Tuesday, September 26, 2006

NBA Preview: Atlantic Division

As we continue our trip around the league, part two of this massive undertaking leads us to the Atlantic Division.

Upon further reflection, I may have come down a little hard on the Southeast division. The Atlantic was arguably worse last year as the Knicks disgraced their city and history with a 23-59 season - good enough to earn them the title of worst team in the conference.

This year’s Atlantic division doesn’t seem to have an NBA-title contender, but improvement for some of it’s teams looms on the horizon.

NEW JERSEY NETS (2005-2006 record: 49-33. Lost in Round 2 to Miami)

Predicted division finish: 1st

The Nets are a team that must be hard to follow.

There’s plenty of good happening with this franchise. Jason Kidd, Vince Carter and Richard Jefferson are one of the best threesomes in the league. They had a stellar draft by flat out stealing Marcus Williams.

Yet, coming into the season, New Jersey’s ceiling seems to be to win the Atlantic.

There are too many holes up front. Nenad Krstic can hit a 12-foot jumper, but when they need a post game he’s no where to be found. They brought in Mikki Moore via trade to help out Jason Collins, which means that they are horrible up front.

The problem with New Jersey is they’re not as good as every other elite team in the East. They won’t beat Miami, Chicago, or Cleveland in a playoff series, so if you’re a fan of this team, I guess you can feel good about another Atlantic title.

That much seems like a lock, but with Vince Carter becoming a free agent after the season and Jason Kidd’s knee getting worse by the year, the championship window has closed for the time being.

NEW YORK KNICKS (2005-2006 record: 29-53. Missed playoffs)

Predicted division finish: 2nd

I know what you’re thinking as you read this, and no, I haven’t lost my mind.

At least I don’t think I have.

Hear me out.

The Knicks humiliated themselves last year. The whole city of New York was disgraced. The players quit on Larry Brown. Larry Brown quit on the players. Bloggers mocked Isiah Thomas incessantly. Frankly, they had good reason since Isiah assembled this disaster and decided that a backcourt of Stephon Marbury and Steve Francis was a good idea.
I know there are major problems with the franchise, and I’m not for one second arguing that point.

However, this is a make or break time for everyone involved. Zeke moving to the bench is a constant reminder of last year’s failure. This collection of $100 million talent has to have some heart left somewhere, right? If so, then there’s no way they’re letting Isiah Thomas go down in flames. It just won’t happen.

With Marbury, Francis, Eddy Curry, Channing Frye, Jalen Rose, David Lee, Jared Jeffries, Jamal Crawford, Nate Robinson and Renaldo Balkman, there’s too much talent for them to be this bad, right? (If you think I'm serious about Balkman, please stop reading this site)

I don’t know if they’ll make the playoffs, but they’ll restore some respect to a once proud franchise.

If they don’t, then it’s going to be fantastically awful. I don’t think it’s possible for this season to be more fun either way in New York. I mean, Isiah gets to shut up his critics or he’s gone once and for all.

That, my friends, is an intriguing season.

BOSTON CELTICS (2005-2006 record: 33-49. Missed playoffs)

Predicted division finish: 3rd

Danny Ainge is going about his job as GM in a unique way.

While his counterpart in Chicago, John Paxson, keeps trying to find players who are winners from established college programs, Ainge is going the opposite route. He wants high schoolers and he wants a lot of them.

Kendrick Perkins. Al Jefferson. Gerald Green.

His latest addition is Sebastian Telfair, who Boston acquired in a trade with Portland.

So what does it all mean? Well, it means the Celtics are two years away from being anything.

Paul Pierce averaged nearly 27 points per game last year, but he has no veteran help. Wally Szczerbiak is too injury-prone to be the second option, and everyone else is too young to be counted on night in and night out.

There’s good potential here and seemingly a lot of athleticism, but I’d be more excited about the Celtics if Ainge had pulled off the rumored Allen Iverson trade this summer. Pierce and AI could have been a lethal combo, and I think Ainge could have done it without sacrificing all of his youngsters.

Instead, Pierce is left to shoulder the load with a lot of question marks surrounding him. If Delonte West, Tony Allen, Jefferson, Telfair and Perkins make huge strides this season, Boston has an outside shot at making the playoffs, but I think it’s more realistic to focus on next year.

At least they have cheerleaders now!

PHILADELPHIA 76ers (2005-2006 record: 38-44. Missed playoffs)

Predicted division finish: 4th

Do the Sixers either make or miss the playoffs by one or two games every year?

It seems that way to me.

I have good news for Sixers fans: that torture won’t be there this year.

On paper, this team is the same team it is every year. Allen Iverson will do everything possible to help them win. He’ll try to get Chris Webber and Andre Iguodala involved in the offense, but they’ll be inconsistent in the role. Kyle Korver will shoot some 3s. Samuel Dalembert will block some shots and remind everyone that Billy King probably overpaid to keep him.

Honestly, the only difference in 2006-07 from those of the past is that other Eastern Conference teams are better than them now. I think Orlando and New York should finish with better records, so that means no postseason again in Philly.

Frankly, I’m of the opinion that Iverson should have been moved and still should be moved. This team is going nowhere but down, so you might as well get something for him while you can.

TORONTO RAPTORS (2005-2006 record: 27-55. Missed playoffs)

Predicted division finish: Last

If this summer taught me anything, it’s that the rest of the world is getting very, very good at playing the game of basketball.

This could be good news for the Toronto Raptors.

New GM Bryan Colangelo used the first pick in the 2006 Draft to select Andrea Bargnani from Italy. Then, he brought in Jose Calderon and Jorge Garbajosa from Spain and gave Anthony Parker another shot at NBA stardom after years playing for Israel Maccabi Tel Aviv. As if that wasn’t enough Euro flavor, Colangelo also made a trade for Rasho Nesterovic.

I would be completely lying to you if I told you I had seen Bargnani, Calderon, Garbajosa or Parker play. However, I know that Spain won the World Championships, so half of that group must be decent.

Colangelo’s other huge move of the summer was trading Charlie Villenueva to Milwaukee for point guard T.J. Ford. It’s clear from these moves that the Raptors want to get up and down the floor, and they’ll probably be exciting to watch.

All that matters is whether Chris Bosh likes this movement. He seems to be fine with it, so that’s a positive for the Raptors. It’s hard to predict whether they’ll be better than the Sixers or the Celtics when I haven’t seen half the roster play, so that’s why I have them last, but frankly, I could see them being better than one of those teams.

1 comment:

ss said...

I like where you're going here. I will go one step further - the Knicks make the playoffs. Isiah is still an idiot, but they finally use some of that talent and they actually manage to get in the playoffs.