Season Outlook, Atlantic Division – New York Knicks, Boston Celtics, Brooklyn Nets, Toronto Raptors, and Philadelphia 76ers

Boston Celtics

Added: Keith Bogans, MarShon Brooks, Kris Humphries, Gerald Wallace (Brooklyn, trade); Vitor Faverani (Brazil, free agent); Kelly Olynyk (Draft, 13th overall pick); Phil Pressey (Undrafted free agent); Brad Stevens (Coach)

Lost: Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, Jason Terry, DJ White (Brooklyn, trade); Fab Melo (Memphis); Shavlik Randolph (waived); Chris Wilcox, Terrence Williams (Free agents, not re-signed); Doc Rivers (Coach)

Possible Depth Chart:

PG: Rajon Rondo – Phil Pressley

SG: Avery Bradley –MarShon Brooks – Courtney Lee – Jordan Crawford – Keith Bogans

SF: Jeff Green – Gerald Wallace

PF: Brandon Bass – Kris Humphries – Jared Sullinger

C: Kelly Olynyk – Vitor Faverani

Analysis:

The Celtics certainly had a busy offseason. It probably would have been quicker to list the players who stayed with the team than the players who left it. The massive changes to the team mean that it’s officially rebuilding time in Boston. The Big Three era is over and the only remaining member of the 2008 championship team is Rajon Rondo. With that said, things aren’t as bleak for the Celtics as you would think; they still have one of the most terrifying defensive backcourts in the league when Rondo and Bradley are on the floor together, they have excellent backcourt depth with Lee, Brooks and Crawford coming off the bench, and they have a fairly versatile frontcourt, with Green, Wallace, Humphries, Sullinger and Olynyk all capable of playing multiple positions. Assuming they start Olynyk at the 5 and not Humphries or Bass, he will get some valuable playing time to help develop his game, which could prove important if he’s to live up to his lottery-pick status.

For a team in rebuilding mode, there’s already a fair bit of upside on this team. Bradley is already a defensive superstar and is only going to get better on the other end of the floor; Brooks is a solid 1 offensive player already and certainly has intriguing potential; and Green seems on his way to become the star that many thought he could be coming out of college. If he can stay healthy, which I’ll admit is a big if, Sullinger looks good enough to be the Celtics’ 4 of the future.

At the same time, however, the loss of Rivers will have a profound effect. Rivers is one of the league’s best coaches and, while he certainly had his differences with Rondo, his schemes on both ends of the court were excellent. At the same time, Brad Stevens is something of an unknown quantity. While he was an excellent college coach, this doesn’t necessarily translate into a successful NBA coaching career. His work will certainly be one of the more intriguing facets of the Celtics’ 2013-‘14 season.

It’s impossible to deny the Celtics got worse this offseason, and the upcoming season may be a difficult one for Celtics fans. The future is not bleak in Boston, however. Losing Garnett and Pierce certainly hurts, especially given the outstanding service they have given the team over the years; however, with a glut of first-round picks over the next few years and some promising players already on their roster, the Celtics are well-placed to transition into a new era.

 

Brooklyn Nets

Where are you looking Kevin?

Added: Alan Anderson (Toronto, free agent); Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, Jason Terry (Boston, trade); Andrei Kirilenko (Milwaukee, free agent); Shaun Livingston (Cleveland, free agent); Mason Plumlee (Draft, 22nd overall pick); Jason Kidd (Coach)

Lost: Keith Bogans, MarShon Brooks, Kris Humphries, Gerald Wallace, Kris Joseph (Boston, trade); C.J. Watson (Indiana, free agent); P.J. Carlesimo (Coach)

Possible Depth Chart:

PG: Deron Williams – Shaun Livingston – Tyshawn Taylor

SG: Joe Johnson – Jason Terry – Alan Anderson

SF: Paul Pierce – Andrei Kirilenko

PF: Kevin Garnett – Reggie Evans – Mirza Teletovic – Tornike Shengelia

C: Brook Lopez – Andray Blatche – Mason Plumlee

Analysis:

If there’s one thing you can’t accuse Mikhail Prohorov of, it’s being tight-fisted. The Nets’ payroll ballooned out to a mind-blowing $103 million this offseason, but boy do they have something to show for it. Their starting lineup shares a combined 35 All-Star appearances, and on paper shapes to be one of the league’s most fearsome. Pierce and Garnett shore up the team’s two largest holes from last season, replacing the washed-up Gerald Wallace and the hard-working, but offensively lacking Reggie Evans in the starting five. At the same time, the Nets are now legitimately two deep at every position, and maybe even three deep at the 2 2.With this in mind, the Eastern Conference Finals is the bare minimum the Nets should be expecting from this season. This is a team that is built to win and to win now, and this season will be their best chance to do it.

If the Nets are going to win it all this season, the burden will still rest on the shoulders of Deron Williams. After years of debate over who was the league’s best point guard, Williams or Chris Paul, Williams appears to have fallen out of the discussion completely, replaced by younger, more spectacular players like Derrick Rose, Russell Westbrook, and Rajon Rondo. Williams’ numbers were down last season, only averaging 18.9 points and 7.7 assists per game, however he is still only 29 years old. While his absolute peak may be past him, Williams is still an excellent point guard. With the new offensive weapons around him, the way Williams runs Jason Kidd’s new offense will be pivotal to the Nets’ success. At the same time, the way Kidd transitions from player to coach will play a key role in the Nets’ prospects. While an excellent floor general as a player, directing a game from a bench is a different experience, and one which has stumped several players who turned to coaching after their careers.

The Nets have just about every resource required for success in the NBA. They have star players, a strong bench, money to spend, and a front office willing to spend it. The only thing they don’t have in abundance is time. This is not a young team, nor does it feature a talented young player who can pick up the baton his older teammates will soon drop. The Nets are built to win now, and this season is their best shot. The problem which arises is how quickly the Nets can find a comfortable chemistry between the new players, new coach, and the players left over from last season. As the Heat showed in their first season in the Big Three era, this is by no means an easy task. If everything falls into place, however, the Nets could transform into the beast of the East, and even give Miami a run for their money.

 

New York Knicks

Added: Andrea Bargnani (Toronto, trade); Tim Hardaway, Jr. (Draft, 24th overall pick); C.J. Leslie (Undrafted free agent);  Toure’ Murry, Chris Smith, Jeremy Tyler (D-League, free agents); Beno Udrih (Orlando, free agent); Metta World Peace (LA Lakers, waver claim)

Lost: Marcus Camby, Steve Novak, Quentin Richardson (Toronto, trade), Chris Copeland (Indiana, free agent); Jason Kidd, Rasheed Wallace (Retired); James White (Waived)

Possible Depth Chart:

PG: Raymond Felton – Pablo Prigioni – Beno Udrih – Toure’ Murry

SG: Iman Shumpert – J.R. Smith – Tim Hardaway, Jr.

SF: Carmelo Anthony – Metta World Peace – C.J. Leslie

PF: Amar’e Stoudemire – Andrea Bargnani – Kenyon Martin

C: Tyson Chandler – Jeremy Tyler

Analysis:

You can’t help but feel like the Knicks’ championship window is just beginning to ease shut. After mounting a series of strong challenges over the past few seasons, time seems to be catching up with this team. Most of the playing roster has already reached or is receding from their prime, while the young players, with the exception of Shumpert and Hardaway, are D-League call-ups and will probably serve only as roster fillers. This is pretty much par for the course for the Knicks, whose modus operandi recently has been to prioritize experience over potential. The downside to this, however, is that the players they are adding aren’t getting any younger. Melo is 29, past the age at which most wings tend to peak, and while Amar’e is 30, his injury problems do not bode well.

With that said, the Knicks are by no means finished as a contender. This is still more or less the same core that won 54 games last season, and Melo is still one of the NBA’s premier scoring threats. At the same time, Iman Shumpert is the silver lining to all of the Knick’s clouds: an exhilarating athlete and an excellent defender, Shumpert seems poised to become one of the league’s top shooting guards. The Knicks’ prospects were further bolstered when reigning Sixth Man of the Year J.R. Smith re-signed, providing them with a valuable offensive weapon off the bench. Bargnani is solid insurance if Stoudemire gets injured, and while he is awful defensively and struggles on the boards, the same is often said of Amar’e.

The Knicks have a limited time remaining to capitalise on Melo’s prime, however I’m not sure they got much better this offseason. Their two biggest additions, Bargnani and Metta world Peace, should have some impact, however the loss of Novak’s floor spacing could hurt the team greatly. That’s not to say the Knicks won’t be a top 4 or 5 team in the East, but it’s difficult to see how they can beat out Indiana or Brooklyn with the improvements each of those teams made over the offseason. The Knicks should still win 50-55 games. Whether that is good enough for second place in the East is something only time can tell.

Expect much more of this from Melo this season

 

Philadelphia 76ers

Added: Furkan Aldemir 3, Royce White (Houston, trade); James Anderson (Houston, waiver claim); Michael Carter-Williams (Draft, 11th overall pick); Arsalan Kazemi (Draft, 54th overall pick – rights acquired from Washington); Nerlens Noel (Draft, 6th overall pick – rights acquired from New Orleans); Tim Ohlbrecht (Houston, waiver claim); Tony Wroten (Memphis, trade); Brett Brown (Coach)

Lost: Jrue Holiday (New Orleans, trade); Andrew Bynum (Cleveland, free agent); Dorrell Wright (Portland, free agent); Nick Young (LA Lakers, free agent); Doug Collins (Coach)

Possible Depth Chart:

PG: Michael Carter-Williams – Tony Wroten

SG: Jason Richardson – Justin Holiday – James Anderson

SF: Evan Turner – Arsalan Kazemi

PF: Thaddeus Young– Lavoy Allen – Arnett Moultrie – Royce White

C: Nerlens Noel – Spencer Hawes – Kwame Brown – Tim Albrecht

Analysis:

It’s hard to believe that we’re only two seasons removed from the Sixers’ valiant playoff runs in 2011 and 2012. Last season was a brutally disappointing one for Philadelphia, with prized acquisition Andrew Bynum not playing a single game 4 and a slew of other injuries meaning that the Sixers missed the playoffs for the first time under Doug Collins. The Sixers’ front office obviously took this as a cue that it was time to start over, and proceed to embark on a massive overhaul which has left the Sixers right in the middle of the Wiggins zone this season.

The Holiday move was a major shock. Trading the team’s centrepiece – a young, talented point guard who had just had his first All-Star season at the age of 22 – for a player who would be unable to play until January and who scouts had obviously soured on. In hindsight, it still seems like a strange move to make. While Noel has an incredibly high ceiling, it’s difficult to predict how players will recover from a major knee injury. Furthermore, Holiday was nowhere near done developing as a player. The key piece for the Sixers in that trade was the 2014 first-round pick from New Orleans, but it’s looking increasingly possible that after an outstanding offseason, and with the development of Anthony Davis, the Pelicans are a playoff team in the West. While the upcoming draft looks to be the most loaded since 2003, if the Pelicans’ pick ends up in the second half of the first round, the Sixers almost certainly lost out in the deal.

At the same time, however, there are already pieces in place for the future in Philly. Carter-Williams was a good pick up and will be a good replacement for Holiday in the long run. Noel was projected as the number one pick for the majority of last season for a very good reason: he can have a defensive impact in the league right from the get-go, and in the longer term he has the potential to be a top-5 center in the league. Evan Turner, while not quite living up to his status as a number two pick so far in his NBA career, is a very solid player who can handle the ball, rebound excellently, and, as his jumpshot improves, should be able to make a far greater impact on offense. With the offseason moves, this team is likely bound for the lottery, so even if the Pelicans’ pick is lower down the draft order than the Sixers would like, they still have a reasonable shot at one of the potential stars at the top of next year’s draft.

All eyes are on the future in Philly. By trading Holiday, the Sixers’ front office essentially decided to sacrifice success this season for good position in the upcoming draft – a strategy which was fairly common among the borderline playoff teams in both Conferences. Whether it was a wise move remains to be seen.

nerlens-noel-traded-philadelphia-new-orleans-570x379

Hopefully Noel has as much swag on the court as he does off it

 

Toronto Raptors

Added: D.J. Augustin, Tyler Hansbrough (Indiana, free agent); Dwight Buycks (Free agent); Austin Daye (Memphis, free agent); Carlos Morais (Angola, free agent); Steve Novak (New York, trade); Julyan Stone, Chris Wright (D-League, free agents);

Lost: Alan Anderson (Brooklyn, free agent); Andrea Bargnani (New York, trade); Linas Kleiza (amnestied); John Lucas III (Utah, free agent)

Possible Depth Chart:

PG: Kyle Lowry – D.J. Augustin – Dwight Buycks

SG: DeMar DeRozan – Terrence Ross – Landry Fields – Julyan Stone

SF: Rudy Gay – Steve Novak – Austin Daye – Quincy Acy

PF: Amir Johnson – Tyler Hansbrough

C: Jonas Valanciunas – Aaron Gray

Analysis:

The Raptors’ biggest move of the summer can be seen as addition by subtraction: after being pleaded for years by fans to get rid of Andrea Bargnani, new GM Masai Ujiri finally made it happen this offseason; he sent Bargnani (and the $23 million remaining on his contract) to New York in return for Steve Novak and three picks. Taking Bargnani’s contract off the books cleared up some space for Ujiri to add pieces around the Raptors’ new core.

The Raptors have very quietly put together what could well be one of the NBA’s most exciting teams to watch, with arguably the most athletic groups of wings – Gay, DeRozan, Ross are all capable of some incredible dunks – and Lowry setting the table for them. At the same time, after an excellent rookie season and an outstanding Summer League, Jonas Valancinuas looks likely to continue developing into a top-tier center; along with Hansbrough, Johnson, and Lowry, big-V gives the Raptors a gritty edge to go with the athletic flash of their wings.

The addition of Hansbrough should not be underrated. The loss of Ed Davis last season left a hole behind Amir Johnson at the 4, and Hansbrough has proved that he is more than capable of being an excellent second-string tall, backing up David West in Indiana. ‘Psycho T’ may be highly unpopular with fans of other teams, but his energy and intensity are extremely valuable traits, especially in a bench player who is required to be ready to jump into the game at a moment’s notice. Novak, too, was a key pickup, and showed in New York why he will be extremely valuable for the Raptors: the man defending him cannot afford to leave him for a second, and therefore the paint will be more open for DeRozan’s slashing style and the mid-post touches that Gay thrives on.

Another 5th place division finish looks highly unlikely for the Raptors this season. Their young core has shown improvement each year and some key additions over the offseason have positioned them for a real chance at the playoffs. While this means they are almost certain to miss a chance to get Ontario native Andrew Wiggins, even a short playoff run will be a boon for the team’s die-hard fans, who haven’t seen a playoff appearance since 2008. In a relatively weak Eastern conference, it’s certainly not impossible. If it doesn’t happen this season, with the upside of this team, it seems certain to happen the next.

 

Predicted Final Standings:

  1. Brooklyn Nets
  2. New York Knicks
  3. Toronto Raptors
  4. Boston Celtics
  5. Philadelphia 76ers

9090 Oranges Squeezed

Notes:

  1. if somewhat inefficient
  2. while inconsistent, Alan Anderson can heat up quickly and provide a major offensive burst off the bench
  3. draft rights, not expected to play in the NBA this season
  4. and, to make matters worse, not appearing to care
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