Sunday 25 February 2018 / 06:43 AM


The NBA season is right around the corner, with the 2016-17 campaign kicking off on October 25. We will be previewing the league over the course of the next three weeks to get you ready for the season.

Today, we’ll be previewing the Atlantic division, which features two rebuilding teams, one in the middle, and two contenders. The division has been bad in recent years outside of the top, and two longtime contenders are now looking to reclaim their former glory with new rosters.

Last year, the Raptors ran the division again, with the Celtics also returning to the postseason with authority and making some noise behind their star point guard. The Knicks fumbled through another losing season, and the Nets and 76ers competed for the mantle of the worst team in basketball.

So, are the Raptors still the top of the ladder, or did the Celtics close the gap? Is the new star power in NY enough to make them a contender? And are the 76ers finally close to coming out of the basement?

1. Toronto Raptors

The Raptors finally reached the status of contender and have been vying for the Eastern Conference title the last two seasons. But with that territory comes the rough stuff, too, such as roster attrition. Bismack Biyombo is gone, along with James Johnson and Luis Scola. The depth in the frontcourt took a massive hit with those losses, and could cause some concerns.

The duo of Lowry and DeRozan returns, and the chemistry between the two just keeps getting better. A healthy DeMarre Carroll and Jonas Valanciunas makes the starting lineup really talented. This team is going to try and run up and down the floor, and it makes sense. The three-point shooting on this team is solid – one the best in the league last year. I doubt that goes down.

But there are some holes, namely the paper-thin roster behind Valanciunas. The injuries he has had are a big concern, and there’s no answer behind them. Power forward is also fairly weak, but did get better by adding Jared Sullinger. It’s still a little bit of an issue about their prospects if they meet Cleveland again, but this team is still one of the top two in the East.

2. Boston Celtics

Boston finally got that ‘big’ free agent they’ve been hinted at getting for the last three seasons in Al Horford. And around him, the roster of the Celtics remains largely intact. Despite reports to the contrary, the Celtics ended up keeping their first-round pick from the Nets and used it puzzlingly on Jaylen Brown, the SF out of California. They also added three other rookies to go with a really young roster.

Horford answers some questions in the paint and provides some scoring, but largely doesn’t answer the ‘star’ power that Boston is lacking. There isn’t a dominant scorer in the group, and the team may still struggle late in games.

But the guards are menacing, with Isaiah Thomas being backed up by Marcus Smart, and the freakish three-and-D guard Avery Bradley. This team is stacked across the board, with a lineup that can go three deep across most positions. They’ll be able to grind teams out again.

The defense is going to be great again, and Horford reinforces that. Amir Johnson, Jonas Jerebko and Kelly Olynyk off the bench is solid, along with Terry Rozier. Jae Crowder may also be the biggest bargain player in the league, and helps the offense and defense go. This team is going to make some noise.

3. New York Knicks

The Knicks pretty much hit reset on the roster following last season and look committed to getting Carmelo Anthony a winning team. They lost a lot of players off the roster, and added Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah in a splash trade with the Bulls. This feels a little past the prime time, and there are some major injury concerns, but they could be a force.

The additions of Courtney Lee and Brandon Jennings adds some versatility to the roster and tries to fix the depth problem. But it’s definitely still there. Melo and Kristaps Porzingis should grow in their second year together, though, and the offense is going to be better with Jeff Hornacek taking over from Derek Fisher. There isn’t a lot of outside shooting on the team besides Lee at the guard spot, and that could become an issue as the season progresses.

The defense should be improved if Rose stays healthy and Noah does, too. But this team is paper-thin. There’s just not much on the second unit that you can be confident in, and it will become a problem. They got an insurance policy on Rose in Jennings, but this team needs to be healthy to see any true potential realised – and that’s a big-time gamble.

4. Philadelphia 76ers

Things are finally looking up in Philly. The Sixers added Ben Simmons in the draft, while Embiid is back to health. The fruits of all those years of tanking leave the 76ers with a ton of potential in the front court with Jahlil Okafor and Nerlens Noel, and have added even more young talent with Dario Saric.

But things aren’t all roses, as you’ve probably come to expect with Philly. Simmons is out for possibly the entire season through injury, and the Sixers are thin at the SF position. They’ll be fine down low, but there’s a chemistry issue, with Noel and Okafor both pointing out their displeasure with the Sixers having so many centers on the roster. Someone will probably be moved on before the season ends.

Jerryd Bayless and Gerald Henderson gives the 76ers two new starters, but not a lot to be excited about. Bayless is injured, but provides some shooting when he’s healthy.

It’s concerning that with all the draft picks, the Sixers don’t have one promising guard to show for it. The Sixers still can’t shoot, and it’s going to be a long season again, but they should beat some teams with that tandem inside. This team is a candidate for 25-29 wins.

5. Brooklyn Nets

Oh boy, Brooklyn. The Nets are on course for another rough season in NY, and all the thrill of not even getting their draft pick for being so bad.

They’ve added Jeremy Lin to the roster, and he’ll be serviceable point guard after restarting his career in Charlotte. Trevor Booker and Luis Scola are solid at PF, and Brook Lopez is a star wasting his talent on the roster. Rondae Hollis-Jefferson was sensational last year defensively, and should continue to be a focus of the team.

This team isn’t going to compete for much, but that’s besides the point. With a new regime in charge of the front office, the Nets are in this for the long haul, and are committed to keeping the salaries low and looking toward the future.

This season is going to be trying, but developing promising young players like guards Isaiah Whitehead, Caris LeVert and Hollis-Jefferson has to be the priority. The Nets are going to be bad, but it’s all just part of the process – like a certain team above them.

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About the author

Austin Albertson

Austin is CBS' senior NFL and NBA analyst, bringing you commentary on everything between the lines and inside the hashes, from the film room to the scoreboard.

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