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Ranking the NBA’s Atlantic Division

Tommy Beer examines the reshuffled Atlantic Division and ranks each team from worst to first.

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The team here at Basketball Insiders has previously ranked the Pacific, Central, Southwest and Southeast divisions.

Today, Tommy Beer examines the reshuffled Atlantic Division and ranks each team from worst to first.

#5 – Philadelphia 76ers (18-64 last season)

Key Additions: Nik Stauskas, Carl Landry, Jason Thompson, Jahlil Okafor, J.P. Tokoto

Key Subtractions: Luc Mbah a Moute, Jason Richardson, Thomas Robinson

The Sixers’ offseason got off to a great start when they were able to add future star Jahlil Okafor in the draft. GM Sam Hinkie then somehow persuaded the Kings to trade Nik Stauskas (the No. 8 overall pick in the 2014 draft), a future (protected) first-round pick and the right to swap first-round picks in two future drafts in exchange for the Sixers taking on the salaries of Carl Landry and Jason Thompson. It was a terrific deal for Philly, as they continue to stockpile assets. Philadelphia sat on the sidelines during free agency, but the offseason would still have certainly been considered a success.

However, the 76ers organization was dealt a major blow when doctors determined that prized prospect Joel Embiid would have to undergo yet another foot surgery that would likely keep him out for the entire 2015-16 season. Embiid was a crucial centerpiece of the 76ers’ rebuilding project. It remains to be seen if he will ever be anything close to the player the Sixers hoped they would be getting when they drafted him No. 3 overall last June. Hinkie will encourage fans to “trust the process,” but Philly is looking at another loss-filled season in the Atlantic basement.

#3 – Brooklyn Nets (38-44 last season)

Key Additions: Wayne Ellington, Willie Green, Andrea Bargnani, Thomas Robinson, Shane Larkin, Chris McCullough, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson

Key Subtractions: Mason Plumlee, Deron Williams, Alan Anderson, Mirza Teletovic, Jerome Jordan

Hard to believe, but it was just two years ago that the Nets went “all in” to make a run at an NBA championship by trading away three future first-round draft picks (2014, 2016, 2018) and the right to swap picks in 2017 to the Boston Celtics in exchange for aging veterans Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Jason Terry. Now, the Nets find themselves in the unenviable position of being forced to pare down their payroll in hopes of avoiding an exorbitant luxury tax bill. To that end, Brooklyn agreed to a buy-out with former all-star PG Deron Williams (who subsequently signed with the Mavericks).

They did, however, re-sign Brook Lopez and Thaddeus Young, and brought in Wayne Ellington, Willie Green, Andrea Bargnani, Thomas Robinson and Shane Larkin on affordable, short-term deals.

One curious move made by GM Billy King was trading away young big man Mason Plumlee, who was viewed as a piece of the Nets foundation this time last year (as Plumlee was playing for Team USA). It was surprising to see how little Brooklyn got back in return when they traded him (Plumlee was dealt to Portland, along with the Nets second-round pick, in exchange for the rights to Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, the 23rd overall pick in the 2015 draft). Plumlee finished the 2014-15 season second on the Nets in steals and blocks, and led the team in field goal percentage and defensive rebounds. In addition, Plumlee is still on his rookie deal, which pays just $ 1.4 million next season, $2.3 million in 2016-17 and $3.3 million in 2017-18. Lastly, Brooklyn now has precious little depth behind starting center Brook Lopez, who is notoriously injury prone.

It is likely safe to assume the Nets will take a step back after losing their play-making point guard and versatile big. Will it be a significant step back, or will they be able to stay put and remain in the postseason picture once again?

#3 – New York Knicks (17-65 last season)

Key Additions: Robin Lopez, Arron Afflalo, Kyle O’Quinn, Derrick Williams, Kristaps Porzingis, Jerian Grant

Key Subtractions: Tim Hardaway Jr., Jason Smith, Cole Aldrich, Shane Larkin, Andrea Bargnani, Alexey Shved

The Knicks will be better this upcoming season, if – for no other reason – it’d be almost impossible for them to be worse.

The 2014-15 campaign was an absolute nightmare for New York. Everything that could have gone wrong did.

Next season, the biggest addition will be the return of a healthy Carmelo Anthony. Adding one of the game’s elite scorers should obviously bolster an offense that failed to consistently put points on the board. The Knicks also brought in $96 million worth of free agents. Robin Lopez is a defensive-minded big man who should be able to cover up for ‘Melo and New York’s other inferior defenders. Arron Afflalo is coming off a disappointing season, but the Knicks were able to sign the proven vet at an affordable rate on a short-term deal. Kyle O’Quinn was locked up for just $16 million over four seasons and should contribute on both ends of the floor. The Williams signing was questionable, as the former No. 2 overall pick has yet to distinguish himself during his short NBA career. (For a full, in-depth recap of the Knicks 2015 offseason, click here).

The No. 4 overall pick in this draft, 19-year old Kristaps Porzingis, oozes potential, but it would be unfair to expect much from him initially. Obtaining Jerian Grant in exchange for Tim Hardway Jr. was a smart trade by Phil Jackson, as the Knicks needed to upgrade the point guard position. Grant, who spent five years at Notre Dame, should be able to play and produce right away.

It’s not impossible to think that New York could at least be in contention for the eighth seed in a watered-down Eastern Conference.

 #2 – Boston Celtics (40-42 last season)

Key Additions: David Lee, Amir Johnson, Perry Jones, Terry Rozier, R.J. Hunter, Jordan Mickey, Marcus Thornton

Key Subtractions: Brandon Bass, Luigi Datome

The draft probably didn’t play out the way Danny Ainge would have preferred (Boston tried to trade up to get Justise Winslow); however, they brought in Amir Johnson from Toronto on a bargain two-year contract (with a player option for year two), retained restricted free agent Jae Crowder (an offseason priority) and re-signed Jonas Jerebko to a cap-friendly two-year deal.

The most interesting move the Celtics made this summer was trading for David Lee. Lee was buried on the bench on an ultra-deep Warriors team last season and Golden State needed to move him because of his salary. However, Lee is just one year removed from averaging 18.2 points (while shooting 52.3 percent from the floor) and 9.3 rebounds. In fact, Lee is the only player in the NBA to average at least 18 points, 11 rebounds and three assists in two separate NBA seasons this decade.  Can he return to form and post those monster offensive numbers in Beantown?

The C’s improved their frontcourt and already boast a strong nucleus of athletic, exciting guards (Marcus Smart, Isaiah Thomas, Avery Bradley). Can this group grow and take that next step next season?

#1 Toronto Raptors (49-33 last season)

Key Additions: DeMarre Carroll, Cory Joseph, Bismack Biyombo, Luis Scola, Delon Wright, Norman Powell

Key Subtractions: Lou Williams, Amir Johnson, Landry Fields, Greg Stiemsma, Tyler Hansbrough 

The Raptors lost a couple of solid contributors in Amir Johnson and reigning Sixth Man of the Year Lou Williams. However, they successfully restocked the shelves via a few key free agent signings.

Toronto jumped on DeMarre Carroll at the very beginning of free agency. Although $60 million was a heavy contract to hand out, Carroll is an excellent all-around player who can produce points and is also a top-tier perimeter defender. Cory Joseph is another player who earned a more lucrative payday than many expected, but the upside is significant. Joseph hasn’t had much of an opportunity to showcase his skills playing in San Antonio, but will get a chance to shine north of the border. Bismack Biyombo hadn’t done much during most of his NBA career, but showed signs of life this past season, particularly late in the year. Over the Charlotte Hornets’ final 11 games, Biyombo is averaged 7.0 points, 8.7 rebounds and 2.4 blocks, while shooting 54.5 percent from the floor. A rim-protecting big is always a valuable commodity, and he should fit in well in Toronto where he won’t be asked to do anything outside his comfort zone.

The Raptors have captured the Atlantic Division crown in each of the past two seasons and they will be the heavy favorites to make it three straight heading into 2015-16.

Tommy Beer is a Senior NBA Analyst and the Fantasy Sports Editor of Basketball Insiders, having covered the NBA for the last nine seasons.

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