Atlantic Division snapshot: Scouting each team's offseason
Atlantic Division snapshot: Scouting each team's offseason
BOSTON – In recent years, the Eastern Conference’s Atlantic Division has been a wasteland of basketball talent compared to the rest of the East with one, maybe two, playoff-aliber teams to claim as its own.
Boston and Toronto remain the class of the division, but the Titanic Atlantic Division at the very least will be a lot more interesting this season with a slew of big-time storylines from top to bottom.
Here’s a snapshot of all five teams in the Atlantic, along with key additions and what should be the most critical storylines for each team, as well as what should be a realistic expectation for their fan base.
Key additions: Gordon Hayward; Jayson Tatum; Marcus Morris; Aron Baynes.
Storyline to watch: NBA Finals on the horizon?
Boston won more games (53) than any team in the East last season, advanced to the conference finals for the first time since 2012 and signed arguably the best available free agent in Hayward (Kevin Durant and Stephen Curry were bigger talents, but it was a given they would each return to Golden State). While there were many teams in the East that improved their rosters in the offseason, the Celtics developed a deeper roster across the board with a squad that can better play the position-less brand of basketball that coach Brad Stevens has been eager to utilize on a more consistent basis. For this group, the next step in their growth and development would be getting to the Finals – a goal that isn’t as far-fetched now as it was a year ago with their improved roster and what appears to be a Cleveland decline.
Key addition: C.J. Miles
Storyline to watch: The band is back together!
While many teams in the East have made significant roster changes, the Raptors this season will look a lot like the Raptors we saw a year ago. For Toronto, re-signing their own top free agents Kyle Lowry and Serge Ibaka was a priority as they form a nucleus that includes All-Star DeMar DeRozan. Toronto also made a point of freeing up playing time for some of their younger players by trading away DeMarre Carroll to Brooklyn and point guard Corey Joseph to Indiana, which should result in more time for Norman Powell, Pascal Siakam, as well as point, guards Delon Wright and Fred Van Fleet. The Raptors won’t be in the conversation for advancing to the Finals, but they have the pieces to make a deep playoff run with a best-case scenario being a trip to the Eastern Conference finals.
Key additions: Markelle Fultz; J.J. Redick; Amir Johnson; Furkan Korkmaz.
Storyline to watch: Dare we think...playoffs?
The Sixers are still a team that’s young at heart and just about every other area of significance, but give them credit. This is the first time in a long time that they have the hope of a successful season that’s legit. The health of Joel Embiid will go far in determining how far this team will go. And Dario Saric will have to show improvement after a strong rookie season. But it’ll be the new guys – Redick and Johnson specifically – that will be key to this team’s success this season. Redick is one of the best shooters in the NBA, and can only help a Philadelphia squad that struggled mightily in this area. And former Celtic Amir Johnson provides leadership, another big who can run the floor and maybe most important, a clear and undeniable work ethic and winning approach to the game that should rub off on his younger teammates who, for the most part, know little about success at this level. By no means should Philly fans be punching their ticket to the NBA Finals or anything like that. But a trip to the playoffs should be the focus this season which will finally bear fruit for fans who for years have “trusted the process.”
Key addition: Tim Hardaway Jr.
Storyline to watch: Where will Melo wind up?
The consensus among NBA executives CSNNE.com has talked to this summer is it’s a matter of when, not if, Carmelo Anthony will be traded. The Houston Rockets have emerged as the front-runner to land the perennial All-Star, but that coming to fruition is a lot easier said than done, especially when you factor in teams such as Portland and Cleveland both showing interest. While you’ll find a mixed reaction among fans as to whether Melo should go, the firing of Phil Jackson was seen by most fans, media and, of course, the Knicks, as a step in the right direction. And adding veteran front office executive Scott Perry to be Jackson’s replacement was a definite upgrade for New York going forward. Pairing Kristaps Porzingis up with Hardaway Jr. as the team’s future 1-2 punch is a good start for a Knicks team that’s clearly rebuilding. But the Knicks are going to need a lot more talent before they can return to being a legitimate playoff contender.
Key additions: D’Angelo Russell; DeMarre Carroll; Timofey Mozgov.
Storyline to watch: Is D’Angelo Russell the right guy to be the face of the franchise?
No matter how you slice it, the Nets are still a very bad team. But the moves they made in the offseason at the very least give Nets fans hope that their return to respectability is coming sooner rather than later. Acquiring Russell was a major, major step in the right direction for the Nets. He is one of the more under-rated young talents in the NBA and now finds himself with a franchise that needs a player with his skills to build around. Carroll was a horrible fit in Toronto but reunites with Kenny Atkinson (a former Hawks assistant when Carroll was in Atlanta) who understands as well as anyone how to get the best out of the veteran wing. They join a roster that’s a hodgepodge of talent in various shapes and sizes that will once again struggle to win games despite showing the ability and willingness to compete on a nightly basis.