The NBA season is ready to tip-off next week and we are looking to preview the teams for you. The Atlantic Division could be one of the tougher divisions in the league with last year's top two seeds in the Brooklyn Nets and Philadelphia 76ers. 4 of the 5 division teams made the playoffs with the resurgent New York Knicks and the talented Boston Celtics. Read as we handicap this division for the upcoming season.
Photo Credit: GettyImages
Last Year: 48-24, 2nd in Eastern Conference, Lost in Semi-Final Round to Milwaukee Bucks
Key Additions: LaMarcus Aldridge, James Johnson, Patty Mills, Paul Millsap
Key Departures: Spencer Dinwiddie, DeAndre Jordan, Landry Shamet
The Brooklyn Nets are coming to the 2021-22 season with a lot of promise and championship aspirations. They have assembled maybe the greatest Big Three to ever play on the court. But this season that should be a path to the NBA finals looks murkier and murkier by the day.
The Nets sport one the game’s best players in Kevin Durant. We were unsure what version of Kevin Durant we would see after the Achilles tear. But Durant, coming off a brilliant NBA playoff performance and gold medal performance in the Tokyo Games, is showing why he is arguably the best player in the game right now. Durant single-handedly almost carried the Nets to the NBA finals, missing out on the trip by a toe (literally).
Enter into a full season with the Nets is the dynamic James Harden. Coming off and off-season where he wanted to be traded and reported to rockets camp out of shape, Harden looks in shape, motivated and energized for this next franchise. We all know Harden is an unbelievable scorer, but his point guard skills really helped settle the Nets last season. I look to continue seeing Harden control the pace and the flow for the Brooklyn Nets.
The elephant in the room is the lack of availability of Kyrie Irving. Kyrie has been nothing but a distraction ever since camp opened. His unwillingness to take the vaccine, which is his right, is leaving the Nets with no choice but to not allow him to participate in team activities. Kyrie is welcome back to the Nets, but until he's vaccinated, he can't be around the team. The Nets are a playoff team without him, but a championship team with him.
But the Nets made a brilliant move in bringing in point guard Patty Mills. He should be a nice stop gap until the Kyrie situation is figured out. The addition of Paul Millsap and bringing back Blake Griffin only strengthens this team for the playoffs. It'll be nice to see LaMarcus Aldridge back in the uniform after a serious health scare, and he should provide front court depth for the Nets
The Nets will go as far as Kevin Durant can take them, even with Kyrie Irving and James Harden on the team. KD is the best player in the league, and he can prove once and for all that he can carry a team to a championship. But without Irving this team would be no match for a Laker team in the finals.
Photo Credit: GettyImages
Last Year: 49-23, 1st in Eastern Conference, Lost in Semi-Final to Atlanta Hawks
Key Additions: Andre Drummond
Key Departures: George Hill, Dwight Howard
The Philadelphia 76ers made the least amount of moves in the offseason, but the team dominated the headlines for a move that didn’t happen. Ben Simmons demanded a trade, he wasn’t dealt, he didn’t show up to camp and his salary was withheld. But low and behold Simmons has reported to camp and is ready to play for the Sixers.
Simmons was criticized for his playoff performance against the Atlanta Hawks for his lack of offensive assertiveness. Simmons was terrible from the field and looked at the rim but refused to shoot. His trade value is at an all-time low despite being an All-Star level player. Reporting is the best way to raise his value and eventually get out of town.
The 76ers fell in seven games to the Atlanta Hawks in the semi-final round after dominating the regular season. The early exit and the Simmons situation were a disappointing end to the season and possibly the Process.
Despite the offseason, the Sixers are going to be in the thick of the Eastern Conference, but I highly doubt they will grab the top seed this year. Joel Embiid, Seth Curry and Danny Green are back for the 76ers, but Embiid needs to stay healthy for this team to make a real move. The Sixers added Andre Drummond as front-court depth and he should slide in nicely to the Dwight Howard role.
This Sixers team has talent to win 50 games, but things can turn quickly in this division. The East is getting stronger by the day and their window to lead the pack may have closed as quickly as it opened.
Prediction: 48-34 record
New York Knicks
Photo Credit: GettyImages
Last Year: 41-31 record, 4th in the Eastern Conference, First Round Lost to Atlanta Hawks
Key Additions: Evan Fournier, Kemba Walker, Quentin Grimes
Key Departures: Reggie Bullock, Elfrid Payton
The New York Knicks are back, and that is coming from a Knicks fan. This team isn’t a top-level team, but the improvement from last year was huge, and they have made additions to build on that good feeling. The Knicks finished last year with a surprising record of 41-31 behind an improved defense and elite 3-point shooting.
It was just a fun, tough and scrappy team for Knicks fans to root for and watch gain confidence. Coach Tom Thibodeau fixed a defense that held opponents to 104.7 points per game (best in the NBA).
But a first round exit in the playoffs to the Atlanta Hawks exposed their biggest weakness, offense. The Knicks were led by Most Improved Player Julius Randle, 2nd year player R.J. Barrett and mid-season pick up Derrick Rose. But the Knicks struggled to create easy baskets and if they weren’t hitting 3s, they couldn’t score. They went cold from 3 in the first round series against the Hawks and Randle also struggled to find easy baskets.
So the Knicks front office addressed the lack of offense by signing Evan Fournier and Kemba Walker. Fournier will give the Knicks floor spacing and shooting they lacked last year. Walker is the major signing as the Knicks haven’t had a stable point guard since Raymond Felton and an elite level PG since Stephon Marbury. He has injury concerns with his knees, but at a $8M per year deal, he’s a steal and worth the risk. Expect his minutes to be split with Rose to preserve both players. 2nd year players Immanuel Quickley and Obi Toppin have benefited from Summer League and camp.
This Knicks team will not sneak up on anyone this season as they will get team’s best efforts every night. But Thibs doesn’t take games off and neither will the Knicks. They might take a step back on defense with Fournier and Kemba on the floor, but this team will be a tough out.
Prediction: 46-36 record
Photo Credit: GettyImages
Last Year: 36-36 record, 7th in the Eastern Conference, First Round Lost to Brooklyn Nets
Key Additions: Denis Schroder, Al Horford, Enes Kanter, Josh Richardson
Key Departures: Tristan Thompson, Evan Fournier, Kemba Walker, Tacko Fall
The Boston Celtics looked to be on their way back to championship glory as they made appearances in the Eastern Conference Finals behind their young core and coach Brad Stevens. But GM Danny Ainge has left the organization, Brad Stevens in in the front office and the window for chips might have pasted the Celtics by.
The Celtics finished last season with a disappointing record of 36-36. The only way to summarize the Celtics season last year was as a complete underachievement. They struggled to find consistency on offense and defense, then the injury to Jalen Brown sunk this team to the back of the Eastern Conference playoffs.
The Celtics have as much talent as anyone in the league, led by superstar duo Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown. Tatum continues to show why he will be one of the better players in this league if he isn’t already. Brown is coming off an injury but should be ready to go. The issue is that the offense was out of sort when Kemba Walker was in and out of the lineup. The stars need the ball in their hands, and Walker can’t be off the ball on offense.
The Celtics defensively were solid with Marcus Smart, but it’s not consistent enough to compete in a division with the Nets and 76ers. Al Horford and Enes Kanter are additions to the roster that should help push players into better roles. I don’t think these moves with push them to the top of the East, but it should be enough to keep them in the playoff picture. The East is much improved, the Celtic can pay themselves into a 4 seed or completely out of the playoff picture.
Prediction: 42-40 record
Photo Credit: GettyImages
Last Year: 27-45, Missed the Playoffs
Key Additions: Precious Achiuwa, Scottie Barnes, Goran Dragic, Sam Dekker
Key Departures: Kyle Lowry, Aaron Baynes, Rodney Hood, Stanley Johnson
The Toronto Raptors are 2 years removed from winning their only NBA Championship in their young history. The Raptors are looking to rebuild around a young core and make some moves in the East. The Raptors are finally returning to play in Toronto as they will play games at the Scotiabank Arena. It was a tough year for the Raptors as they were the only team to basically be on the road all last year.
Team leader, and possibly the greatest Raptor player, Kyle Lowry left for the Miami Heat after a sign and trade. The deal landed the Raptors with G Goran Dragic as he comes into Toronto to fill Lowry’s big shoes. Lowry may not be one of the all-time greats, but he’s one of the most underrated point guards in league because of his toughness, defense, and big play ability.
The Raptors look to hand the keys to the North to G Fred VanVleet after he signed a big deal to stay in Toronto last off-season. VanVleet has played behind Lowry and sometimes in his shadow. The dual PG look will continue with Dragic, but VanVleet will have an chance to shine as the lead guard for the Raptors.
All-Star forward Pascal Siakam is still with the Raptors after an off-season of trade speculation. Head coach Nick Nurse butted heads with his superstar last season as they disagreed on basically everything. I don’t think a Siakam trade will happen, but I fully expect Dragic to be dealt at the deadline. I thought Dragic would be on the move to Dallas before the season started, but he will have suitors at the deadline for sure if the Raptors get off to a slow start.
No. 4 pick Scottie Barnes will need to develop quickly for the Raptors to make serious moves in the East. He’s still raw, but Barnes’ upside jumps off the page and he can provide energy for the Raptors. His production in 2021-22 will likely mean playoffs or no playoffs for the Raptors.
The Raptors are caught between a rebuild and retool, and a lot of people are sleeping on them. I for one don’t expect them to do a lot this year, but they could be a dangerous sub .500 team because of the duo of Siakam and VanVleet. But they will be holding the Atlantic Division up this year.
Prediction: 36-46 record