Atlantic Division Preview: Which Team Will Give the Celtics The Most Trouble?

May 26, 2012; Boston, MA, USA; Boston Celtics power forward Kevin Garnett (5) drives between Philadelphia 76ers forward Thaddeus Young (21) and power forward Lavoy Allen (50) during the third quarter in game seven of the Eastern Conference semifinals of the 2012 NBA Playoffs at TD Garden. Mandatory Credit: Greg M. Cooper-US PRESSWIRE

After last night’s trade that sent Dwight Howard to LA, and more of an immediate concern to the Celtics, Bynum to Philadelphia, the Atlantic Division has stacked up to being the most competitive division in the league. While the rosters haven’t been officially finalized, and the offseason not over, there is the possibility for more moves to be made.

As it stands right now, it’s going to be a four team race for 1st in the Atlantic Division. You can count on the Celtics, Nets, Knicks, and 76ers to all be up there competing to be the division leader. So lets take a look at who will be the toughest opponent for the Celtics in the Atlantic Division.

Toronto Raptors

We pretty much know who the Raptors are, and what they can bring to the table, but on a few occasions, they steal a win from the Celtics once or twice a season. During the offseason, Toronto acquired point guard Kyle Lowry in a trade with the Houston Rockets. The Raptors are still a young team, and even since the days they had Chris Bosh, they still seem to be in a rebuilding period.

The Raptors have some nice prospects like Terrance Ross and Quincy Acy. I’ve also heard to keep an eye on center Jonas Valanciunas from Lithuania. Like all rookie centers, he may be a few years away from being fully developed, and for most European players it takes time to adjust to the NBA.

Overall, I think Toronto will have a hard time competing in the division, mainly because they lack the talent level and depth to keep up with the other teams.

Philadelphia 76ers

Last night the 76ers acquired Andrew Bynum and Jason Richardson in the four team trade that sent Dwight Howard to the Los Angeles Lakers. To pay the price for Bynum, the 76ers had to send Andre Iguodala to the Denver Nuggets.

With that being said, Philadelphia has improved dramatically overnight. They are going to be a tough rebounding team, they finally have a legit inside scoring threat, and they were still able to maintain their core group. My only concern for the 76ers is where are most of their points going to come from? Right now they don’t have that go-to guy who can put up 25-30 points a night, but they have multiple players who can score.

The 76ers are going to be a decent team this year, but I still feel they are a few years and pieces away from becoming a team that could win the Atlantic Division. One thing is for sure, they are going to be a nuisance.

Brooklyn Nets

The Nets have also improved their team from last season. They acquired Joe Johnson in a trade with the Atlanta Hawks, they were able to re-sign Deron Williams, and since they were no longer part of the Dwight Howard sweepstakes, Brook Lopez will be their starting center.

Besides their starting five, the Nets aren’t all that deep. They have a mix of veterans and young players, but they don’t have a second unit that will come in and overwhelm their opponents. Deron Williams and Joe Johnson will have to be relied upon to supply most of the Nets wins this season.

Just like the 76ers, I feel that they are one or two pieces away from legitimately contending with Boston and New York. The Nets will probably be a playoff team this year, fighting for the 5-8 seeds in the East. For their first year in Brooklyn, I’d say they’ll definitely have a successful season, and with that, the franchise could be heading toward a brighter future.

New York Knicks

In my opinion, the Knicks will be the team that gives the Celtics the most trouble. Last season they struggled a bit after not being all on the same page, and at times played better when some of their key players were out with injuries. If they can find a way to play both Tyson Chandler and Amare Stoudemire without taking away from their individual games, then the Knicks could be a very dangerous team.

Carmelo Anthony is always expected to have a good season, and with Jason Kidd as their new point guard, now they have someone who can dish the ball evenly among the stars of the team.

The reason why I have the Knicks as the most dangerous team to the Celtics in the Atlantic Division is because they can matchup a lot better with Boston than any other team. They have size with Amare and Chandler and recently added Marcus Camby, Carmelo Anthony can stay with Pierce, and they have the depth to contend with Boston’s bench.

Looking Ahead To The Season

I still think the Celtics will head into the playoffs as the Atlantic Division winner. But unlike in years past, they will have to fight for it. While Boston has improved, so has New York, Brooklyn, and Philadelphia. The chase for the Division title and the season itself will make this year worth watching. We just have to make it through the next two months, and then the NBA season will be right around the corner.