Season Preview: Eastern Conference - Atlantic Division



EASTERN CONFERENCE - ATLANTIC DIVISION

Mark Remme
Wolves Editor/Writer

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Editor’s Note: Timberwolves.com will break down each of the NBA’s six divisions leading into training camp, highlighting the moves each team made and what to watch for during the 2013-14 campaign. Part IV features the Atlantic Division, where a pair of teams anchored in New York City should be vying for home court come playoff time.

NEW YORK KNICKS

2012-13 Record: 54-28 (1st Atlantic Division, 2nd Eastern Conference—Lost Eastern Conference Semifinals to Pacers 4-2)

2012-13 Record vs. Timberwolves: 2-0

Additions: Andrea Bargnani (trade), C.J. Leslie (free agent), Metta World Peace (free agent), Jeremy Tyler (free agent), Beno Udrih (free agent), J.R. Smith (re-signed), Pablo Prigioni (re-signed), Kenyon Martin (re-signed), Tim Hardaway (draft)

Losses: Jason Kidd (retired), Marcus Camby (trade), Steve Novak (trade), Quintin Richardson (trade), Chris Copeland, James White

The Knicks put together their best regular season since 1996-97 last year by winning 54 games, and in doing so they won their division or the first time since the 1993-94 season. They did it by taking care of business at home—New York was 31-10 at Madison Square Garden—and averaging 100.0 points per game. Both of those statistics were second only to Miami in the Eastern Conference.

This year, New York brought back its core but will have a different feel. Carmelo Anthony, fresh off his first scoring title at 28.7 points per game, will again be the main draw in this offense. He played at an incredibly high level last season from start to finish and was a major factor in the Knicks’ overall success. They added Andrea Bargnani from Toronto to add a little extra scoring punch. When healthy, he can stretch the floor and give New York a scorer’s touch. Athletic Iman Shumpert continues to come into his own at the 2. The addition of Metta World Peace this offseason, and when coupled with former Defensive Player of the Year Tyson Chandler, the Knicks have a pair that can D up nicely. The key will be two-fold: Can the Knicks get consistent point guard play from Raymond Felton (Jason Kidd’s retirement changed their backcourt dynamic), and how will coach Mike Woodson play his front court? Melo was lights out last year when playing the 4, but with the addition of Bargnani coupled with Amare Stoudemire, there aren’t a lot of minutes to go around at power forward. Woodson will be tasked with maximizing his lineup rotations, and how they all piece together will dictate how far they go next spring. But on talent alone, expect New York to be in the mix for home court once again.


BROOKLYN NETS

2012-13 Record: 49-33 (4th Atlantic Division, 4th Eastern Conference—Lost Eastern Conference Quarterfinals to Bulls 4-3)

2012-13 Record vs. Timberwolves: 1-1

Additions: Kevin Garnett (trade), Paul Pierce (trade), Jason Terry (trade), Andrei Kirilenko (free agent), Alan Anderson (free agent), Andray Blatche (free agent), Shaun Livingston (free agent), Mason Plumlee (draft)

Losses: Keith Bogans (trade), MarShon Brooks (trade), Kris Humphries (trade), Kris Joseph (trade), Gerald Wallace (trade), D.J. White, C.J. Watson

Inside the division, however, the Knicks will undoubtedly feel some heat from the new-look Brooklyn Nets. Brooklyn went all in this year by pulling off a blockbuster deal that brought in Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Jason Terry from the Boston Celtics while also adding Andrei Kirilenko as a free agent. If you look at the starting lineup for this team, you’ve got Deron Williams (3), Joe Johnson (6), Pierce (10), Garnett (15) and Brook Lopez (1) totaling a combined 35 All-Star Appearances. Add in a former All-Star and strong defensive stronghold Kirilenko along with former Sixth Man of the Year and perimeter threat Jason Terry (JET is fourth all-time in 3-pointers made), and you’ve got a healthy top seven ready to compete in the East. While KG and Pierce are aging, they still have their competitive fire and playoff experience. Lopez made his first All-Star appearance last year and is on the rise, and the Williams-Johnson back court is an impressive tandem.

The biggest question mark is at the top. Jason Kidd retired last season and was seemingly hired instantaneously as the Nets’ head coach. Kidd was revered for his knowledge of the game and his leadership ability as an NBA point guard for the past 19 seasons, and he was the face of the Nets franchise when they went to their two NBA Finals in New Jersey during the 2002 and 2003 seasons. But he’s an inexperienced coach, and veterans like KG and Pierce are coming from a situation in Boston where Doc Rivers—one of the best in the business—was running the show. How he adjusts to the job will play a part in this team’s success.


BOSTON CELTICS

2012-13 Record: 41-40 (3rd Atlantic Division, 7th Western Conference—Lost Eastern Conference Quarterfinals To Knicks 4-2)

2012-13 Record vs. Timberwolves: 1-1

Additions: Keith Bogans (trade), MarShon Brooks (trade), Donte Greene (trade), Kris Humphries (trade), Gerald Wallace (trade), Victor Faverani (free agent), Phil Pressey (free agent), Kelly Olynyk (draft) Colton Iverson (draft)

Losses: Kevin Garnett (trade), Paul Pierce (trade), Jason Terry (trade), D.J. White (trade), Fab Melo (trade), Kris Joseph, Shavlik Randolph, Terrence Williams

Boston just wrapped up the franchise’s best run since the Bird-McHale-Parish era. In one quick motion, the Celtics traded coach Doc Rivers to the Clippers and dished cornerstone Hall of Famers Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett to Brooklyn. The only major piece of the 2008 title run still remaining is Rajon Rondo, the All-Star point guard who is coming off a torn right ACL in January. The rest is a work in progress. Courtney Lee is a viable option at the 2. Jeff Green was the team’s top scorer in the postseason last year—averaging 20.3 points per game. Brandon Bass (8.7 ppg, 5.2 rpg) and Kris Humphries (5.8 ppg, 5.6 rpg) round out the front court heading into camp. One player to watch is center Kelly Olynyk, the standout scorer out of Gonzaga who was leaps and bounds ahead of other bigs in the NBA Draft in terms of scoring potential this summer. He was effective at Summer League in Orlando, and he could be a piece Celtics fans will enjoy long term.

Brad Stevens takes over for Rivers in Boston, which is another shakeup. Stevens led Butler to two straight NCAA championship games in 2010 and 2011. He’s a young, up-and-coming coach that gives Boston a fresh start with a fresh cast of characters. If they succeed immediately and sneak into the playoffs, it won’t be a major drop off from their seventh seed last year. If they do fall into the bottom of the East, they’ll potentially be in the running for a deep lottery class next year. Stevens will be tasked with taking on the rich Celtics history and passionate Boston fans, but he’ll also have the opportunity to re-shape this proud organization to fit his own style. But this will likely take some time.


PHILADELPHIA 76ERS

2012-13 Record: 34-48 (4th Atlantic Division, 9th Eastern Conference—Missed playoffs)

2012-13 Record vs. Timberwolves: 0-2

Additions: Royce White (trade), Tony Wroten (trade), James Anderson (waivers), Tim Ohlbrecht (waivers), Nerlens Noel (draft), Michael Carter-Williams (draft)

Losses: Jrue Holiday (trade), Andrew Bynum, Charles Jenkins, Dorell Wright, Nick Young, Justin Holiday

When it comes to hitting the reset button, the 76ers are at the top of the list. They replaced Doug Collins with Brett Brown, a long-time assistant under Gregg Popovich in San Antonio, and they made some drastic changes to clean house and start anew. It began with a major Draft night deal with New Orleans that sent All-Star point guard Jrue Holiday to the Pelicans in exchange for coveted Kentucky rookie Nerlens Noel. They then let Andrew Bynum—who didn’t play a game for them last season after the Sixers dealt for him in the Dwight Howard-to-L.A. deal—and drafted Syracuse point guard Michael Carter-Williams. They traded for Minnesota-native Royce White as well.

Philly’s front court remained set from last year—heading into camp their depth chart looks like Evan Turner (13.3 ppg, 6.3 rpg) at small forward, Theaddeus Young (14.8 ppg, 7.5 rpg) at power forward and Spencer Hawes (11.0 ppg, 7.2 rpg) at center. Noel, coming off ACL surgery, is expected to miss time at least through December if not the entire 2013-14 season. Carter-Williams will likely get thrown into the starting fold right away as a rookie, and he’ll share the back court with Jason Richardson. Philadelphia likely saw its ceiling being limited in the East, and trying to rebuild became the most viable option. Sixers fans will need to be patient with this young group as it gets healthy and continues to develop.


TORONTO RAPTORS

2012-13 Record: 34-48 (5th Atlantic Division, 10th Eastern Conference—Missed playoffs)

2012-13 Record vs. Timberwolves: 2-0

Additions: Steve Novak (trade), D.J. Augustin (free agent), Tyler Hansbrough (free agent), Dwight Buycks (free agent), Austin Daye (free agent), Julyan Stone e(free agent) Losses: Andrea Bargnani (trade), Marcus Camby, Linas Kleiza, Quintin Richardson, Alan Anderson, John Lucas That leaves the Toronto Raptors, a team that quietly has put together a pretty intriguing group of starters. Beginning with the back court, Kyle Lowry (11.6 ppg, 6.4 apg) and DeMar DeRozan (18.1 ppg, 3.9 rpg) are athletic and can make plays happen on the offensive end. Add in Rudy Gay (18.2 ppg, 6.1 rpg) at small forward—he came to Toronto from Memphis midway through last season—and you’ve got a solid combination of offensive options on the wing. Toronto did move power forward Andrea Bargnani to New York, but it has Amir Johnson (10.0 ppg, .554 FG%) stepping in and a young standout center in Jonas Valanciunas, who averaged 14.9 points and 5.9 rebounds while shooting 55.8 percent from the floor during the month of April last season.

Toronto was middle of the road in both team offense and team defense last year, and even with their 34-48 record they finished tied for ninth record-wise with Philadelphia in the East. Led by Gay, this young core has an opportunity to leap into that playoff conversation this season. Former Wolves coach Dwane Casey has some players to work with on this roster, and this year he’s teaming with former Wolves assistant Bill Bayno on the bench. Bayno was heavily involved with the Wolves’ defensive preparation, and in Toronto he was hired on as Casey’s top assistant. The Timberwolves will get an early look at Toronto as they’ll face the Raptors twice during the preseason.


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