Written by: Phil Partington | Hoops4life.com
The Atlantic Division suddenly became interesting last summer, after the Boston Celtics pulled off two miraculous trades that landed them Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett.
Just months earlier, star forward Paul Pierce was showing his aggravation to the media and insinuating that his abilities might be better utilized in another city. Celtics GM Danny Ainge must have received the message, as he compiled a trio that would eventually win the NBA title in 2008.
The 2008 summer has also featured significant changes for the Atlantic Division—but not from the Celtics. Boston did lose sixth-man forward James Posey, but will rely on the lineup of Garnett, Pierce, and Allen with Rajon Rondo and Kendrick Perkins to lead them into the new season.
The Toronto Raptors made a notable maneuver this off season. With the emergence of Jose Calderon as the team’s top point guard, there was no longer a need for the injury-plagued, undersized T.J. Ford. Toronto traded Ford along with Rasho Nesterovic to the Indiana Pacers for Jermaine O’Neal.
On the one hand, O’Neal hasn’t had a healthy season in a few years, and shouldn’t be relied upon to produce the same kind of numbers he was once capable of. On the other hand, it may be a valid assessment to suggest that O’Neal was simply not putting his best foot forward because of the mediocrity of the Pacers.
In other words, he may still have something left in the tank. With Chris Bosh in place, the Raptors don’t need O’Neal to be a star. What they really need is a big man who can play defense at the center position so Bosh can be free to carry the offensive load.
A good season for O’Neal would be 14-15 ppg with 10 rpg or so, and about 1.5-2 bpg.
Projected starting five: C Jermaine O’Neal, PF Chris Bosh, SF Jamario Moon, SG Anthony Parker, PG Jose Calderon.
The Philadephia 76ers shocked the world by stealing Elton Brand away from the “other” Los Angeles team. Brand will fit in nicely with the Sixers’ style. Philly still needs another perimeter shooter or two to open things up for Brand and the team’s athletic slashers, but they’re on the right track to doing some significant damage in the playoffs.
Brand joins a scary-looking frontcourt, with the athletic, shot-blocking center Samuel Dalembert, as well as Reggie Evans, Shavlik Randolph, and rookie Marreese Speights. Backup center, Jason Smith, who showed some promise his rookie season, tore his ACL and will miss the entire upcoming season.
In addition to the potentially dangerous frontcourt, the Sixers will have point guard Andre Miller and—assuming he re-signs—Andre Iguodala in the backcourt, with Thaddeus Young, Louis Williams and Willie Green filling out the rest of the roster.
Projected starting five: C Samuel Dalembert, PF Elton Brand, SF Thaddeus Young, SG Andre Iguodala, PG Andre Miller.
The New Jersey Nets have undergone a new-youth facelift, led by Devin Harris at the point.
After trading Jason Kidd last season to the Dallas Mavericks, and Richard Jefferson just recently to the Milwaukee Bucks for Yi Jianlian and Bobby Simmons, don’t be surprised to see Vince Carter next in line to be dealt. Of course, Nets’ management claim they’re not looking to part ways with the acrobatic two-guard, but don’t be fooled. Carter is 31-years-old and if the right deal comes along, the Nets wouldn’t mind dealing him.
New Jersey may not be playoff-bound, but they’ll make some noise. With the dilapidation in the lower end of the Eastern Conference playoff race, the Nets might even have an outside shot of clinching the eighth seed. Re-signin Nenad Krstic is a priority for them.
Projected starting five: C Brook Lopez, PF Nenad Krstic, SF Yi Jianlian, SG Vince Carter, PG Devin Harris.
The New York Knicks are trying to make big changes, but their hands are tied with so many overpaid players. They’d love to be rid of Zach Randolph’s huge contract, as well as Eddy Curry’s, Malik Rose’s and Stephon Marbury’s. The advantage of Marbury is that his comes off the books next summer, which makes him somewhat valuable as trade bait.
With the hiring of coach Mike D’Antoni, expect big changes in style of play. It should be interesting to see if Eddy Curry gets any minutes at all, as D’Antoni typically favors smaller, more versatile players. Keep that in mind when checking out starting five
Projected starting five: C David Lee, PF Zach Randolph, SF Jared Jeffries, PG Chris Duhon, SG Jamal Crawford.
Predicted Final Division Standings:
1. Boston Celtics 58-24
2. Philadelphia 76ers 47-35
3. Toronto Raptors 43-39
4. New Jersey Nets 29-53
5. New York Knicks 19-63
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