With the focus in the Atlantic Division mostly on the NBA champion Boston Celtics, teams like the New York Knicks and the New Jersey Nets are trying to make a new name for themselves.
Here are my predictions for this season:
1. Boston Celtics
As the reigning NBA champions, the Boston Celtics should be seen as the NBA favorite. They still have their core three in Ray Allen, Paul Pierce, and Kevin Garnett, and also have young potential in players like Rajon Rondo and Bill Walker.
Although Bill Walker is seen as raw talent, he is the type of player that can instill life in an unenergized Celtics team when coming off the bench. Rajon Rando is one of the best up-and-coming point guards in the NBA. He plays great defense and does not need to score to be a threat. If Doc Rivers can get his guys into last year's shape, the Celts have good chance of winning back-to-back titles.
2. Toronto Raptors
The Toronto Raptors should win an award for being one of the NBA's most improved teams. With the addition of Jermaine O'Neal, the Raptors are a huge threat on the boards and also on the defensive side.
The Raptors also have Olympic silver-medalist Jose Calderon running the floor. In his first year in the NBA, he averaged 11.2 points and a staggering 8.3 assists per game. The Raptors will look for Calderon to become to leader of this squad.
Not only is the starting five great, but they have the former number-one pick of the draft in Andrea Baringani coming off the bench, with added muscle and refined post moves. Guys like Jason Kopono also give the Raptors great shooting beyond the arc.
The Toronto Raptors have a aspiring future ahead of them, and Chris Bosh could see his squad in one of the top five spots in the playoffs this year.
3. New York Knicks
After one of their worst seasons in history—even having David Stern calling for a change in the front office—the Knicks can only go up from here. Now three might look to be much too high of a ranking for the Knickerbockers—but after several preseason games, the Knicks are looking better than ever.
It seems that the new head coach Mike D'antoni has answered the Knicks' prayers by providing a shoot-first, run-and-gun style of offense.
The interesting thing is that Donnie Walsh, the new Knicks president of basketball operations, has not made that many changes to the roster. He has opted to keep guys drafted by Isiah Thomas like David Lee and Wilson Chandler—and ironically both have come out and been two of the best players on the team so far.
The Knicks look to have a bright future ahead of them and might find themselves in one of the last spots in the 2008-2009 playoffs.
4. Philadelphia 76ers
Putting the Philadelphia 76ers behind the Knicks may be a controversial pick, but the 76ers have a lot to improve on. With the addition of former Clipper Elton Brand, the 76ers have tremendously improved their front court—but have relied too much on their younger players.
Mo Cheeks has decided to start Thaddeus Young out of Georgia Tech at the small forward position. After only one year in college, how could a head coach put so much trust in the guy?
Coming off the bench they have guys like Louis Williams and Willie Green, but how much time will they get on the court playing behind Andre Miller and Andre Iguodala?
The 76ers have tremendous potential, but might not see themselves playing basketball in the playoffs this season.
5. New Jersey Nets
The New Jersey Nets seem to have swapped positions with the New York Knicks. After trading away star player Richard Jefferson, the Nets will rely on young players like Yi Jianlian and Brook Lopez to carry the team.
The Nets seem to be in a transition year, after trading more experienced players for younger players. Vince Carter, the leader of the team, is rumored to be on the trading block, so point fuard Devin Harris might be called upon to lead this team as one of the more experienced players.
The Nets should not expect a playoff spot this year, unless GM Rod Thorn pulls off a Vince Carter trade.