With HoopsAddict's entry on the Toronto Raptors, the Atlantic Division of the Eastern Conference is complete.
If you've missed any so far, here's the list. Check them out, they're very good.
Now, you may have picked up on the fact that I've fallen a little behind in my stated goal of commenting on all of the previews. I'll try to catch up here.
One can't help but notice that every single blogger predicted better things for their team this year, and usually a LOT better things. Of 7 bloggers (remember that we have 3 entries for the C's), only one predicted a below .500 finish for his team, and that was a 40-42 prediction for the Celtics, which still represents a 7 win improvement.
Here is a summary of the predicted finishes.
Sixers 47-35 (+9)
Raptors 42-40 (+15)
Knicks 41-41 (+18)
Nets 51-31 (+2)
Celtics 40-42 (+7), 42-40 (+9) and 48-34 (+15)
And this for a division that saw ONE team above .500 and in the playoffs last year. Bear in mind also that the Bucks qualified at 40-42 last year, so basically every single blogger is predicting that their team will be in the postseason. The trend will probably continue, but they can't all be right.
It reminds me of Digger Phelps and the NCAA tournament. If you listen to him talk, he must think the field is about 95 and not 65. Everybody deserves a bid in his world.
But back to the NBA, how to explain this? Well, clearly all of these bloggers root for and support their teams, which is why they put the time and effort into blogs in the first place. In the pre-season, everyone is tied for first, and you really want to (have to) believe.
But it goes beyond that. There's a certain mediocrity in the East that gives everyone hope. Most people figure 6 of the 8 playoff teams from last season are (barring injury) locks to return this year, but I'm not so sure about the Wizards myself. At any rate, with the number of changes in Indiana and Milwaukee, almost every other team figures they can steal one of those spots. (And I will give everyone credit for at least realizing that someone has to MISS the playoffs for a non-playoff team to advance, though that concept seems to elude Digger).
So, can any of these teams achieve this type of improvement?
The Knicks will improve, but not to 41-41. You have to remember that the Knicks roster includes a 3 time all star, a 2 time all star, the best young scoring center in the league, and a lot of other talented players. The fact that neither of the two all stars has ever made any player playing with them better, and that they play the same position, is, frankly a problem. As is the fact that the young center is LAZY, LAZY, LAZY. BUT, just because these guys are overpaid, doesn't mean they're not talented. Just getting Larry Brown out of town should be worth a good 10 win improvement. Not because Isiah is a better coach (stop laughing), but because he's willing to sacrifice any bigger principle or long term goal for W's now. His reputation (STOP LAUGHING!) is riding on it.
The Raptors certainly have made enough changes to create uncertainty, if not necessarily optimism. From last year's team, they return 2 full time starters (All Star Chris Bosh and Mo Peterson) and two key reserves (Joey Graham and Jose Calderon) and that's it (Pape Sow is out for the year). New GM Bryan Colangelo, one of the architects of the up-tempo attack in Phoenix, came to town and cleaned house. The first thing he did was call his dad and ask if the Suns would be willing to trade Steve Nash for Charlie Villanueva. Dad said no. So Bryan looked around the NBA for a 'Steve Nash-like' point guard, and settled on T.J. Ford. Ford is probably quicker than Nash. And he's no worse on defense (who is). And after that, it's all bad. He can't shoot, he hasn't proven he can run a team, and he can't shoot. Oh, and he can't shoot. I wasn't a big fan of Charlie Villanueva, and I doubt the Raptors were really going anywhere with him, so it's an interesting gamble. But T.J. Ford is simply not Steve Nash, and I'm not convinced the Suns style will work with anyone else. He's that special.
After the Ford move, Colangelo outsourced the rest of his team (is it outsourcing when you're going from Canada?) His roster this year will contain at least 6 and possibly 7 players who were either born in Europe or in the case of Anthony Parker, became a star in the EuroLeague. And the Raptors are really counting on these guys.
One of the best comments I read this summer came from Ian Whittell of the London Times. Asked to pick a lottery team with a chance to win a title in ESPN.com's NBA 2010 series, he picked the Raptors, but the title he picked was the EuroLeague. Nice.
This year's Raptors team will say more about how close the European leagues are to competing with the NBA than the Worlds and Olympics (where time and effort are the difference makers) or the training camp exhibitions (which are after, still exhibitions).
As for the Sixers, it's hard to feel much optimism there. Like the Knicks, they have two all stars. But their all stars are 31 (AI) and 33 (CWebb) years old, and in the case of the 33 year old, his knees are 53. After an off-season spent shopping their franchise player AND their franchise, and doing NOTHING to improve, there's every reason to think they will be worse than last season, not better. Something has to happen for a team to get better - even if it's just young players stepping up. But does anyone really think Korver, Iguodala, Dalembert, etc. etc. are better than they've shown so far? I don't see it.
So, I do think the Atlantic is wide open. If the Nets big 3 stay healthy, they'll win the division, but any of the other 4 teams could come in second (the Sixers could come in second as they did last season if none of the other teams get better). Here's my predicted order of finish:
New Jersey - 48-34
Boston - 40-42
New York - 34-48
Philadelphia - 33-49
Toronto - 30-52