To preview the Atlantic Division, NJNets.com asks the question "what needs to happen for _____ to win the division?" The blank represents a team in the Atlantic and each team will have a case made as to how and why they could win the division. The following order is alphabetical.
Boston Celtics – the Celts have put in place a lot of the things that need to happen for them to win the division. They added perennial all-stars Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen to longtime Celtic all-star Paul Pierce. That is a triumvirate to be reckoned with. They lost a lot of depth in the big ticket deals, but have re-stocked throughout the off-season, bringing in James Posey, Eddie House, Scot Pollard, and Glen “Big Baby” Davis. To be at the top of the Atlantic, the team will need their “big three” to gel early and will need the 4-12 players to make strong contributions. Rajon Rondo has to hold steady at the point-guard position, and former Net Brian Scalabrine needs to provide a bench boost like he did for the Nets.
New Jersey Nets – The Nets won the Atlantic Division in four of the last six seasons. With health – Nenad Krstic was lost last season with a torn ACL and Richard Jefferson missed significant time because of right ankle surgery – New Jersey will be right there in the running for the division crown. The Nets added toughness and a down-low bruiser in Jamaal Magloire, drafted shot-blocker Sean Williams, and signed Malik Allen. The Nets boast a formidable starting five, whichever way they go with the 4/5 position, and have Jason Kidd steering the ship. With a more consistent Marcus Williams giving Kidd quality backup minutes, Bostjan Nachbar giving similar production to last season, and Vince Carter playing like he did when he was named April’s Player of the Month, New Jersey should be, at least, right in the running when they play in Boston on the final game of the season.
New York Knicks – New York made a 10-game improvement last season from the season prior, finishing 33-49. To win the division, sizable further headway will need to be made this season. By trading for the 26 year-old, 20 (points) and 10 (rebounds) guy Zach Randolph, the Knicks bolstered a front line that already includes Eddy Curry and David Lee. With Stephon Marbury playing a controlled point-guard game, Jamaal Crawford continuing the late-game exploits, and their Las Vegas Summer League Team upstarts – including MOP Nate Robinson - playing like they did in the desert, perhaps the headway can be made faster than most people think.
Philadelphia 76ers – To say the Sixers have a chance to win the division a half-season after trading Allen Iverson might be tough; however, their play following the trade showed that they might not be in rebuilding mode. The trading of AI set the stage for their new AI, Andre Iguodala. From February through the end of last season (29 games), Iguodala averaged 20.0 points, 6.1 rebounds, and 6.7 assists. As a team, the Sixers finished on a 17-9 clip and went 30-29 overall after the trade was made. On draft day, they came away with Thaddeus Young, Jason Smith, Derrick Byars, and Herbert Hill. With veteran point-guard Andre Miller managing the team and Samuel Dalembert double-doubling down low, AI’s Sixers’ descent in the division may not take place.
Toronto Raptors – For starters, the Raps are the incumbent: they won the 2007 Atlantic Division. Coach of the Year Sam Mitchell’s crew should continue their play this season. Last year's 20 game win improvement from the previous season was the best in the NBA. With Chris Bosh providing the face and the scoring punch, the point-guard duo of Ford and Calderon running circles around opponents, and the solid front-office job that has been done of integrating European players, the young Raptors should be here to stay. And we haven’t even talked about Andrea Bargnani, 2006’s number 1 draft pick, a player who showed improvement as the year went on, averaging 11.6 points, 3.9 rebounds, and 25.1 minutes in 65 games. Before long, he will be a major force. They lost Morris Peterson, but signed Jason Kapono and added Carlos Delfino.
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