The Boston Celtics are getting set to pursue their 18th banner. To position themselves for that, they will again need to have success within the Atlantic Division.
They have won it the past five years and should be the favorite to finish atop the division standings again.
Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Rajon Rondo are all back. Jeff Green has a clean bill of health and will make an immediate impact with his scoring and athleticism. Jason Terry comes aboard to provide a scoring punch.
Doc Rivers, one of the premiere coaches in the league, is back to lead the way. Let's look at who's gunning for second.
Philadelphia has a nice core of players. Jrue Holiday and Evan Turner took advantage of injuries to Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah in Round 1 of the playoffs and gained valuable experience before falling to the Celtics in Round 2.
The big splash in Philly is Andrew Bynum, who arrives in the chain reaction otherwise known as the Dwight Howard trade. When he's on, he dominates with his sheer size and ability in the low post. When he's not, he's inconsistent, takes games off and comes across as a tad apathetic. This will be his first season being the face of a team as well as his first season interacting with Doug Collins for 82 games.
I have questions about both.
Toronto was the last team to win the Atlantic Division before Boston started their run. That was in 2006-07, which was also the last year they had a winning season. The Raptors are trying but as my grandmother used to say, "Bless their heart". The addition of Kyle Lowery and Landry Fields is nice, but they need a lot more help. The Celtics shouldn't have much trouble with them.
This division is becoming more and more competitive. Someone has to finish at the bottom and that someone is Toronto.
Williams and Johnson have joined forces in Brooklyn.
At 22-44, the Nets actually finished one game behind Toronto. This isn't expected to be the case this season. Deron Williams and Rondo will be appointment television when these two teams hook up. Newly acquired Joe Johnson and Brook Lopez give them a solid trio. Gerald Wallace and Reggie Evans always play hard and are never afraid to mix it up and do the dirty work.
The new-look Nets will give Boston more of a run for their money this season but will still be looking up at the C's in the standings.
Carmelo Anthony and Amar'e Stoudemire
At 36-30, the Knicks were a close second to Boston last season, finishing three games back in the standings. They should be the primary challengers to Boston's throne again this season. Mike Woodson will be calling the shots from day one after taking over in the middle of last season and turning things around. Outside of Joe Johnson in Brooklyn, the return of Jeff Green will be most beneficial to Boston when they face the Knicks and he goes toe-to-toe with Carmelo Anthony.
It won't be easy, it never is, but once the Celtics secure the Atlantic they can then set their sites on dethroning the Heat in the East.