Introduction: I will be previewing each of the NBA's six divisions before the season starts, one on each Friday. The series will start with the Atlantic Division, which should be an interesting one this season. The teams are previewed in order of how I think they will finish record-wise. Let me know what you think!
Added: Jared Sullinger, Jakob Poeltl
Lost: Bismack Biyombo, James Johnson, Luis Scola
Summary: The Toronto Raptors shocked the NBA world last season, winning 56 games and making it to the Eastern Conference Finals. They did so on the backs of two players: Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan. Both those players remain on the team, and, barring injury, the Raptors should still be quite good this season. While they lost several rotation players from last season, including breakout big man Biyombo, I don't think it will effect them too much. Sullinger is a nice pickup, a stretch big who pulls down tons of rebounds. Poeltl could help a bit as he picks up more NBA reps, and the Raptors still have one of the best reserve big men in the NBA with Patrick Patterson. There are a couple even bigger reasons I like Toronto this season, however.
First of all, DeMarre Carroll missed a lot of time with injuries last season, and when he did play he was noticeably hobbled. Just two years ago he was one of the better two-way wings in the league; a potential return to health would make the Raptors a more balanced team on both ends. Second, they have a bunch of promising young players in the pipeline. Norman Powell came out of nowhere last season as a ready to go 3 and D wing, and should shore up their wing positions nicely. Delon Wright is a promising backup point guard, a good fit in the rotation if Lowry or Cory Joseph were to go out with an injury. Most importantly, however, is the one-two punch of Lowry and DeRozan. Lowry in particular was simply spectacular last season, and although he is 30 years old, he will most likely be one of the five best players in the Eastern Conference for 2016-2017. The Celtics should give them a run for the division title (not that it means anything), but I think the Raptors secure it once again. The North is still here, and doesn't promise to go away any time soon.
Predicted Record: 54-28
Added: Al Horford, Gerald Green, Jaylen Brown
Lost: Jared Sullinger, David Lee, Evan Turner
Summary: Danny Ainge finally got his star, landing the biggest offseason free agent not named Kevin Durant. Al Horford is not quite a superstar, but he will be the best player on the Celtics roster since the first "Big 3" departed Boston years ago. His ability to switch on defense, pass the ball from the post and top of the key, and stretch the floor will be invaluable to a Boston team that needs all those things. The Celtics were a good team last year, and Horford's addition should make them an even better one this year. Evan Turner will be a significant loss for a team that still needs ball-handlers and offensive creators, but hopefully younger players such as Terry Rozier and Marcus Smart will be able to step up.
On the other hand, if the Celtics suffer any injuries to their starting guards or wings, those prospects will need to start. Smart is already a bulldog defender, but he was one of the most inefficient players in the NBA last season, and rebuilding his shot is likely more than a one-year process. Rozier was awful in admittedly limited minutes last year, and expecting him to contribute much of anything this season might be a reach. Same story for James Young and RJ Hunter. Jaylen Brown, the Celtics' 1st round pick this past draft, looked very good in Summer League, and could be a difference maker if he adapts quickly to the NBA. On the whole, though their starting lineup is terrific and they have one of the best big man rotations in the league, this lack of depth on the wing prevents me from putting the Celtics as the best team in their division. They should win 50 games and make a playoff run., but I can't see them beating the Cavaliers in the postseason.
Predicted Record: 51-31
Added: Derrick Rose, Joakim Noah, Justin Holiday, Courtney Lee, Brandon Jennings
Lost: Arron Afflalo, Jose Calderon, Langston Galloway, Jerian Grant, Robin Lopez, Derrick Williams
Summary: The Knicks' President of Basketball Ops Phil Jackson wants to make the playoffs again after three years in the lottery. To that end, he completely revamped the roster around the Knicks' three pillars (Carmelo Anthony, Kristaps Porzingis, and Sasha Vujacic of course), acquiring former MVP Derrick Rose and his old center Joakim Noah. Ex-Suns head coach Jeff Hornacek was hired to replace punching bag Kurt Rambis, and is expected to modernize the Knicks' outdated offense. Unfortunately for the Knicks, several obstacles stand between them and their goal of reaching the postseason.
The Knicks simply haven't upgraded their roster enough to really guarantee a playoff berth, not in the improved Eastern Conference, and they are relying far too heavily on injury-prone players. Joakim Noah hasn't been healthy in a couple years, and when he's played he has been only a rotation level player. Derrick Rose has fallen a long way from 2011, and isn't even a starting quality point guard anymore. Far more serious than his constant injury worries is the sexual assault trial hanging over his head, a trial that is starting to pick up steam against him. If things turn really bleak, he might not even be on the team in a month or two. While Courtney Lee is a very solid player, he isn't a difference maker, and Carmelo Anthony is another year older. The Knicks' hopes rest on Noah and Carmelo's health, as well as a big jump from stud sophomore Kristaps Porzingis. While there's a possibility of all that playing out, I remain dubious about their chances this season.
Predicted Record: 35-47
Added: Ben Simmons, Dario Saric, Gerald Henderson, Jerryd Bayless, Sergio Rodriguez
Lost: Isaiah Canaan, Carl Landry, Ish Smith
Summary: After three years of tanking, the 76ers finally got their prize, claiming the 1st overall pick in the draft, Ben Simmons. He joins a roster overcrowded with big men, especially considering Joel Embiid's eminent return. Simmons, Embiid, Nerlens Noel, Jahlil Okafor, and Dario Saric are their latest lottery picks... and all of them play at power forward or center. Due to this logjam, I believe at least one or two of the Sixers young big men will get traded this season, probably Noel or Okafor. Simmons and Embiid are unknowns at the professional level, and Saric still needs to make the transition to NBA ball. While the talent level is much higher than in the past couple years, this is still a team with no identity.
Jerryd Bayless and Sergio Rodriguez should help improve on the biggest weakness on Philly's rosters over the past couple years: awful point guard play. Yet even though they are upgrades over Kendall Marshall and Tony Wroten, neither is better than a rotation level player, and Bayless is more of a combo guard than a true point. Gerald Henderson brings a similar low-level starting quality to the shooting guard position, and joins with Robert Covington to form an intriguing but underwhelming wing combination. The Sixers rotation is filled with very young players, and while Embiid and Simmons have incredible talent, both have mountains to climb to be effective NBA players. Philadelphia remains at least a couple years away from being relevant, though everything could change if one of their prospects immediately becomes a franchise-level player.
Predicted Record: 24-58
Added: Jeremy Lin, Trevor Booker, Luis Scola, Greivis Vazquez, Randy Foye, Caris LeVert
Lost: Thaddeus Young, Joe Johnson, Wayne Ellington, Jarrett Jack, Andrea Bargnani
Summary: The Brooklyn Nets probably have the least amount of talent of any NBA team. That out of the way, the Nets should actually be semi-enjoyable this year. With Joe Johnson finally out of town, the last remnants of the Nets' high spending past are now gone (sans Brook Lopez). No longer playing at a plodding pace dictated by old players and even older-school coaches, the Nets of 2016-2017 should be a high-flying bunch that relies mostly on young players. Yes, they did add a bunch of veteran presences such as Foye and Scola, but they are going to be at the end of the rotation, if that much. Brooklyn will see an almost entirely new roster suit up for the 2017 season, which will be good for fans tired of high expectations and poor results.
The Nets also have a sparkling new head coach, Kenny Atkinson. He comes from a good coaching tree, having served under Coach Budenholzer for several years in Atlanta, and has quite a few young players to work with. Brook Lopez is a solid starting point to at least win a handful of games, though there is a possibility he is traded for even more young assets. Outside of point guard, however, where Isaiah Whitehead will have to wait his turn for minutes, the Nets have prospects all over their rotation. Rondae-Hollis Jefferson had an extremely promising rookie season, and his defensive ability should pair well with the Net's latest 1stround pick, the long-armed Caris LeVert. Sean Kilpatrick is a scoring gunner off the bench who showed flashes of real efficiency last season, and Chris McCullough demonstrated potential to be an effective stretch big man in a couple years. Heck, the Nets even took a flyer on 2013 1st overall pick Anthony Bennett. Will all these players be good this year? Probably not. Will they be more entertaining than previous iterations of this team? Almost definitely.
Predicted Record: 15-67