The 2014/15 NBA regular season doesn’t officially begin until Tuesday October 28th, when the Spurs raise their Championship banner, and host the rival Mavericks. This is the time of year when most fans can still bask in the warm glow of hope, and every team is still undefeated. It’s also the time of year for predictions to start rolling in on how the upcoming season will shake out. Today we’ll be seeing who you folks think will win the Atlantic Division. Let’s take a quick look at the possible contenders…
Note: All projected starters taken from the respective team pages at ESPN.com.
The most compelling storyline in Boston this season will be if and when Rajon Rondo is dealt, and what pieces GM Danny Ainge is able to get back for his star player. This seems like another year of draft position jockeying in Boston, but there are some nice young building blocks in place for the future. The franchise is still very much in rebuilding mode, and isn’t expected to compete for a playoff spot this season. Instead the focus will be on developing those building blocks, players such as Marcus Smart, James Young, Jared Sullinger, Tyler Zeller, and Kelly Olynyk.
The Celtics best outcome would be to deal Rondo after he establishes that he’s healthy, which would up the potential return, which in turn would hopefully include a lottery pick or two. The franchise is moving in the right direction, but this isn’t the year the team can compete for the top spot in the division. Better to spend another year near the bottom, score a better draft position, and aim for 2015/16 for bigger and better things.
It’s hard to predict what we’ll see out of Brooklyn this season. Health will be the make-or-break factor, and “if” will be the key word for the team. The team can be a factor in the Atlantic “if” Deron Williams, Brook Lopez, and Joe Johnson stay healthy. “If” Kevin Garnett still has anything left in the tank “if” he returns for another campaign. “If” new head coach Lionel Hollins can win over the locker room while implementing his hard-nosed defensive system. Quite a few question marks for a veteran team, and Brooklyn’s fans might not like how all the answers turn out.
Despite losing starting small forward Paul Pierce to the Wizards, there is still quite a bit of talent on the roster. If the team can get full seasons out of both Williams and Lopez, the Nets have a decent shot at taking the top spot in the Atlantic. A long playoff run is another story, and a deeper, more talented roster away from happening.
- PG: Deron Williams
- SG: Joe Johnson
- SF: Andrei Kirilenko
- PF: Kevin Garnett
- C: Brook Lopez
New York Knicks
The Knicks are a franchise still transitioning from one regime to the next. There is a sense of hope in New York, thanks to the arrival of Phil Jackson as team president, and owner James Dolan’s promise to give Jackson the space he needs to shape the franchise in his image. It remains to be seen if Jackson can be successful as an executive, or if Dolan can keep his promise of being “hands-off.”
Also adding to the uncertainty of what to expect from the team is the arrival of rookie head coach Derek Fisher and the decision to implement the triangle offense. Fisher has plenty of experience as a championship player, but how quickly he can adjust to being a head coach who has to manage egos will be a big factor early in the season.
The roster has improved from last year’s campaign, Carmelo Anthony has re-signed, and Jackson made a number of interesting moves so far. The most important addition will be Jose Calderon at point guard. The Knicks suffered from some of the worst point guard play in the league last season, and though Calderon isn’t a strong defender, he is a solid distributor and his shooting efficiency should be enhanced by the triangle offense.
I expect a bit of a bounce-back year from the Knicks, but with all the new pieces on the roster, and the new system that is being taught, expect the team to start slow and improve toward the end of the season, similar to what we saw from the Nets last year.
The Sixers intend to compete for the top spot next season, only it isn’t the Atlantic Division that they hope to win, but rather the top spot in next year’s NBA Draft. Whether you refer to it as tanking, or rebuilding, Philadelphia is going all in on its plan. The Sixers have stripped away almost every veteran player of note, and they have a very real shot at breaking the franchise’s own league record for losses in a season.
The most compelling aspects of the 2014/15 season in Philadelphia will be the development of Nerlens Noel, the recovery of Joel Embiid, and just how low the team can sink. While I applaud the Sixers’ attempt to speed up the rebuilding process by hitting bottom instead of laboring in mediocrity, it might not bear fruit this season. Next year’s best prospects are primarily big men, and Philadelphia has already spent two high draft picks on interior players. If a dominant wing or guard doesn’t emerge as a potential top pick, it could create an interesting logjam on the Sixers depth chart.
Unless the franchise gets into a situation like the one portrayed in the film “Major League,” and finds some way to defy every sane preseason prediction of a last place finish, another year of living in the Atlantic Division’s basement is most definitely in the cards.
- PG: Michael Carter-Williams
- SG: Tony Wroten
- SF: Hollis Thompson
- PF: Nerlens Noel
- C: Luc Mbah a Moute
The Raptors were one of the league’s surprise teams last season, winning the Atlantic Division with a record of 48-34. They kept the core of the team intact and are in good shape to repeat as division champs. The Eastern Conference will be extremely competitive next season, and the Raptors could arguably be considered the third or fourth best team in the conference behind the Cavs, Bulls, and Wizards.
Health will be a big key, as Toronto isn’t an especially deep team at key positions. It will also be interesting to see if Kyle Lowry‘s big year was a fluke, the product of a contract-year push, or if he is indeed ready to be a franchise star. The continued development of Jonas Valanciunas will also determine just how far this franchise can go in the postseason. Toronto has enough talent to win the division and a playoff series, but more than that is probably wishful thinking.
Who do you think will take the Atlantic Division crown next season? Vote in the poll and feel free to expand on your choice in the comments section below.