2014-15 Atlantic Division Outlook
It was a wild 2013-14 season in the Atlantic Division. Three teams ushered in rookie head coaches, Toronto surprised us, and two division foes went to seven games in a playoff series.
How will that all translate to this season? Well, let’s just say more craziness is expected. Two Atlantic teams will play under new coaches, and most of the division expects to improve. We summarize it all in the team capsules below.
1. Toronto Raptors
'13-14 Record: 48-34
Playoff Finish: First Round
|+ Bruno Caboclo (draft)||- Nando De Colo (CSKA Moscow)|
|+ Jordan Hamilton||- John Salmons (ATL)|
|+ James Johnson (MEM)||- Steve Novak (UTA)|
|+ Kyle Lowry (re-signed)||---|
|+ Patrick Patterson (re-signed)||---|
|+ Lou Williams (ATL)||---|
|+ Greivis Vazquez (re-signed)||---|
Not many expected Toronto to do what it did a season ago. It won the Atlantic Division, ending a six-year division drought, and earned the third seed in the Eastern Conference.
The Raptors were overachievers because a couple of their players took it to the next level. DeMar DeRozan, now a five-year NBA veteran, became an All-Star by averaging 22.7 points per game. Kyle Lowry nearly became an All-Star with a career year that featured averages of 17.9 PPG and 7.4 APG.
DeRozan and Lowry were the lynchpins to Toronto’s success. However, they received plenty of help.
Jonas Valanciunas became a reliable center while nearly averaging a double-double on the season. He’s expected to take another step forward this season. Toronto also has a host of quality players coming off of the bench, including Greivis Vazquez and Patrick Patterson, who were both acquired in the Rudy Gay trade that sparked the Raptors early last season.
Toronto’s successful 2013-14 campaign sends it into this season as the favorite in the division. The Raptors are deep, with quality at every position and stars at two positions. It will be difficult for any team to unseat them as the champs.
2. Brooklyn Nets
'13-14 Record: 44-38
Playoff Finish: Conf. Semifinals
|+ Alan Anderson (re-signed)||- Shaun Livingston (GSW)|
|+ Bojan Bogdanovic (draft)||- Paul Pierce (WAS)|
|+ Markel Brown (draft)||- Marcus Thornton (BOS)|
|+ Jarrett Jack (CLE)||---|
|+ Sergey Karasev (CLE)||---|
|+ Cory Jefferson (draft)||---|
Brooklyn headed into last season with championship aspirations thanks to the acquisitions of Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett. A year later, Pierce is out of town, head coach Jason Kidd is in Milwaukee, and no one knows what to expect from this Nets team.
Many key pieces still remain in Brooklyn, including Garnett, Deron Williams and Joe Johnson. We’d also be remiss if we failed to mention the scheduled return of former All-Star center Brook Lopez.
Brooklyn’s stars will have a healthy amount of talent around them as well. The Nets retained Alan Anderson, who was a bright spot a season ago, will have the ever-reliable (when healthy) Andrei Kirilenko, and added steady veteran guard Jarrett Jack. They also have high hopes for rookie swingman Bojan Bogdanovic and second-year guard Sergey Karasev.
Expectations will be much more realistic for the Nets this season after losing three key contributors in Pierce, Shaun Livingston and Marcus Thornton. Brooklyn is now flying under the radar, and it could strike under new coach Lionel Hollins.
3. New York Knicks
'13-14 Record: 37-45
Playoff Finish: DNQ
|+ Cole Aldrich (re-signed)||- Tyson Chandler (DAL)|
|+ Quincy Acy (SAC)||- Wayne Ellington (SAC)|
|+ Thanasis Antetokounmpo (draft)||- Raymond Felton (DAL)|
|+ Jose Calderon (DAL)||- Jeremy Tyler (SAC)|
|+ Samuel Dalembert (DAL)||---|
|+ Cleanthony Early (draft)||---|
|+ Shane Larkin (DAL)||---|
|+ Travis Outlaw (SAC)||---|
We might as well call them the New Look Knicks this season. They have a new coach (Derek Fisher), a new starting point guard (Jose Calderon), a new starting center (Samuel Dalembert), and a ton of other new pieces.
Fisher will have his hands full in getting this group to play as a team in its first season together. However, he has a few key factors on his side.
First and foremost, Fisher has Carmelo Anthony, the second-leading scorer in the NBA last season. Fisher also has Phil Jackson mentoring him and a strong assistant coaching staff that includes Kurt Rambis and Jim Cleamons.
With a rookie head coach, an experienced starting group that features Anthony, and a young bench that includes rookie Cleanthony Early, this team is a complete wild card. The Knicks could surprise a lot of people, or they could struggle through a rough season.
4. Boston Celtics
'13-14 Record: 25-57
Playoff Finish: DNQ
|+ Avery Bradley (re-signed)||- Jerryd Bayless (MIL)|
|+ Marcus Smart (draft)||- Kris Humphries (WAS)|
|+ Marcus Thornton (BKN)||---|
|+ James Young (draft)||---|
|+ Tyler Zeller (CLE)||---|
Ask NBA analysts which Atlantic Division team improved the most this offseason and many will answer with the Celtics. Boston added a bunch of young talent, will have a healthy Rajon Rondo all season, and re-signed its starting shooting guard, Avery Bradley.
Much of this season’s attention could fall on the shoulders of sixth overall pick Marcus Smart. He’s expected to receive major minutes and contribute at both ends. Continuing with the young-player, high-expectation theme, Boston will also play 17th overall pick James young on the wing, and 7-foot center Tyler Zeller down low.
This group of Celtics will come together in late-September thinking playoffs, plain and simple. We’re now in Year Two of the Brad Stevens regime, and Year Two means higher expectations from all angles. The Celtics want nothing more than to push for the division title and return to the postseason after a one-year absence.
5. Philadelphia 76ers
'13-14 Record: 19-63
Playoff Finish: DNQ
|+ Joel Embiid (Draft)||- James Anderson (waived)|
|+ Jerami Grant (draft)||- Thaddeus Young (MIN)|
|+ Pierre Jackson||---|
|+ Jordan McCrae (draft)||---|
|+ K.J. McDaniels (draft)||---|
|+ Vasilije Micic (draft)||---|
|+ Dario Saric (draft)||---|
|+ Alexey Shved (MIN)||---|
|+ Luc Richard Mbah a Moute (MIN)||---|
The 76ers may have struck gold on Draft night by landing Joel Embiid and Dario Saric. Problem is, they can’t cash in on that gold this season.
Embiid is likely to miss the season with a foot injury and Saric is still tied up in a contract overseas. After trading away leading scorer Thaddeus Young, Philly looks to be staring down another dreadful season.
That being said, there is hope. Sixers fans will get to watch Nerlens Noel compete for the Rookie of the Year award alongside the reigning Rookie of the Year, Michael Carter-Williams. Philadelphia also has young players like Alexey Shved, Jerami Grant, K.J. McDaneisla and Luc Mbah a Moute.
That talent isn’t likely to win many games this season but it should at the very least provide entertainment. Philadelphia’s competitive seasons will have to wait until Embiid and Saric can join Noel and Carter-Williams.