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Fran Blinebury


Atlantic Division breakdown: Celtics remain team to beat

By Fran Blinebury, for
Posted Jul 13 2009 11:42AM

Kevin Garnett didn't waste any time following surgery on his right knee in declaring that the Celtics would bounce back to win the NBA title in 2010 and 2011. So much then for quibbling over such minor details as a division crown. There's no doubt that Boston is once again cream of the crop after the full-court recruiting press that delivered Rasheed Wallace to the Celtics and gave them the scoring depth and veteran smarts that were needed.

After falling badly last season, the Raptors struck quickly and decisively by snatching Hedo Turkoglu out from under the noses of the Blazers. They are determined to get things turned around and headed in the right direction once more in an attempt to get next year's free agent Chris Bosh to stay north of the border and you've got to give GM Bryan Colangelo credit for making bold moves.

The Sixers are back to square one again with new coach Eddie Jordan and still trying to fit in Elton Brand, while the Knicks and Nets continue to mostly tread water as they anticipate making their bigger splashes with the celebrated free agent class of 2010.

Boston Celtics

Gained -- Rasheed Wallace, Lester Hudson

Lost -- None

Up in the air -- The team is allowing Glen Davis to test the market and get a price as a restricted free agent, but GM Danny Ainge says he wants "Big Baby" back. They have cut the cord with Stephon Marbury and it's likely that Mikki Moore will also walk.

Early projection for 2009-10 season -- Of course, the biggest move for the Celtics is the continued recovery of Kevin Garnett from knee surgery. But close behind is the landing of veteran forward Rasheed Wallace to a two-year contract at the mid-level exception. Ainge can thank the recruiting efforts of K.G., Paul Pierce and Ray Allen in securing much-needed frontline depth for the 2008 champions in their bid to bounce back. Wallace's, ah, quirky personality should be kept in check with this bunch. Even with the changes in Cleveland and Orlando, the Celtics could go into Opening Night as the team to beat again in the East.

Toronto Raptors

Gained -- Hedo Turkoglu, Devean George, DeMar DeRozan, Reggie Evans, Antoine Wright.

Lost -- Jason Kapono, Shawn Marion, Anthony Parker, Kris Humphries, Nathan Jawai.

Up in the air -- There are still holes to fill at the 4-5 spots and the Raptors could still use boosts at the 2-3 positions. After the four-way deal that sent Shawn Marion to Dallas, Toronto now has as much money to spend under the luxury tax threshold -- roughly $12 million -- as any team in the league. The Raptors could use a large part to re-sign restricted free agent Carlos Delfino, while also keeping their eyes on the likes of Matt Barnes, Linas Kleiza and Von Wafer. Veteran Rasho Nesterovic could be on the radar to return to the club.

Early projection for 2009-10 season -- Swooping in at the last minute to steal Turkoglu away from the Trail Blazers was a nice coup to get things rolling. Even though they paid a steep price to get him, Turkoglu the shooter and floor-spacer will be a better fit with Chris Bosh than Shawn Marion. Because they were able to work out a sign-and-trade with Orlando for Turkoglu, the Raptors kept their mid-level exception and shrewdly used it to sign Pacers free agent Jarrett Jack to an offer sheet. Free agent Anthony Parker became expendable when Toronto picked up DeMar DeRozan in the draft. Devean George and Antoine Wright, a pair of swingmen, were nice pickups from Dallas in the Marion deal. They still need to add size up front. But the Raptors have put themselves into position to bounce back into the playoff picture in a last bid to keep Bosh from leaving next summer.

Philadelphia 76ers

Gained -- Jason Kapono, Jrue Holiday

Lost -- Reggie Evans

Up in the air -- The Sixers could be in a free fall if they don't find a way to get veteran free agent point guard Andre Miller re-signed or work out a sign-and-trade deal that delivers a veteran quarterback. The two sides are worlds apart, with Miller seeking a long-term commitment and at least the $10.3 million he made last year, while the Sixers have been offering the mid-level exception for one year.

Early projection for 2009-10 season -- There was plenty to like about Philly having Jrue Holiday fall into its lap with the No. 17 pick. Even though he played shooting guard in his one year at UCLA, he demonstrated in the NBA Summer League in Orlando that he can get to the rim and play tough defense. But that doesn't mean he's ready to take over the reins and splitting time with Louis Williams could also keep the Sixers in limbo. New head coach Eddie Jordan already has to work Elton Brand into an effective offense after last season's disaster and trying to do it without a steady run at the controls is not the way for a playoff bottom feeder to move up.

New York Knicks

Gained -- Jordan Hill, Toney Douglas, Darko Milicic

Lost -- Quentin Richardson

Up in the air -- The Knicks wanted Stephen Curry or Ricky Rubio on draft night and didn't get them. They wanted Grant Hill in free agency and didn't get him. Next up on their radar could be veteran point guard Andre Miller, who isn't feeling the love from the Sixers. Still to be decided is what happens with restricted free agents David Lee and Nate Robinson, who haven't seen anyone step up with knockout offer sheets and could see their stories play out for weeks or even months.

Early projection for the 2009-10 season -- When Curry was snatched from their grasp one spot ahead of their pick by the Golden State Warriors, the Knicks made the best of their situation in selecting Jordan Hill. The late first-round purchase of the Lakers' pick to gobble up Toney Douglas was also a good move. They got stronger up front by swapping Quentin Richardson for Darko Milicic, who now tries to find a home on his fourth different NBA team. If they match offers to keep Lee and Robinson, that means they'll have to deal Jared Jeffries or Eddy Curry. They were fun to watch in Mike D'Antoni's first season as head coach and should be better now. But will it be good enough to stop Knicks fans from fantasizing about LeBron James in 2010-11?

New Jersey Nets

Gained -- Rafer Alston, Tony Battie, Courtney Lee, Terrence Williams

Lost -- Vince Carter, Ryan Anderson

Up in the air -- Everything about the future of the franchise seems to be floating. Team owner Bruce Ratner is up to his eyeballs in financial problems with his development company, the move to Brooklyn is in limbo and execs Rod Thorn and Kiki Vandeweghe have all their eggs in the basket of landing LeBron James next summer. They moved Vince Carter to Orlando in another money-saving move, trying to clear up more space for next year.

Early projection for 2009-10 season -- There's little to say the Nets aren't heading into next season as the cellar dwellers in the Atlantic. Courtney Lee had a nice playoff run with the Magic, but he and Rafer Alston aren't capable of replacing the offense of Vince Carter. Seems they also could have found a use for Ryan Anderson, who was also shipped out to Orlando. They didn't even make a run at free-agent forward Brandon Bass, who could have been nice addition in the middle. But, of course, nothing that happens next season means anything. It's all about the summer of 2010 and landing King James. If the Nets don't win the LeBron Sweepstakes -- and the odds are longer than winning the lottery -- they'll be stuck at the bottom for a long, long time.

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