NBA Preview: Atlantic Division

With only three weeks until the NBA season tips off, all teams have started training camp and preseason games have begun. Coming out of an offseason where the drama likened to an episode of The O.C, I know I can’t wait for the off-the-court drama to end and the games to begin. Some major story lines to watch for this season are: “can LeBron’s earth-shattering move to return to Cleveland result in the city’s first major sports title since 1964?”, “will Brian Hoyer is going he might beat him to it?” and “will the Spurs be able to repeat as champs in what possibly might be the last time we see Tim Duncan and Pop on the sidelines?” There’s definitely a lot to be excited about if you’re a NBA fan as this season should be full of excitement. Each week leading up to the season I’ll give a preview of two divisions in the NBA. I’ll give a preview of each team and a best and worst-case scenario for each team for the upcoming season. Today I will preview the Atlantic division and later in the week I’ll preview the Central.

Atlantic:

Philadelphia 76ers:

One huge storyline in the NBA last year was about teams trying to tank so they could get a high pick in one of the best draft classes over the past decade. If one team could epitomize the Riggin for Wiggins, Sorry for Jabari, and Need for Embiid (I came up with that one!) campaigns it would be the 76ers. By trading away All-Star point guard Jrue Holiday for the rights to draft Nerlens Noel in the 2013 draft, a guy coming off a torn ACL and someone they knew wouldn’t be able to play a year, really showed they were all in for tanking. This trend continued throughout the year by trading away Spencer Hawes and Evan Turner and they helped their cause by going on a 26 game losing streak. That was bad enough to earn them the third pick in the draft where they selected Joel Embiid, another big guy with health issues who probably won’t see the court this year. Also they took foreign sensation Dario Saric, who won’t be coming over to the U.S for a few years. This is a team geared up and content with being bad this year and couple more down the line. Their roster has a few nice pieces like the reigning R.O.Y. Michael Carter-Williams and the aforementioned Nerlens Noel who should be itching to get on the court after being sidelined all of last season, but no real NBA talent other than that.

Best-Case Scenario:

Michael Carter-Williams cuts down on his turnovers and averages a triple-double, joining only the Big O and Oscar Robertson, to average such numbers during a regular season in NBA history. Nerlens Noel blocks six shots a game and Jason Richardson channels his inner ’05-’06 J-Rich and averages 23 points a game. And in a surprise turn of events, Dario Saric flies onto the court opening night in a helicopter, coming over a few years earlier than expected.

Worst-Case Scenario:

Michael Carter-Williams continues to develop bad habits and doesn’t show signs that he can become their franchise point guard. They’ll trade him away and just stockpile more picks for future drafts. This is a team that’s content with losing for years to come so this is more of a best worst-case scenario for them.

Boston Celtics:

Just like Philadelphia, Boston was content with being towards the bottom of the standings last year. By trading away coach Doc Rivers to the Clippers and siphoning away all of the Nets draft picks for the next four years by giving away past-their-prime veterans Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett showed that Boston was going into rebuilding mode. Even though its record won’t reflect it, the team did play hard for first year coach Brad Stevens and an expected jump up the standings in the near future is more likely than it is for the 76ers. The one big question mark surrounding this team is whether Rajon Rondo be traded before the deadline or whether the Celtics decide to build around him.

Best-Case Scenario:

Rondo decides he wants to stay in Boston and the team builds around him. Avery Bradley, eager to show he deserved his big contract, continues to develop his offensive game and he and Rondo form one of the best backcourts in the Eastern conference. Marcus Smart helps them form a three-headed monster in the backcourt with tenacious defense and intensity. James Young’s smooth stroke on the outside gives them a deadly outside threat. This team fights for a playoff spot in the weaker Eastern conference, and rather than trade away Rondo the Celtics trade for another piece (Josh Smith, perhaps?) to put beside Rondo to make them into a legitimate contender.

Worst-Case Scenario:

The Celtics find out Rondo didn’t actually break his hand by slipping in the shower but by punching a wall expressing his anger that he is still in Boston. The team trades him away and decide to look towards next year. Marcus Smart can’t find the consistency on the offensive side of the ball and leaves Boston with no point guard for the future.

New York Knicks

To say the 2013-14 season was a disappointment for the Knicks would be an understatement. Coming off a 54-win campaign and division title the previous year, the 37-45 record posted a year ago was definitely a letdown. However, in comes the Zen Master, Phil Jackson, as President of Basketball Operations to fix the roster and first year Head Coach Derek Fisher to install Phil’s triangle offense. The biggest move of the offseason was getting Carmelo Anthony to return to the Knicks. Now the question is whether or not Jackson and Fisher can turn Anthony into a championship caliber player and return the Knicks to the postseason.

Best-Case Scenario:

Carmelo buys into the system and becomes the leader the Knicks need going forward. By trading for Jose Calderon this gives the Knicks consistency at the point guard position, something that was lacking massively last year with Raymond Felton. J.R. Smith is motivated to put last years “Shoelace” incident behind him and to prove he has finally matured at age 29, and he becomes the guy who won the Sixth Man of the Year award in 2013. Tim Hardaway Jr. will build off his successful rookie campaign and become an elite three-point shooter and Cleanthony Early will show why he was the steal of the draft with his ability to play both of ends of the court.

Worst-Case Scenario:

Derek Fisher gets off to a Jason Kidd-esque start and continuously keeps getting fined for wearing sleeveless suits to shows off his biceps. As mention before, relying on J.R Smith to show maturity is always a slippery slope and he continues to be erratic on and off the court. Amare Stoudemire can’t show any semblance of his former self, and he and Andrea Bargnani continue to give no production from the power forward position. Phil Jackson realizes he’s sick of dealing with divas and overbearing owners, decides to retire for good and goes back to Montana.

Brooklyn Nets

An awful start to last season culminated by Jason Kidd’s spilling the drink incident seemed like Brooklyn fans would be in for a long season. However, they were able to turn their season around and ended up advancing to the second round of the playoffs—but this was a team with championship aspirations. Coming into this season, the aspirations are still there but not as realistic. The acquisition of Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett was supposed to put them over the top last year but Pierce is gone along with all their draft picks and Garnett is a mere shell of his former self. This team is in a must-win mindset and the key will be the health of Deron Williams and Brook Lopez.

Best Case-Scenario:

Deron Williams and Brook Lopez are able to stay healthy and both return to All-Star form. If these guys are able to do that, then the Nets can be a dangerous team in the East. Joe Johnson will continue to be a solid scoring option and a go-to guy down the stretch. Mason Plumlee will benefit greatly from being on the U.S National team for the FIBA World Cup and becomes a viable low post threat. Lionel Hollins will show why losing Jason Kidd as coach will only be an upgrade and the Nets win the Atlantic Division.

Worst-Case Scenario:

Lopez and Williams continue to be sidelined by injuries and aren’t able to be productive. Kevin Garnett continues to be ineffective and decides to retire early. The losses of Shaun Livingston and Paul Pierce prove to be crucial as no one can help Joe Johnson shoulder the load. The lack of cap relief and draft picks hurts the Nets for the coming years and Mikhail Prokhorov sells the team and jets back to Russia.

Toronto Raptors

This team was definitely one of the biggest surprises of the 2013-14 season. When Toronto traded away Rudy Gay in December, a lot of people thought the front office was packing it in, and yet, it just did the opposite. The Raptors started to play great team basketball (coincidence when Rudy Gay left?) and Kyle Lowry and Demar Derozan developed into one of the best backcourts in the league. An early exit from the playoffs last year will only motivate this team more to show last year wasn’t a fluke.

Best-Case Scenario:

Same keys as last year. Kyle Lowry and Demar Derozan continue to play like All-Stars and put in work as the cogs for this team. Third-year players Terrance Ross and Jonas Valanciunas continue to develop and become reliable scoring option. Trading for Lou Williams will end up being a huge steal for the Raptors as he will provide the bench scoring they so desperately needed last year when they ranked 27th in bench scoring. If everyone stays healthy for this team, there’s no doubt Toronto should win this division, and the experienced gained from last year will help them make a deep run.

Worst-Case Scenario:

Kyle Lowry turns into the guy that no one wants to play or coach with and this team falls apart. They are able to make the playoffs again in a weak conference but get bounced in the first round once again. Drake ends up being part of a group to buy the Raptors and renames them the Toronto Drakes.

Follow Tyler on Twitter @TylerDarwick and listen to him on B-Side Sundays from 8-9 pm