Season Preview: Eastern Conference - Atlantic Division
Web Editorial Associate
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 2012-13 campaign. Part V looks at the Atlantic Division, where the Boston Celtics and New York Knicks will look to return to the playoffs and the new-look Nets make their debut in Brooklyn.
2011-12 Season record: 39-27, 1st in division, 4th in Eastern Conference, lost Eastern Conference finals to Miami Heat (4-3)
Courtney Lee (from Rockets), Jared Sullinger (from Draft), Fab Melo (from Draft), Kris Joseph (from Draft), Jason Collins (from Hawks), Jason Terry (from Mavs), Jamar Smith, Rob Kurz, Dionte Christmas
Ray Allen (to Heat), Ryan Hollins (to Clippers), Greg Stiemsma (to Wolves), JaJuan Johnson (to Rockets), E’Twaun Moore (to Rockets), Sean Williams (to Rockets), Sasha Pavlovic (to Blazers)
If any team felt the exhaustion of a playoff run in 2012, it was the Boston Celtics. They saw a hard-fought series against Atlanta in the first round, traded wins with Philadelphia in the next round until they finally won Game 7, and had a 3-2 advantage over Miami in the Eastern Conference Finals only to drop their final two contests.
This summer was an important one for General Manager Danny Ainge. Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett had expiring contracts, and only six players remained under contract. Boston acquired youth through the draft by picking Jared Sullinger (Ohio State) along with Syracuse teammates Fab Melo and Kris Joseph. Veteran guard Jason Terry (Mavericks) was signed in free agency, and a sign and trade deal brought Courtney Lee (Rockets) to town.
While Allen left in free agency, Boston retained their core in leading scorers Paul Pierce (19.4 points per game) and Garnett (15.8 PPG) in addition to floor general Rajon Rondo (11.7 assists per game). Brandon Bass (12.5 PPG) was resigned and will see time in the frontcourt rotation with Chris Wilcox and Jeff Green, who both missed significant time last season with heart ailments. Bench spark Avery Bradley (7.6 PPG) will continue to develop and gain experience under Rondo.
Losing Allen and his 45% shooting clip from outside will change the look of the offense, but Terry is no slouch from 3—he brings the fourth-most career 3-pointers in NBA history. The big question that outsiders will bring up is age; are Pierce (34), Garnett (36) and Terry (35) slowing down? If they are, can Rondo continue to facilitate the offense at the pace that he and Doc Rivers want? Or can these savvy veterans make a few last runs at a ring?
NEW YORK KNICKS
2011-12 Season record: 36-30, 2nd in division, 7th in Eastern Conference, lost Eastern Conference quarterfinals to Miami Heat (4-1)
Ronnie Brewer (from Bulls), Jason Kidd (from Mavs), Marcus Camby (from Rockets), Raymond Felton (from Blazers), Kurt Thomas (from Blazers), Pablo Prigioni (from Caja Laboral), John Shurna, Chris Copeland, Henry Sims, Chris Smith, Mychel Thompson, James White
Jeremy Lin (to Rockets), Landry Fields (to Raptors), Toney Douglas (to Rockets), Jerome Jordan (to Rockets), Dan Gadzuric (to Blazers), Josh Harrellson (to Rockets), Jared Jeffries (to Blazers), Kostas Papanikolaou (to Blazers), Giorgos Printezis (to Blazers)
As quickly as “Linsanity” began, that’s how quickly it left New York. Overnight sensation Jeremy Lin, who took the NBA and media outlets by storm in February, signed an offer sheet with the Houston Rockets that the Knicks did not match.
Coach Mike Woodson, who led the Knicks to a first round playoff appearance where they were ousted by the eventual champion Miami Heat, dropped his interim label during the offseason and assumed a permanent role. Landry Fields (Raptors) and Toney Douglas (Rockets) left for other franchises, but the acquisition of Jason Kidd (Mavericks), Ronnie Brewer (Bulls) and the continued progress from second-year man Iman Shumpert will help bolster the backcourt. Sixth man J.R. Smith (12.5 points per game) also returns after resigning with the team.
New York will continue to feature All-Star caliber talents at their starting forward spots in Amare Stoudemire (17.5 PPG, 7.8 rebounds per game) and Carmelo Anthony (22.6 PPG, 6.3 RPG). Veteran Marcus Camby will come in and supplement starting center Tyson Chandler (11.3 PPG, 9.9 RPG), who has become known as one of the best defensive forces in the NBA. Steve Novak will come off the bench and hope to keep his hot shooting hand from outside, as the tall seventh-year forward averaged 47% from outside last season.
For a Knicks club that hasn’t advanced past the first round since 2000, there’s a sense of urgency at Madison Square Garden. The focus on acquiring veterans (Smith, Kidd, Brewer, Camby) is evident, and the fanbase is hoping that this is the year the Knicks can make a big push forward.
2011-12 Season record: 35-31, 3rd in division, 8th in Eastern Conference, lost Eastern Conference semifinals to Boston Celtics (4-3)
Andrew Bynum (from Lakers), Jason Richardson (from Magic), Dorell Wright (from Warriors), Arnett Moultrie (from Draft), Kwame Brown (from Bucks), Nick Young (from Clippers), Royal Ivey (from Thunder), Maalik Wayns
Lou Williams (to Hawks), Jodie Meeks (to Lakers), Andre Iguodala (to Nuggets), Nikola Vucevic (to Magic), Craig Brackins (to Angelico Biella), Sam Young (to Pacers), Elton Brand (to Mavs)
The 2011-2012 Philadelphia 76ers joined a historic group when they became only the fifth team in NBA history to defeat a No. 1 seeded playoff team as an eighth seed. After beating the Bulls in six games, they took divisional rival Boston to seven games before dropping the series. This was the fourth playoff appearance in the last five years for Philadelphia, continuing a positive trend for now third-year coach Doug Collins.
Major lineup changes followed their playoff push, as the 76ers traded franchise mainstay Andre Iguodala, Nikola Vucevic, 2012 draft pick Moe Harkless and a future first round pick in exchange for Jason Richardson and Andrew Bynum. The four-team trade, designed to enable Dwight Howard’s move to Los Angeles, brought in one of the NBA’s rising young stars in Bynum. He enjoyed career highs in points per game (18.7) and rebounds per game (11.8) and was named to his first NBA All-Star Game this year.
Philly added some scoring options on the wing when they acquired Nick Young (14.4 PPG and Dorell Wright (10.3 PPG). They also boosted their big man arsenal when they drafted Arnett Moultrie (Mississippi State) and signed veteran center Kwame Brown (Bucks). Jrue Holiday returns at point guard (13.5 PPG, 4.5 assists per game), and Thaddeus Young (12.8 PPG) and Evan Turner (9.4 PPG) will help the squad off the bench.
Coach Collins hopes that with the addition of one of the league’s best big men, his team can continue their upward trend in the playoffs. How Bynum handles a new location and more of a focal role could be the key to Philadelphia’s season.
2011-12 Season record:23-43, 4th in division, 11th in Eastern Conference, missed playoffs
Landry Fields (from Knicks), Kyle Lowry (from Rockets), Terrence Ross (from Draft), Quincy Acy (from Draft), Jonas Valanciunas (from 2011 Draft), Tomislav Zubcic (from Draft), John Lucas III (from Bulls), Dominic McGuire (from Warriors)
Jerryd Bayless (to Grizzlies), Ben Uzoh (to Cholet), Gary Forbes (to Rockets), James Johnson (to Kings)
Despite a disappointing finish in their division, Toronto reloaded both through the draft and free agency and will have several exciting additions to their lineup in 2012-2013.
Perhaps the most exciting new face is foreign prospect Jonas Valanciunas. A 20-year-old Lithuanian center, Valanciunas lists at 6-foot-11 and was drafted fifth overall in 2011. Issues with a contract buyout prevented his immediate arrival, but he is now a year older, more experienced and decorated with FIBA’S European Young Player of the Year award for 2012. Toronto also drafted Terrence Ross with its No. 11 draft pick, an athletic guard out of Washington who can also hit shots from outside. Add in a strong, hard-working post presence in Quincy Acy (Baylor), and the Raptors have a great incoming crop of youngsters.
Guards DeMar DeRozan (16.7 points per game) and Jose Calderon (10.5 PPG, 8.8 assists per game) led guard production for Toronto last season, and they’ll be joined by free agent acquisitions Kyle Lowry (Rockets) and Landry Fields (Knicks). Lightning-quick guard Leandro Barbosa contributed 12.2 PPG off the bench, and Andrea Bargnani, who ended the season injured, will come back healthy and anchor the low post.
There’s an exciting buzz in Canada going into 2012-2013. Some are feeling that this year could yield much improved results for the Raptors, and depending on how much of an impact these new players can make, they very well could jump up the divisional standings.
2011-12 Season record: 22-44, 5th in division, 12th in Eastern Conference, missed playoffs
Joe Johnson (from Hawks), Reggie Evans (from Clippers), Jerry Stackhouse (from Hawks), C.J. Watson (from Bulls), Andray Blatche (from Wizards), Josh Childress (from Suns), Mirza Teletovic (from Caja Laboral, Spain), Tyshawn Taylor (from Draft), Tornike Shengelia (from Draft), Ilkan Karaman (from Draft)
Jordan Farmar (to Hawks), Anthony Morrow (to Hawks), Johan Petro (to Hawks), DeShawn Stevenson (to Hawks), Jordan Williams (to Hawks), Sundiata Gaines (to Pacers), Gerald Green (to Pacers), Damion James (to Hawks), Shelden Williams (to Elan Chalon, France)
On April 30, the Nets made their return to Brooklyn as they unveiled their new jerseys, colors and logos. A move to the New York borough and a total rebranding along with a trade for a six-time NBA All-Star will give this franchise a totally new look and feel.
Brooklyn sent five players and a draft pick to Atlanta for veteran guard Joe Johnson, a prolific scorer who has averaged over 18 points per game every season since 2005-2006. Johnson will step in and start next to star point guard Deron Williams (21 PPG, 8.7 assists per game). Also in the mix at guard are Marshon Brooks (12.6 PPG) and C.J. Watson (9.7 PPG).
The frontcourt, bolstered by picking up Gerald Wallace right before last season’s deadline, will be solid with Brook Lopez and Kris Humphries (13.8 PPG, 11.0 rebounds per game) returning. Lopez, who was plagued with ankle problems last season and missed all but five games, will finally get a healthy chance at center this year.
With a new brand come new expectations, and the Nets are hoping to handle their schedule in the same way that they’ve dominated summer merchandise sales. The addition of Johnson rounds out a talented starting lineup, and if everyone stays healthy, this should be a team that can improve on last year’s mark.
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