NBA: Predicting Complete 2012-13 Atlantic Division Season Standings
With so much star power and intrigue, the Atlantic Division is now a firm contender for one of the best in the NBA.
For a division that sent three teams to the NBA playoffs in 2011-12, the Atlantic could end up sending four, if not all five teams to the playoffs in 2012-13.
While opinions differ on who's the best team in the division, they all come with their fair share of problems.
For the Boston Celtics it's age, the New York Knicks still can't seem to find any consistency, and the Brooklyn Nets and Philadelphia 76ers are welcoming several new pieces that will need time to gel.
Here are predicted standings for the Atlantic Division in 2012-13.
5th Place: Toronto Raptors
Predicted Record: 35-47
The Toronto Raptors have improved their roster significantly over the past few seasons, and didn't stop this summer, trading for Kyle Lowry and signing Landry Fields.
With incumbent starters Andrea Bargnani and DeMar DeRozan maintaining their roles, the Raptors will quickly become one of the league's most compelling young squads.
Given time, DeRozan and Fields could become a strong defensive duo out on the perimeter, while Bargnani will maintain his role as the team's primary sharpshooter.
The long-awaited arrival of rookie Jonas Valanciunas should be greeted with open arms by Raptors' fans, as he will allow Bargnani to stretch the floor more than he could in previous years.
Rookie shooting guard Terrence Ross gives the Raptors another shooter out on the perimeter, but given some time to develop, he could become a nice dual-threat scorer.
While it's still possible the Raptors could make the playoffs this season, it feels like they have a fair number of young pieces that will need more than just one season to reach their full potential.
4th Place: Brooklyn Nets
Predicted Record: 44-38
If you're a Brooklyn Nets fan, don't read too much into the prediction that the Nets will finish in fourth place. It doesn't look pretty on paper, but the Nets are one of several hungry competitors fighting for a top-six seed in the Eastern Conference.
With a revamped roster, arena and logo, the Nets have the star power to make them a compelling draw. While they should have no problem scoring the ball, their performance on the defensive end will ultimately dictate their success.
Deron Williams and newcomer Joe Johnson will bring a potent one-two punch to head coach Avery Johnson's backcourt, but it's the team's depth and defensive efficiency that could be problematic.
Point guard C.J. Watson was brought aboard to backup Williams, and while he's rock-solid on the offensive end, he and backup 2-guard MarShon Brooks haven't shown enough on the defensive end to instill much confidence in the Nets' second unit.
Gerald Wallace is easily the team's best defender, and will be counted on to guard the Eastern Conference's best wings night in and night out.
The frontcourt pairing of Kris Humphries and Brook Lopez isn't bad by any means, but don't expect a career year from either big man.
The addition of Reggie Evans will be important, especially come playoff time. Evans is a total offensive liability, but is still one of the most aggressive and pesky defenders in the game.
3rd Place: Philadelphia 76ers
Predicted Record: 46-36
In my mind, the second, third and fourth place spots in the Atlantic Division are all interchangeable. As I previously mentioned, all three teams have strengths, and all have evident weaknesses.
The Philadelphia 76ers are the sexy pick to leapfrog the Knicks and even the Celtics at this point, but I still think it's too early to make that call.
The Sixers have improved, and there's absolutely no arguing that. Andrew Bynum is the best offensive center in the game today, and now that he's the lone superstar on a young team, he has a chance to mold his legacy as he sees fit.
Firmly established as the first option on the offensive end of the floor, Bynum feels like a lock to average 20 points and 10 or more rebounds per game this season.
What the Sixers have improved the most, though, is their overall team depth. Finally blessed with some legitimate perimeter shooters, the Sixers can throw combinations of Nick Young, Jason Richardson and Dorell Wright at opponents.
With Bynum and a host of talented wing players (let's not forget Evan Turner), the Sixers now possess an inside-out game that should be difficult to stop.
Under head coach Doug Collins the Sixers have been one of the NBA's stingiest defensive squads, but the departure of swingman Andre Iguodala could hurt them a tad on the defensive end.
Turner will be called upon to lock down the likes of Carmelo Anthony and Joe Johnson, so he's going to need to grow up quickly in order for the Sixers to remain a stout defensive side.
It will undoubtedly take some time for all of these new pieces to mesh, but the Sixers are a team better suited for a playoff run than immense regular season success.
2nd Place: New York Knicks
Predicted Record: 47-35
Now that the Miami Heat have their hands on an NBA title, it feels like the New York Knicks are quickly becoming public enemy No. 1 in the eyes of basketball fans.
Carmelo Anthony and Amar'e Stoudemire's struggles to co-exist have been well documented, but they are playing on one of the deepest, most talented teams in the conference.
After an offseason in which they added depth at seemingly every position, the Knicks now feel like a more complete product than they did a year ago.
At point guard, the Knicks have a trio of talented floor generals in Raymond Felton, Jason Kidd and Argentinian national Pablo Prigioni. All three are capable ball-handlers and distributors, while Felton separates himself from the pack with his ability to score the ball.
The Knicks also added swingman Ronnie Brewer, who is widely considered to be one of the league's most underrated perimeter defenders. With Iman Shumpert on the mend, Brewer will surprise some people with his play on both ends of the floor.
Elsewhere, veteran big men Marcus Camby and Kurt Thomas will help ease the load on Stoudemire and reigning Defensive Player of the Year Tyson Chandler.
Other key contributors who shouldn't be forgotten: J.R. Smith, Steve Novak and the aforementioned Shumpert. Make no mistake about it, the Knicks are absolutely loaded.
Should Stoudemire and Anthony find an amicable way to share offensive touches, the Knicks could take the next step in 2012-13.
1st Place: Boston Celtics
Predicted Record: 50-32
Are the Boston Celtics a very deep team? No. Are they even the most talented team in the division? Probably not.
However, the Celtics are the most experienced, and most well-coached team in the Atlantic, and that alone should be enough to lead them to a first-place finish.
The Celtics aging roster will continue to be a point of emphasis for detractors, but it's difficult to count out a team led by Rajon Rondo, Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce.
The additions of Courtney Lee and Jason Terry will help ease any pain left from the departure of Ray Allen, but his chronic ankle issues and growing inconsistency shouldn't be missed too much.
Brandon Bass will help round out the starting five, and when Avery Bradley makes his eventual return from shoulder surgery, the Celtics will once again have a strong defensive core.
If there's one rookie to look out for in the Atlantic, it has to be Celtics' power forward Jared Sullinger. Sullinger's draft stock took a tumble due to concerns over his injured back, but now under the tutelage of Doc Rivers, he should flourish as the backup to Bass.
Say what you will about the Celtics, but as long as they have their big three and Doc Rivers on the bench, they will be contenders.