It’s been an exciting and interesting offseason throughout the NBA, and the Atlantic Division specifically. Today we continue our breakdown of each NBA division by diving into the Atlantic.
#5. Brooklyn Nets (21-61 last season)
Key Additions: Jeremy Lin, Randy Foye, Trevor Booker, Justin Hamilton, Joe Harris, Caris Levert, Luis Scola, Greivis Vasquez, Isaiah Whitehead, Yogi Ferrell, Anthony Bennett
Key Subtractions: Thaddeus Young, Shane Larkin, Wayne Ellington, Willie Reed, Thomas Robinson
New Nets GM Sean Marks inherited a mess and the franchise finds itself in a very unenviable position. Brooklyn had plenty of cap space to spend on free agents, but because the team is far from competitive, they had a very difficult time convincing top-tier free agents to take them seriously. Further complicating matters is the fact that the Celtics own the rights to the Nets’ first round pick in each of the next two seasons (Boston can swap picks in 2017 and owns the pick outright in 2018).
Thus, it will be very difficult for the Nets to dig out of this hole and return to respectability any time soon. Marks decided his best chance to infuse the team with some much-needed youthful talent would be to make massive offers to restricted free agents in hopes these big, questionable contracts would scare away each free agent’s current team. Unfortunately for Marks, Portland matched a $75 million deal for Allen Crabbe and Miami decided to hold onto Tyler Johnson after surprisingly losing Dwyane Wade. Marks did make some sound/shrewd free agent signings, solidifying the point guard position by bringing in Jeremy Lin and Greivis Vasquez on cap-friendly deals. Still, the team lacks the depth and across-the-board talent to win consistently, especially playing in a division in which the rest of the teams have improved.
#4. Philadelphia 76ers (10-72 last season)
Key Additions: Ben Simmons, Jerryd Bayless, Gerald Henderson, Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot, Sergio Rodriguez, Dario Saric
Key Subtractions: Isaiah Canaan, Ish Smith, Christian Wood, Elton Brand
For the first time in a long time, the Sixers will be exciting to watch this season. They have a frontline chock full of young, promising players. Ben Simmons (the #1 overall pick in the 2016 NBA Draft) will slide in alongside Jahlil Okafor, Joel Embiid and Nerlens Noel. Whether or not that translates into wins is a separate question entirely.
Okafor had a roller-coaster rookie season. He was superb offensively, but struggled on the defensive end of the floor.
Jahlil Oakfor is just 12th player in the last 30 years to average at least 17 points, 7 rebs & 1 block as a rookie: pic.twitter.com/jJKMPod5wP
— Tommy Beer (@TommyBeer) July 15, 2016
He also had a number of off-court issues that disappointed many in the City of Brother Love. Can he bounce back next season? Embiid is a complete unknown at this point. He has incredible talent and athleticism for a man his size, but will he be able to stay on the floor long enough to prove it? And given their cadre of young bigs, will Philly trade away a forward/center to address their lack of depth in the backcourt?
#3. New York Knicks (32-50 last season)
Key Additions: Derrick Rose, Joakim Noah, Courtney Lee, Maurice Ndour, Marshall Plumlee, Mindaugas Kuzminskas, Brandon Jennings, Willy Hernangomez
Key Subtractions: Langston Galloway, Arron Afflalo, Lou Amundson, Cleanthony Early, Kevin Seraphin, Derrick Williams
It can be argued that no team in the entire league is as unpredictable as the 2016-17 Knicks. Their upside is tantalizing. If they somehow manage to keep everyone healthy and happy, there is a possibility this team could win more than 42 games for just the second time this millennium. The talent is there. Consider this: Only four Eastern Conference players not named ‘LeBron James’ have finished in the top-five in NBA MVP voting this decade, and three of those four (Carmelo Anthony, Rose and Noah) are now on the same team.
The flip side of the coin is also a distinct possibility. When each of the three-highest paid players on a team (the aforementioned ‘Melo, Rose and Noah) have recently dealt with serious injuries, that’s potentially a recipe for disaster. Surprisingly, Rose has actually played in more games over the last two seasons (117) than both Anthony (112) and Noah (96).
#2. Toronto Raptors (56-26 last season)
Key Additions: Jakob Poeltl, Pascal Siakam, Jared Sullinger, Fred VanVleet
Key Subtractions: Bismack Biyombo, James Johnson, Luis Scola, Jason Thompson
We’ve seen plenty of turnover throughout the league, especially in the Atlantic, but the Raptors have remained relatively stable. Their top five scorers from last season are all returning. The only starter they lose is Scola, who averaged just 21 minutes a night. Biyombo also left via free agency. While he was dominant at times in the postseason, his contributions during the regular season were far less significant. As long as Jonas Valanciunas is able to stay healthy, Sullinger and Poeltl should be able to handle backup big man duties.
The Raptors have averaged 51 wins per season since 2013, and have captured three straight division titles. Impressively, Toronto has actually improved on their win total in six consecutive seasons (22, 23, 34,48, 49 and then a franchise-record 56 wins last season). However, it’s likely unrealistic to expect this trend to continue. The Raps have beaten up on the rest of the lowly Atlantic the last few years, but the Knicks, 76ers and Celtics are all improved. Toronto will still likely tally 50+ wins in 2016-17, but we have them getting narrowly edged by Boston.
#1. Boston Celtics (48-34 last season)
Key Additions: Al Horford, Jaylen Brown, Gerald Green, Demetrius Jackson
Key Subtractions: Jared Sullinger, Evan Turner
Danny Ainge has done a masterful job putting together this balanced Celtics roster. Each of the Celtics’ top-five scorers last season made less than $8 million, and they are set up well going forward too. Considering the mindbogglingly enormous contracts handed out this summer, Ainge has many of the C’s core players locked into deeply discounted contracts. All-Star Isaiah Thomas will make just $12.8 million COMBINED over the next two seasons. Jae Crowder will average approximately $7 million for each of the next four seasons. Avery Bradley will earn less than $8.8 million per season through 2018.
This summer, the Celtics added the star low-post player they had been missing. Ainge and company are hoping Al Horford is a major piece to the puzzle that can help push them over the top. Horford is a terrific two-way player who contributes substantially on both the offensive and defensive ends of the floor. In fact, last year, Horford became the first player in NBA history to tally at least 60 steals, 80 three-pointers, 120 blocks and 200 assists in the same season. Boston fans are hoping this group can help the Celtics capture their first Atlantic Division title since 2012.
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