jr. and newly acquired stretch big man Andrea Bargnani. X-factor players like the previously mentioned will be key, but just as important will be the veteran contributions from first time Knick Metta World Peace and defensive captain mainstay Tyson Chandler. Anything less than a conference finals appearance for this squad will be a disappointment.
Brooklyn Nets (49-33)
Every situation in life can be more fun with a wild card. Say hello to the 2013-14 Brooklyn Nets. Mikhail Prokhorov has spent yet even more dough than last season, but with title contention hopes this time around. The Nets made a large splash by acquiring the star veteran trio of Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, and Jason Terry. It must be mentioned that all three former Celtics are former NBA champions. Combine the new Nets with the current Nets on roster from last season, and the sky is the limit for the older, yet still capable of anything club.
Deron Williams and Brook Lopez are two of the top players at their positions, and Joe Johnson, while extremely overpaid, is one of the first people that comes to mind when it comes to clutch shooting late in games. All these factors make BK the most experienced team in the league for better or for worse.
The biggest question mark for this team lies with first year head coach Jason Kidd. J-Kidd is one of the greatest point guards of all time, and was an outstanding leader while still playing, but if that translates to the bench is anyone’s guess. The first time head coach will have a much deeper bench than P.J.Carlesimo had last season, with the additions of Andrei Kirilenko and Jason Terry to go with big men subs Andray Blatche and Reggie Evans. One things is for certain, Brooklyn has their sites set on much loftier goals than just the Nets first division title since the 2005-06 season.
Boston Celtics (41-40)
The Big Three era in Boston finally came to a conclusion last season. After Rajon Rondo was lost for the year from an ACL injury, Danny Ainge blew things up this past offseason. A smart move without question as Boston’s championship window has now closed. Boston has been a powerhouse since the Big Three assembled in 2007, but so much has changed in a year that expectations are the lowest they have been since 2006.
The star players are gone besides a recovering Rondo, but the other major difference for Bean Town is a new head coach. Ainge and the Celtics front office surprised many when they hired former Butler college coach Brad Stevens. Doc Rivers decided he wasn’t ready to go through another rebuilding process and will coach the Los Angeles Clippers next season. It will be interesting to see if the youngest coach in the NBA (36 years old), Stevens, can bring some of his coaching magic to the NBA like he did in the NCAA with the Butler Bulldogs. Rajon Rondo has already called Coach Stevens a “best friend”.
The Celtics will look to stay competitive once Rondo takes the floor again after rehab. Until then, Boston will struggle mightily with unimpressive veterans like Gerald Wallace and Keith Bogans and mostly unproven young players like Jared Sullinger and rookie Kelly Olynyk. Jeff Green and Avery Bradley will be the leaders for a team going through major changes until perennial all-star Rondo feels healthy enough to return to the throne of the Boston offense.
Toronto Raptors (34-48)
Could Canadian rapper Drake becoming the Raptors’ official team ambassador be the biggest off-season news this summer for Canada’s NBA team? While that move helps Toronto to get the Raptors’ name on the map some more, the biggest off-season move for the Raps was hiring reigning Executive of the Year Masai Ujiri, formerly of the Denver Nuggets. Ujiri will come in and try to build the culture and quality of the team in a manner stressing patience more than anything else. The new GM has some young talented players to sift through to see who stays long term.
Toronto made two moves last year to aqcuire point guard Kyle Lowry and small forward Rudy Gay. Both players bring plenty to the team while not quite being at all-star levels. While Lowry and Gay are proven commodities to a certain extent, two younger Raptors will be in the spotlight this season. Uber-athletic DeMar DeRozan enters a pivotal make or break season. Toronto will wait to see if Derozan is ready to make another jump in his development, or if he will always be the athletic player with loads of potential but unable to tap into it fully.
The main reason for excitement north of the border lies within the rising star power of Jonas Valanciunas. Jonas is a former first round fifth pick from two years ago, who months ago captured the MVP of the Las Vegas summer league. If the twenty-year-old Lithuanian center can turn into a franchise player, the Raptors somewhat gloomy rebuilding process will get a much needed jolt of positivity. Toronto looks to finally move on from failed former number one pick Andrea Bargnani and start a new chapter in the franchise.
Philadelphia 76ers (34-48)
The year of the tank in Philly is coming. 76ers decision makers decided it was time to go all in, or shall we say all out? The immediate future is cloudy in Philly but the future looks to be much brighter after this upcoming season concludes and the 76‘ers enter the Andrew Wiggins sweepstakes.
Gone from last season are head Coach Doug Collins and all-star point guard Jrue Holiday. Brett Brown takes over the coaching reigns with almost zero expectations. With a roster of mostly young inexperienced players, Brown’s key focus will be bringing along rookies Nerlens Noel and Michael Carter-Williams. Former Kentucky big man Noel should provide growing pains but could provide the key to the defense for Philly for a long time with his undeniable defensive potential. Nerlens panning out to be a big time player is imperative for the 76ers. Also acquired in the draft night deal sending Holiday to the Pelicans was another 2014 first round draft pick to go along with the other first rounder they already had.
The most important thing for Philly this year will be stacking up the losses. With Holiday and Bynum both gone, that goal should be fairly easy to attain. The biggest question mark will be former number two pick Evan Turner. After a mostly promising rookie season, Turner has been stuck in the mud. Philly will most likely learn this season if Turner can become the player they thought they had in the 2010 draft, or if the word bust will be linked to his name forever.
The 76ers leadership will be divided between Turner, Thaddeus Young, Spencer Hawes, and the not-much-left-in-the-tank Jason Richardson. The league’s worst record will be at the forefront of Philly’s focus, whether anyone wants to admit it or not. Cheers to a season already lost.
Projected Division Winner: Brooklyn Nets (51-31)
Division MVP: Carmelo Anthony