Sunday 20 August 2017 / 10:21 AM

Pre-season analysis: Atlantic Division

The Atlantic Division was by far the worst in the NBA last season, with two of the three poorest records and without a single team with 50 or more wins. None of the teams got past the first round of the playoffs, winning only a combined two games in the postseason.

A young and inexperienced Boston Celtics team surprisingly finished the regular season in seventh place in the Eastern Conference, but got disposed of quickly in four games by Lebron James and the Cavaliers in the first round. The Toronto Raptors had a great regular season, winning the division by a wide margin, but fell apart in the playoffs when they got swept rather painfully by a the lower-seeded Washington Wizards.

The Brooklyn Nets had the highest payroll in the entire NBA, but their overpaid stars were not able to deliver in the playoffs, where they lost to the top-seeded Hawks in six. At the bottom of the division, the New York Knicks (without Carmelo Anthony for the majority of the season) and the Philadelphia 76ers won a combined 35 games while tanking their way through the season hoping to get lucky in the lottery of this year’s draft.

The 76ers will be heading towards the lottery again this year. Their roster is even younger than last year, with Landry the only player with more than three years of NBA experience. They selected another big man in Jahlil Okafor as the third pick in last summer’s draft, after opting for Noel and Embiid the previous two years. Embiid, who missed his entire rookie season, will need more surgery on his foot, making him unavailable for another campaign. Okafor will be able to develop his game without any pressure as Philadelphia is heading for another sub-20 win season – for the third consecutive year.

The Knicks are hardly in a better position. They can count on a healthy Anthony this year, but the roster doesn’t look like a lot more than that. They surprisingly chose Kristaps Porzingis, a very promising 7-footer with range, as the fourth pick in the draft. But the pick was not warmly welcomed by the fans in New York. They got rid of some heavy contracts (Bargnani) and added Robin Lopez and Arron Afflalo. The Knicks might be able to fight for a playoff spot at the end of the season counting on the scoring talent of their lone superstar, but without the addition of another great player, they are destined to remain far from being a team with championship aspirations the city so desperately is looking for.

The Nets spent a little over $90 million in salaries in the last couple of years, pushing the team high over the salary cap, in the hope to bring some playoff success to Brooklyn. The team underperformed again. They hardly made the playoffs, and came out flat in the first round. They dumped some salary by shipping off Deron Williams to Dallas and offering Bargnani a minimum contract. Joe Johnson is in his final contract year and might be traded before the end of the season. The Nets are looking to build around Brook Lopez, but it is hard to say the offensively talented center has what it takes to be considered the cornerstone of the franchise. The Nets is unlikely to make the playoffs this year, and without any assets of value and no draft picks, the future is looking rather gloomy.

The Celtics surprised many last season by clinching the seventh seed in the conference with a young and hardworking team that lacks a true leader or (future) superstar. They decided to keep the young core together and added some experience with David Lee and Amir Johnson. Bradley, Smart, Olynyk, Zeller and Sullinger are a year older and have been given the time to grow under second-year head coach Brad Stevens, who has done a terrific job so far. Repeating the success they had last year, however, will be difficult, and it would be more than a surprise if the Celtics were in contention for a playoff spot come April.

After the most successful regular season in franchise history, Toronto ended the season in horrid fashion. Losing 4-0 against the Wizards in the first round was more than painful, but management kept cool heads during the summer and kept their backcourt together. They added junkyard dog DeMarre Carroll from Altanta, and made like-for-like trades by adding Scola and Biyombo while letting go of Johnson and Hansbrough. The Raptors are heavy favorite to repeat their division title this year and are hoping to make a stand in the playoffs, counting on the talents and pride of Lowry and DeRozan to get the team past the first round for the first time since 2001.

[Youtube – NBA]

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Tim Glibert

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