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2019-2020 NBA Season Preview: Atlantic Division

The Atlantic Division is probably the strongest in the Eastern Conference, with a title contender, a possible challenger, two solid playoff teams, and the Knicks.

2019-20 Philadelphia 76ers Media Day Photo by Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images

The 2019-2020 NBA season preview continues after a one-week hiatus with a look at the Atlantic Division, which has several of the most intriguing teams in the entire NBA.

Philadelphia 76ers

Players Added: Al Horford, Josh Richardson, Matisse Thybulle, Kyle O’Quinn, Trey Burke, Raul Neto

Players Lost: Jimmy Butler, J.J. Redick, Jonathan Simmons, TJ McConnell, Amir Johnson, Greg Monroe, Boban Marjanovic

Summary: The Sixers are one of the most fascinating teams in the NBA. Their two cornerstone players (Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons) are an awkward fit due to Simmons’ lack of shooting, and the Sixers lost their best floor spacer this summer in J.J. Redick. Jimmy Butler, who ran their offense down the stretch in the playoffs last season, is also gone, and the Sixers haven’t really replaced his ball-handling or playmaking. Instead, the Sixers went heavy on size, creating the largest starting lineup in the NBA and one of the biggest in recent NBA history, with the 6’6” Richardson as their smallest player. That size could translate into a terrifying defense, especially with both Embiid and Horford patrolling the paint. Horford, too, is a fantastic hedge against Embiid’s health and conditioning – the Sixers have been annihilated when Joel has been on the bench against top opponents, and Horford’s ability to play center will help tremendously with that.

Ultimately, the Sixers will come down to shooting and depth. Can Harris and Richardson shoot well enough to space the floor for Embiid and Simmons? Can young guys like Thybull and Zhaire Smith be positive impact players in big games? Will Horford be able to stave off decline for another year as he enters his mid-30s? There are so many questions surrounding the Sixers, and that doesn’t even account for one of the biggest question marks in the NBA over the next decade – will Ben Simmons ever be able to shoot? If all goes well, the Sixers will have one of the best defenses in the NBA with five top 40 players, a solid enough bench, and one of the most dominating presences in the league in Embiid. Really, if this team pans out, they might be a favorite to win the NBA Championship. There are a lot of hurdles to clear, but the talent is there.

Predicted Record: 56-26

Boston Celtics

Players Added: Kemba Walker, Enes Kanter, Romeo Langford, Grant Williams, Carsen Edwards

Players Lost: Kyrie Irving, Al Horford, Marcus Morris, Terry Rozier, Aron Baynes, Guerschon Yabusele

Summary: The Celtics had a tumultuous offseason. Star point guard Kyrie Irving left amidst much speculation about the role he’d played in the Celtics’ disappointing 2019 season and when exactly he’d decided to leave the Celts. Steady interior presence Al Horford departed as well, along with several other key veterans. However, the Celtics made up much of what they’d lost, bringing in Kemba Walker to replace Kyrie and a bevy of youngsters to fill out the rotation. Walker will be able to do 99% of what Kyrie did while providing a much better locker room presence, and the clearing of additional time and shots for Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown should help with their development. Much of this season depends on those young guys – if they can make the next step, especially Tatum, the Celtics could truly move into place as the third true contender in the East. If not, the Celtics will probably languish as a very good team that doesn’t quite have the juice to win a ring.

The other wildcard for the Celtics is Gordon Hayward; one year further removed from his horrific knee injury, does he still have the ability to be a team-carrying star, or is he now a true supporting piece? Regardless, the Celtics should be a hell of a lot more fun this year with a healthier locker room and some delightful young players (Grant Williams is simply awesome), and that chemistry could lead to extra wins on its own. However, they might be on the outside looking in for a conference crown.

Predicted Record: 50-32

Toronto Raptors

Players Added: Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, Stanley Johnson, Cameron Payne, Malcolm Thomas

Players Lost: Kawhi Leonard, Danny Green, Jeremy Lin, Jodie Meeks

Summary: That the Raptors lost arguably the best player in the NBA this summer and still project to be a quality playoff team speaks to just how great their squad was last year. Even with Kawhi (and Danny Green) gone, the Raptors have two All-Stars in Pascal Siakam and Kyle Lowry, a highly competent big man duo in Marc Gasol and Serge Ibaka, and juice off the bench with Fred Van Vleet. Their summer pickups were quiet but interesting, especially Rondae and Stanley, two big wings with pedigree who haven’t quite panned out thus far in their NBA careers (particularly Johnson). If those two can figure things out a bit, this Raptors team could be quite scary defensively.

On the other hand, this team is ripe for a blowup, and Masai Ujiri has always wanted to build a team on his own terms. Lowry, Gasol, Ibaka, and others could be traded away for assets if the Raptors aren’t playing well to start the year, or even if Ujiri just receives a deal he can’t pass up. The core of this team outside Siakam, Van Vleet, and Anunoby is old, and while they’re good, there’s not much a future to it. Running it back with much of the 2019 championship core would be pleasing for fans, but the Raptors seem ripe for a move one way or another. They will certainly be a team to watch regarding trades in-season.

Predicted Record: 46-36

Brooklyn Nets

Players Added: Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving, DeAndre Jordan, Garrett Temple, Wilson Chandler, Taurean Prince, David Nwaba, Nicolas Claxton

Players Lost: D’Angelo Russell, DeMarre Carroll, Allen Crabbe, Ed Davis, Jared Dudley, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, Shabazz Napier, Traveon Graham

Summary: It will be tough to evaluate the Nets this year. The foundational move of their summer and the biggest acquisition in franchise history, the signing of Kevin Durant, will not have much impact this season, as Durant is expected to miss the entirety of the 2020 campaign with a torn Achilles. Kyrie Irving is an excellent player, a worthy perennial All-NBA selection, but he’s not Durant, and the Nets with him as the lead option can only go so far. This is especially true since much of the depth that made the Nets strong and fun last year left over the summer to accommodate the new superstar signings, and their replacements are not quite as good. If the Nets are to be more than solid this year, they’ll need some of their younger players like Caris LeVert or Jarrett Allen to break out. Even if they do so, the Nets seem more like “solid playoff team” than “possible Eastern Conference contender”.

Predicted Record: 44-38

New York Knicks

Players Added: Julius Randle, RJ Barrett, Marcus Morris, Bobby Portis, Taj Gibson, Elfrid Payton, Wayne Ellington, Reggie Bullock, Ignas Brazdeikis

Players Lost: Wes Matthews, DeAndre Jordan, Emmanuel Mudiay, Noah Vonleh, Mario Hezonja, Lance Thomas, Luke Kornet, Henry Ellenson, John Jenkins

Summary: Ah, the Knicks. After peddling hope in their fanbase for years that hoarding cap space would lead to superstars in the stacked 2019 free agency class, the Knicks came up empty, instead unloading all that money on an assortment of veterans with zero All Star appearances. Now, to be fair, the Knicks did keep their deals short, so many of these players could have trade value at the deadline for contending teams. Additionally, none of the deals are too bad in a vacuum – while the Knicks might have overpaid a bit, the contracts are fine for the most part.

However, none of this means the Knicks will be good this year or that they’re really building towards anything. Barrett is a start at a true rebuild, but missing out on Zion Williamson hurts – Barrett is more of a piece than a foundation. Of the rest of their acquisitions, only Randle and fellow rookie Brazdeikis seem likely to stick around for longer than a year or two. Essentially, New York punted, and while that’s better than tying down cap in bad deals, it’s not exactly great. The Knicks should be just competent enough to not be at the bottom of the lottery, but don’t have the upside or roster cohesion to be any good. They have to hope Barrett, Iggy, and fellow youngsters Kevin Knox and Dennis Smith Jr. pan out, because there’s just not much else here.

Predicted Record: 27-55