Based on Basketball Insiders’ ranking of the Atlantic Division last week, it’s not hard to see the 2017-18 favorites in clear sight already. Top-heavy in nature, it should be the Boston Celtics and Toronto Raptors pushing for some of the Eastern Conference’s highest postseason seeds once again.
However, thanks to some shrewd moves from the middle of the pack, the division is shaping up to be its best incarnation in years. Of course, the Philadelphia 76ers and Brooklyn Nets could, unsurprisingly, find themselves on the outside looking in at the playoff bubble for another season, but they’ve made some positive steps nonetheless.
With that in mind, here are the top trades and signings this summer from the Atlantic Division, starting with the crown jewel of free agency: Gordon Hayward.
Boston Celtics sign Gordon Hayward
After winning 53 games and securing the conference’s No. 1 seed, naturally, the only possible follow-up is to sign the best available free agent, right? Hayward’s four-year deal worth $128 million comes after averaging 21.9 points, 5.4 rebounds and 3.5 assists per game for the Utah Jazz in 2016-17, even earning his first-ever All-Star selection in a stacked field. Sure, the Celtics had to part with the long-time menacing defense of Avery Bradley in order to clear the necessary cap space, but Marcus Morris isn’t a bad consolation prize either.
Hayward’s emergence as a reliable scorer and an underrated defender should make life easier for both Isaiah Thomas and Al Horford, sliding in seamlessly with the rest of Boston’s hard-nosed roster. There’s not much hard-hitting analysis to be had here as, for the second straight summer, the Celtics landed an elite free agent target. With Hayward in tow and the Cleveland Cavaliers now reeling from the recent Kyrie Irving reports, the Celtics continue to position the franchise supremely well.
Philadelphia 76ers sign J.J. Redick
Next on the list is a win-win deal in Philadelphia, as J.J. Redick trusted the process and signed a massive one-year deal worth $23 million. For both sides, it’s the perfect fit. With Redick, the 76ers will massively upgrade their three-point shooting, one of the potential-laden roster’s largest weaknesses. Last year, Robert Covington was the only rostered player to end the season with an average of two or more made three-pointers per game, and the team ranked 7th in attempts but 25th in percentage.
Best of all, both parties were smart enough to sign up for the trial version before committing too far down the road. That way, if the team doesn’t meet expectations or the raw core of Ben Simmons, Markelle Fultz and Joel Embiid develops quicker than expected, Redick and the 76ers can go their separate ways without any messiness. At the end of the day, Philadelphia added one of the league’s best three-point shooters and Redick got his richest payday yet, all without sacrificing another long-term contract down the road.
Brooklyn Nets acquire D’Angelo Russell and Timofey Mozgov from Los Angeles Lakers for Brook Lopez and the No. 27 overall pick
Just a few days before the NBA Draft, the Brooklyn Nets finally traded franchise stalwart Brook Lopez after years of endless rumors. Despite flourishing from three-point range and becoming the team’s all-time leading scorer, the 29-year-old was entering the final year of his contract. The return, however, has Brooklynites salivating for the future. In order to move the remaining three years and $49 million left on center Timofey Mozgov’s contract, the Los Angeles Lakers had to part with the promising D’Angelo Russell.
Russell averaged 15.6 points and 4.8 assists over 28.7 minutes per game during his sophomore season in Los Angeles, but, at long last, the Nets finally have their bright centerpiece to build around. Deemed as expendable after the front office arrival of Magic Johnson, the former No. 2 overall selection will get a fresh start and plenty of opportunities to mold this fast-paced Brooklyn side. For an in-flux franchise, it’s possible that Russell even makes a push for the All-Star team in a suddenly weakened conference.
Toronto Raptors re-sign Kyle Lowry and Serge Ibaka
Boom – status quo achieved. While the Celtics added the top available free agent and the Cavaliers appear to be unraveling at the seams, the ever-reliable Raptors just kept things exactly the same. Lowry’s deal is worth three years and $100 million, but for Toronto, the three-time All-Star is worth every cent. While there were some initial worries about Lowry fleeing towards the opposite coast, the Raptors have done well to bring the majority of their 51-win squad back to the court. Lowry averaged a career-high in points in 2016-17, tallying 22.4 of them per contest to go along with seven assists.
Following Lowry was the re-signing of Ibaka (at three years and $65 million), the shot-blocking power forward that was acquired from the Orlando Magic last winter. Ibaka is a model of consistency and he’s averaged more than 12 points per game in every season since 2012-13, even pulling down exactly 6.8 rebounds for four straight years as well. All in all, the recapture of Lowry and Ibaka likely won’t lead to an NBA Finals appearance anytime soon, but it’s a strong indication that the franchise’s newfound success will continue until further notice.
Brooklyn Nets acquire DeMarre Carroll plus 2018 first- and second-rounders from Toronto Raptors for Justin Hamilton
While the aforementioned Russell is a great building block and the roster’s other prospects – Caris LeVert, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and Isaiah Whitehead – exhibit potential, the Nets still aren’t done paying for that ill-fated Celtics trade from 2013, believe it or not. Even after missing out on Jaylen Brown in 2016 and Fultz just last month, Brooklyn still owes one final unprotected pick in 2018. The Nets’ move for Carroll, most importantly, gives general manager Sean Marks two more assets in his ambitious rebuild attempt, but the eight-year veteran should prove useful in that young locker room as well.
Nets were more than happy to take on the final two years and $30 million left on Carroll’s contract with plenty of cap space to burn. The forward struggled in Toronto, but his ability to hit three-pointers – a skill that Hollis-Jefferson and Trevor Booker don’t currently possess right now – should make him a valuable addition as a stretch four. Although this is technically a salary dump through and through, the move reunites Carroll with head coach Kenny Atkinson, a pairing that thrived together in Atlanta three years ago.
Brooklyn Nets acquire Allen Crabbe from Portland Trail Blazers for Andrew Nicholson
This deal isn’t even 24 hours old yet, but Marks’ wheeling-and-dealing this offseason suddenly has a few reconsidering Jeremy Lin’s bold playoff prediction for the Nets. While Crabbe’s contract is certainly expensive, the Brooklyn-based franchise has clearly been enamored with the shooting guard for quite some time. Of course, the Nets lined up to give Crabbe $75 million before the Portland Trail Blazers matched the massive offer sheet last July.
Crabbe’s averages aren’t exactly eye-popping, even with his recent major increase in role, but he shot 44.4 percent from three-point range in 2016-17 – the second-best mark in the NBA for a guard, only trailing Kyle Korver at 45 percent. Crabbe will be freed from the blinding spotlight behind Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum and could end up as a starter in Atkinson’s fast-paced offense. The Nets had no use for Nicholson, who averaged just 3 points in 10 games after Brooklyn acquired him at last year’s trade deadline, and the 25-year-old Crabbe perfectly fits the franchise’s generous rebuilding plan.
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