We’ve covered the Boston Celtics’ offseason pretty extensively over the last couple of months. There are still a lot of questions to be answered and certainly differing opinions on some of the moves the Celtics have or haven’t made. The general consensus, however, is that at the very least the Celtics will head into the season with a more talented roster than they had last year. Their stock is certainly pointing up.
But for now, let’s forget about the Celtics. Let’s focus on their most common opponents, the other teams in the Atlantic Division. On the whole, the Atlantic was probably the worst division in the NBA last year. Only the Toronto Raptors (3 seed) and Brooklyn Nets (6 seed) made the postseason. The Celtics and the Philadelphia 76ers both finished in the bottom 5 for the entire league.
But what can we expect this year? Who will improve? Who will take a step back?
Toronto Raptors (48-34)
For more on the Raptors, visit Raptors Rapture
The Raptors first major move came back in May when they gave head coach Dwane Casey a three-year contract extension. Casey has had mixed results as an NBA coach thus far but finally had a talented team last season, a team that he lead to a franchise-record 48 wins. Casey is a relatively inexperienced NBA head coach. He doesn’t even have five full seasons under his belt. But this franchise believes in him and given the teams surprising play last year, they have no reason not to.
On draft night, the Raptors pulled perhaps the most surprising move of the first round when they took Brazilian swingman Bruno Caboclo at 20th overall. Most scouts feel Cabcolo at at least two years away from contributing to an NBA rotation but he is 6′ 8″ with a 7′ 6″ wingspan. That freakish length cannot be taught. Cabcoclo was actually quite impressive during the summer league for someone supposedly so raw. He averaged 11.4 points, but did shoot just 39.5% from the field.
The Raptors also added developmental prospect DeAndre Daniels out of UCONN in the 2nd round. Daniels is also raw, but has the body and shooting ability to develop into a nice bench scorer down the road.
Toronto sent incumbent swingman John Salmons and a 2nd round pick to Atlanta in exchange for combo-guard Lou Williams and the draft rights to another Brazilian, center Bebe Nogueira. Williams should help this teams offense coming off the bench, while Nogueira is a developmental prospect unlikely to see NBA minutes right away.
The big move for Toronto was re-signing Kyle Lowry, their leader and best player, to a 4-year/$48 million extension. Given the way some of this summers contracts played out, getting Lowry at $12 million a year is a bargain. Last year was by far the most efficient and productive season of Lowry’s career. He finished with a PER of 20.1 (compared to 16.9 for his career) and added 0.197 win shares per 48 minutes (career average of 0.136). Even if last season does prove to be the high point of Lowry’s career, this is still a good deal for someone who is one of the 10 best PG’s in the NBA.
The Raptors also brought back Patrick Patterson, one of the most effective stretch-4′s in the NBA, on a 3-year/$18 million deal. That may be a bit expensive, but Patterson’s ability to hit the three (36.8% for career) and rebound (7.4 boards per 36 for career) make him a pretty valuable player in the modern NBA.
Toronto sent Steve Novak and a 2nd rounder to Utah in exchange for Diante Garrett. They also re-signed Greivis Vasquez as well as bringing in combo-forward James Johnson to help on defense. The Raptors should remain one of the better teams in the East, but it’ll be tough to get the 3-seed again seeing as Cleveland, Charlotte, Washington, and Chicago are likely to make big steps forward.
Brooklyn Nets (44-38)For more on the Nets, visit From Russia with Dunk
The Nets offseason started out strange as coach Jason Kidd requested more control over personnel decisions. That lead to them sending him to Milwaukee in exchange for two future second round picks. He was ultimately replaced by Lionel Hollins.
The Nets watched Paul Pierce and Shaun Livingston, two of their more effective players last year, move on to greener pastures. Livingston joined the Golden State Warriors while Pierce will be playing for the Washington Wizards. Both losses certainly hurt the teams depth.
Brooklyn brought back swingman Alan Anderson on a 2-year/$3 million deal. Anderson is likely see a boost in minutes given the departures of Livingston and Pierce.
The big move for the Nets came when the participated in a cap-clearing trade with the Cavs and Celtics. The Nets got rid of the inefficient Marcus Thornton in exchange for combo-guard Jarret Jack, who will replace Livingston, and exciting Russian prospect Sergey Karasev. On the surface, this trade appears to be a win for all teams involved.
Brooklyn didn’t have a pick this year, thanks to Danny Ainge, but some draft-day trades netted them Xavier Thames and Markel Brown. Both were effective college players but don’t project as anything more than marginal NBA talents.
Brooklyn simply didn’t have the cap space or draft picks to do much and they won’t for the next few years. That’s what happens when you make Joe Johnson the 2nd highest paid player in the NBA and mortgage your entire future for aging Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, and Jason Terry.
If Brook Lopez is healthy, the Nets definitely have the talent to make the playoffs again. But don’t kid yourselves, this team is not a contender and they won’t be for a while.
New York Knicks (37-45)For more on the Knicks, visit Buckets over Broadway
On top of hiring Derek Fisher, Phil Jackson’s big move this offseason was obviously retaining Carmelo Anthony. Melo is a polarizing figure but the Knicks couldn’t afford to just let him leave. He alone makes them a playoff threat in the East.
The Knicks managed to shed some bad contracts by sending Raymond Felton and Tyson Chandler to Dallas in exchange for Jose Calderon, Wayne Ellington, Shane Larkin, Samuel Dalembert, and a couple future second rounders. Calderon and Dalembert are likely to start right away. Ellington gives the team another shooter. It remains to be seen whether or not Larkin is an NBA talent, but he’s too young to give up on.
The Knicks added three players through the draft, most notably combo forward Cleanthony Early out of Wichita State. Early was expected to be a first-round pick so getting him at 34th overall was a great value pick by Phil Jackson. He’s likely to see major minutes as a rookie at both forward spot.
They also brought in Jason Smith, a canter who highlights as one of the league’s best mid-range shooters, using their Mid-Level Exception. Amar’e Stoudemire and Andrea Bargnani cannot be trusted to hold up so, like Dalembert, Smith could be in for big minutes. They also re-signed center Cole Aldrich.
All in all the Knicks made some nice moves and are going to be in position to make a major splash next year once Amar’e is off the books. Having Carmelo keeps them in the hunt for one of the last playoff spots in the East.
Philadelphia 76ers (19-63)For more on Philly, visit The Sixer Sense
The 76ers are likely to be tanking again and that is why they haven’t made any signings. But they added a lot of guys through the draft, though perhaps their two best additions are unlikely to join the team this year.
Joel Embiid was a risk worth taking at #3. He’s a dynamic talent on both ends of the floor and will become another building block for this franchise if his body cooperates. Dario Saric was widely-regarded as one of the best prospects in the draft, and while he’s unlikely to play in the NBA this year, he was also a good risk at #12.
Philly also added KJ McDaniels, Jerami Grant, Vasilije Micic, Pierre Jackson, and Jordan McRae. College hoops fans should also note that the Sixers brought in Aaron Craft and Sean Kilpatrick as undrafted signings. Both are unlikely to make a roster, but it’s a story worth following.
The 76ers are making it abundantly clear that they’re not trying to rush the rebuilding process. It may not be what their fans want to see, but the added a lot of talent this offseason. It just might not impact the win column right away.
If I had to guess, I’d say the division shakes out pretty similar to last year. Toronto should win, they’re simply the best team. Philly will likely be bottom-feeders. The Knicks have a chance to leap the Nets, however, and even the Celtics should be in for some improvement.