NBA Atlantic Division Preview 2015

atlantic division previewIf you already have read my preview of Central division, now it’s time to know what happened and what to expect in Altantic Division in upcoming NBA season.
 
 
 
 
 

 
torontoToronto Raptors

 
Last year’s record:
49W – 33L

 
When Toronto’s season was over, no one knew what will happen, but every source reported the same: “no one is safe”. 
Rumors swirled around Casey, Lowry and almost everyone, but when the dust cleared, Ujiri decided to give this roster another chance and did cosmetic changes only.
I think that Ujiri, Executive of the year in 2013, made a lot of mistakes this summer, but I will start with one thing he did right.
Carroll was the only Hawk starter, that wasn’t selected to the ASG, but was the only starter that appeared in last year’s playoffs and actually played better than in regular season.
Toronto lacked someone rugged and had huge hole in SF position and Carroll will fit fine in both cases.
We can argue about his salary, but looking at this summer’s madness and knowing the salary boom in the next two seasons, it’s a decent contract. Furthermore, while Toronto is one of the best cities to live in the world, US stars aren’t rushing there and it’s not like they got a big shot at Durant or LeBron next season.
They, like most of the NBA cities, need to pay a bit extra, especially if you want to lure a player from notorious Hotlanta to cold Toronto.
He was exactly the player Toronto needed (if they couldn’t get Paul Pierce).
 
But, he allowed Amir Johnson to leave and that’s a huge blow for the Raptors. I wasn’t big fan of him before, but last season, he really improved from deep (3pt) shooting 41% and became much better defender. While Valanciunas was the starting Center, he was the finisher, since he was better defender and allowed Casey to play small ball. He also was the only bright spot in Toronto’s short playoff experience last season, getting best postseason numbers in his career. 
Can Luis Scola and Bismack Biyombo replace him? I really really doubt it.
 
Another very big question mark for me is the way Ujuri replaced his bench, to save money that went to Carroll. Lowry still not in a All Star point guard level and has trouble staying healthy. Vasquez was expensive, but he is almost the same level of player and Corey Joseph, despite being Canadian and much cheaper, just not the same level of player and if you expect him to improve, show me one player, that left Spurs and actually became a better player after that.
 
I can understand why he gave up on Lu Will, since he has his weak sides, but if any team needs a shameless  shooter, it’s Toronto and he won 6th player of the year for a reason last year.
 
Carroll was amazing bingo, but looking at the other players that left and came, it seems that Toronto didn’t get better and maybe even got a bit worse.
 
More important, my problem is that Ujiri didn’t do anything big. The last two seasons, Raptors came to the playoffs, after great regular season, having home court advantage and lost in the first round both times.
I don’t know what’s more cruel, to lose 3 – 4, at home, having Pierce blocking Lowry’s winning shot at the buzzer or to lose 0 – 4 on the road, with Pierce sending dagger after dagger.
I do know that if a good team, can’t take advantage of the home court, two seasons in a row, losing in the first round and not only not getting better, but actually getting worse, you need to do something big.
Casey, DeRozan and Lowry are team’s head coaches and two of team’s big stars. At least one of them, if not two or even all three, needed to go.
Casey is a great assistant coach. He does a lot of things really well, but he doesn’t win playoffs series, simple as that. 
Lowry appeared injured in the series against the Wizards, but no report came about it.
Bottom line, mentality of the Raptors needed to change and while Carroll is a move in the right direction, I would have traded Lowry and kept Vasquez, trying to get a good PF, instead of Johnson that left and found better coach than Casey, a coach that you know… actually has a win in a playoffs series in his resume. 
 

Prediction

 
Toronto started great, finished terrible. Somehow, without too much changing, I think we will see more of the same. 49 – 33 last season, but East got a bit better, so staying the same, should mean around 44-46 wins at the most.
 
Smaller prediction – Ujiri is a good GM, if he doesn’t like what he sees, Toronto are just behind Boston and Sacramento to make some big trades to try and improve.

 

brooklynBrooklyn Nets

 
Last year’s record:
38W – 44L
 
Prokhorov spent hundreds of millions of dollars, trying to build a contender out of the Nets and allowed Billy King to pick up every possible contract, trying to get there.
Deron Williams, Joe Johnson, Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett got seriously overpaid and still King pulled the trigger, trying to make the team better, while giving away every youngster and every draft pick possible.
Nets don’t control any of their draft picks till the end of the decade (till 2019)!!!!
They gave away all the second round draft picks and traded either their first round picks or the right to swap them (with Boston and Atlanta), since NBA was wise enough, to forbid to trade team’s first round draft pick for two consecutive years (but wasn’t wise enough not to forbid to allow to swap them as well).
Nets have no reason to tank, since they don’t own any draft pick, they have no chance to compete for the title, because their team is not near as good and had to fight like hell (and spend a lot of money), to avoid luxury tax this season (to avoid tax repeater penalty).
They succeeded at that, but it cost them Deron Williams (though many will claim it’s addition by subtraction).
Bottom line? They did everything they could, to give there team some future, trading last young assets (Plumley) to get a reasonable (not) draft pick, selecting in 23 place, Jefferson, one of the more interesting players in this draft, because he doesn’t have the potential that many players in this draft have, but could easily be one of the best defensive players in this year’s draft and playing under Hollins, should make it especially interesting project.
Plumlee is a very good player, but had a lot of downsides as well and just wasn’t that important, since Nets decided to go with Lopez and Young as frountcourt of the future for the team.
Both signed to 3 and 4 seasons, so they are the rebuilding stones of the team, especially with Johnson’s contract expiring in 2016. With Bogdanovic and Karasev, together with the rookies, they have interesting roster for the next three years, especially if they manage to trade expiring JJ’s contract or get a good player in next year’s summer.
 

Prediction

 
Many laugh at the Nets and they made some horrible decisions, but they tried to get out from mediocrity and there are only two ways to do that. Tanking or going all out and taking risks. I hate tanking, so any attempt to avoid that, is welcomed by me.
The fact that the Cancer, a.k.a. Deron Williams, is gone, Nets should have decent locker room.
They signed a lot of players that will look to prove many wrong. Bargniani for a minimum contract, will try to stay healthy, Thomas Robinson, that changed 6 teams in 3 years, once a high draft pick, will try to prove at least 5 teams wrong and Larkin, once a promising point guard, will try to prove he can ball.
This is a team that brought Shaun Livingston back to being relevant, after all the injuries he had, so they should have some good karma coming their way and with Hollins, one of the best coach (at my opinion), they should be relevant on the weak East.
How much relevant? Well, relevant enough to be back in the hell they tried to avoid so much, being mediocre. Too good to get a good draft pick (that will go to Boston) and too bad to reach Round 2 in the playoffs. 
Lopez is one of the best Centers in the league and that should be enough to threaten a playoff spot in the East.
Last year they won 38 games and I don’t see any reason for this season to be too different. 36 – 40 wins.
 
bostonBoston Celtics
 
Last year’s record:
40W – 42L
 
Boston did so much both last season and this summer, that I really need to keep things short, about one of the more intriguing teams in the league.
We can argue about Stevens and I’m still not sold fully yet on him, but it’s hard to deny, that this the rising star of the NBA coaching group and has amazing offensive set of plays, knows how to play great defense and can bring out the most of his players. 
It’s hard to find a coach that has such a skill of sets.
Ainge decided to tank, trying to avoid of mediocrity and traded franchise player Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett, the heart of the team. Two seasons later, Boston managed to get back to the playoffs, while holding no less than 8 draft picks for the near draft and tons of young great potential.
That’s just amazing. 
Stevens did great things with Pizza Guy, a.k.a. Isiah Thomas, with Crowder, that become one of the more efficient “3 & D” players in the league and the same with many others (Jerebko, Turner, Zeller) who became much better than anyone expected, developed all the youngsters on the team and will be probably a very strong candidate for “Coach of the Year” this season.
Boston reached playoffs a season too early (if not two seasons) and was swept by Cleveland, but there is no reason to feel bad there.
 

Prediction

 
Ainge kept every good player from last season, including (very) nice payday for Crowder and resigning Jerebko, who proved his worth, coming mid season from Detroit. 
He saw how great defensively duo Bradley and Smart and fiven Thomas problems on defense, added Rozier, a beast on defense, that should complete Boston’s back court. 
In the front court, Ainge, without giving too much, got proven starter like Amir Johnson, that can play both positions in the front court for 12 mill a year (second year team’s option) and got from GSW, David Lee on an expiring contract. He is a mediocre defender and got a lot of bad rep for that, but he was a double double machine his entire career and playing under Stevens should do wonders for him.
Both Johnson and Lee can be gone after this summer, so they got a lot to play for.
We will have to wait and see, can Stevens help his team to make one more step forward or he reached the ceiling with this team.
Overall, even with East getting a bit better, it’s hard to believe that Boston will be stopped on 50% record. 
47 – 52 wins and they will battle for home court advantage till the end.
In the playoffs they won’t reached the EC Finals, but I can see them reaching second round or at least giving a hell of a fight in the first round.
 
philadephiaPhiladelphia 76ers

 
Last year’s record:
18W – 64L
 
All things stay the same in Philly. Again third draft pick, again focusing on the future and not the present.
But, somehow, the feeling is that things are starting to change a bit in Philly and I somehow think that “The Process” should come to stop this season, though I could be wrong.
Why do I think that?
 
1) Failure. Sixers been aiming for top draft pick for third year straight and the result? Zero first picks. So Hinkee starts to understand, that while he can do a lot to try and get the first pick in the draft, in the end, he can’t control it. 
Also, Embiid, a great promise, will miss second straight season with the same injury, the worst type of injury that can happen to a big man, an injury that killed the career of Yao Ming. 
So Hinkee understands that you can’t control everything and that after three years of being the end of a joke, Sixers didn’t take even one step forward.
 
2) Sixers finally made something resembling a roster that they liked. If before, they had a roster full of guys they could trade in a heart beat, now they have Noel and Okafor, two high draft picks that should be solid and that Sixers view as a cornerstone of the future, Stauskas, who was brought from SacTown, a player that Hinkee wanted to draft a year ago, so I would assume, he has big plans for him as well.
On top of that, Marshall was signed to a more than a year long contract, maybe the biggest news of the summer 🙂
It appears that Hinkee got some assets that he likes, more or less and should be able to try and build on them.
 
3) Financial flexibility won’t matter much in the next season or two, since almost every team in the league, will have a slot for max contract, many will have even two slots. So keeping you wages down, won’t help you too much to lure big names, since most teams will be able to offer just that.
On top of that, The contract clock starts to tick. Noel’s contract is two years away from ending and if things won’t get better, they can get a lot worse for the Sixers.
 
Obviously Hinkee will still be looking for good chances to get some nice draft pick or to make some trades, but this year is the first one where Sixers didn’t use a top draft pick on an injured player and added second round pick to their roster, Holmes, on a four years contract.
 

Prediction

 
Okafor is a huge offensive boost and he and Noel are the perfect fit together.
Marshall comes of a very bad injury, but he is a true point guard and should be able to dash assists to the open D-Leaguers. 
Sixers still hoping for first draft pick, but Brown proved to be a very good coach and I see them as 25 wins a season type of team, that should still be enough to battle for a Top 5 draft pick. 
 
new yorkNew York Knicks
 
Last year’s record:
17W – 65L
Last year, Phil Jackson was signed as a GM and the feeling was that a magician came to New York that will work his magic. 
One thing is certain after last year, Jackson is amazing coach, but he is not a magician and jury is till out about how good of a GM he is.
But, after a lot of hope last year, that changed quickly to a despair this season, Jackson finally realized where he is at and made a few very good moves during off season.
Knicks decided not to talk to Aldridge, since he made it clear, he doesn’t want to play Center and Anthony taken over PF spot in MSG. 
Instead, they made few signings, that while have their own downsides, still should help the Knicks to look a lot better this season.
Robin Lopez should provide solid defense, just what is needed for a Center that will play on a team that plays a lot of small ball, with Melo as PF.
Afflalo is also a solid defender, that was pretty bad last year in Denver and Portland, but was solid player next to Carmelo in Denver and in Orlando.
As long as his percentage from mid range shots goes up and the number of mid range shots goes down, he should be a great addition to Knicks roster. Kyle O’Quinn is a very cheap and very good addition to the roster without a doubt. One of the best contracts in the NBA at the moment. He will provide Knicks with everything they need in the paint, for a very very cheap price.
We can argue about Derick Williams, who has talent, but nothing more than that, but here is my problem with this contract and with Afflalo’s. Both are for two seasons, but in both, second season is player’s option.
If Williams (and Afflalo), prove their worth and play well, they will opt out of their contract and Knicks won’t get to benefit from them.
If they play poorly and won’t justify the contract, they will opt in and Knicks will be forced to pay their salary for another year.
I understand why teams sign player on 3 – 4 years with last year being player’s option, but to sign a player for 2 years with second one being player’s option – most of the time, it will back fire on the team in the second season and it’s not like Knicks are a threat on the East this season, so that they should adopt “win now” approach.
I realize that it’s very hard to lure even decent players to a dumpster that Knicks proved to be lately, so I will give Phil the benefit of the doubt, especially since I understand the logic of signing the players overall.
 
Draft should again, right way of thinking, by drafting the huge potential from Latvia, Porzingis. He is not ready for the NBA and especially for triangle offense that Jackson and Fisher believe in (he looked horrible in preseason and admitted as much), but looking down the line, he can be a star in this league and the top three talents (on paper) were selected in the first three places, before Knicks turn.

Prediction

Things will be bad in NY, for both teams. I don’t know who is in a worse position between the two, but while some see glimpses of hope for the Knicks, I fail to see them.
They made few good moves this offseason, but after so many bad moves, one of them, keeping Carmelo, it’s hard to see anything good this summer.
Melo doesn’t fit triangle offense, Porzingis doesn’t fit triangle offense and too many question marks around Fisher as head coach.
The fact that they don’t own this year’s draft pick (belongs to Toronto), means that we won’t see any tanking, last year’s style, so things should improve. 25 – 27 wins – will battle Sixers for the worst team in the East and given Sixers desire to lose and Knicks lack of desire to tank, Knicks should finish above them.

 
If you are interested in subscription for this season, you can read the terms here . 
 
If you agree with my write ups or disagree or anything else, you can write to my email: bmanidv@gmail.com
 
Best of luck everybody!!!

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