Let’s take a look at how the teams in the Atlantic Division look heading into the 2010-11 NBA season:
Boston Celtics: Coming off their second NBA Finals appearance in the last three seasons, the Celtics are doing their best to stave off the aging process for another year. Ray Allen, Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce are all back, with Allen and Pierce re-signed, for another shot at a title. The team will be without starting center Kendrick Perkins to begin the season, but the Celtics shored up their dearth of center depth this offseason by acquiring both Shaquille and Jermaine O’Neal. This pair of O’Neals certainly doesn’t help the average age of the team, but they’ve got size and should be able to provide valuable minutes in Perkins’ absence. If point guard Rajon Rondo can take the next step, they’ve got a shot to win the East again.
New York Knicks: The Knicks look like they could be the second best team in the division this season. Regardless, this is a team that should sell many more NBA tickets than they have in recent years. With Amare Stoudemire and Raymond Felton joining forces with Danilo Gallinari, the Knicks should have a potent offensive attack in Mike D’Antoni’s up-tempo scheme. New York is also a deep team this season and could implement a 10-man rotation. How well all of the new pieces mesh will determine if this is a playoff team or not. An x-factor for this club could be young forward Anthony Randolph.
Toronto Raptors: With Chris Bosh gone, that leaves Andrea Bargnani as the focal point of the Toronto offense. The former number one pick has actually played well over the past two seasons and could be in for a breakout year. Rookie forward Ed Davis should prove to be a solid complement to the European center, but he might not have much of an impact this season. The Raptors need shooting guard DeMar DeRozan to realize some of his offensive potential in 2010-11 and help carry the scoring load on the perimeter. They’ve actually got a lot of good players, but if they continue to play terrible defense they’re not going to win many games.
Philadelphia 76ers: The Sixers are a young team that could be on the rise in the Eastern Conference, but it’s hard to envision them challenging for a playoff spot in 2010-11. Jrue Holiday is a star in the making that most people don’t know about, and I expect a big season out of the second-year point guard. I’m not sure how NBA-ready Evan Turner actually is, but he should contribute. One player to pay attention to is forward Marreese Speights, a guy the Sixers will need to step up if Elton Brand continues to struggle.
New Jersey Nets: The Nets are going to be better this season than they were in 2009-10, but I don’t see a meteoric rise in the ranks of the Eastern Conference. Brook Lopez should be a monster down low and I expect him to average 20 points per game, but the team is going to need time to grow. Troy Murphy was a nice addition, but he’s a one-year rental. The Nets are going to need rookie Derrick Favors to develop behind Murphy. Devin Harris needs to have a bounce-back year and stop trying to do so much offensively. The Nets have solid depth now, which should really help their win total. A player to keep an eye on is Terrence Williams.