1. Brooklyn Nets (2nd in east)
Projected starters: Deron Williams, Joe Johnson, Gerald Wallace, Kris Humphries, Brook Lopez.
You may think that I am picking the Nets to win this division and have the second best record in the eastern conference just because I am a big Nets fan, but this is not the reason. They have the most complete team in the Atlantic and have talent to compete with anybody in the eastern conference. In the offseason, Billy King carefully chose the players he wanted on the team so that no position is either overloaded or undermanned (with the exception of maybe center). I believe that with talent around him, Deron Williams will show his potential, which we have seen flashes of during his time in New Jersey, on a more consistent basis. He will be an MVP candidate. Joe Johnson will thrive in his new role of second superstar and will get more open looks than he ever had in Atlanta. Despite his recent injuries, Brook Lopez is a smart guy and he knew that he needed to improve his rebounding. He gained a lot of muscle and strength during his time off and we will see a big improvement on his rebounding this year. He should still be a force to mess with on offense, too. I don’t believe that the Nets are a championship contending team quite yet and I will be surprised to even see them in the eastern conference finals, but I do believe that they will be an excellent regular season team and will win a lot of games this year.
2. Philadelphia 76ers (4th in east)
Projected starters: Jrue Holiday, Jason Richardson, Evan Turner, Spencer Hawes, Andrew Bynum.
The big move for the Sixers this offseason was obviously adding Andrew Bynum, but that is not the only reason I think they will have home court advantage in the first round of the playoffs. Despite losing Andre Iguodala, they also added Jason Richardson and Nick Young, two talented players on offense where Philly needs more help. They also added Dorell Wright, one of the better 3-point shooters in the game. On top of that, I think this may be a breakout year for Evan Turner with Andre Iguodala out of the way. There is no reason for him not to be a full-time starter this year and average at least 15 ppg. Andrew Bynum is arguably the best center in the NBA and he also has a good amount of talent around him. Because of that, expect Philadelphia to be one of the top teams in the east this season.
3. Boston Celtics (5th in east)
Projected starters: Rajon Rondo, Avery Bradley, Paul Pierce, Brandon Bass, Kevin Garnett.
Most people are picking the Celtics to win this division and finish as high as second in the east. I agree that they are a very good team and nobody will want to face them in the playoffs, but I just don’t think they are a great regular season team. Last season, they won a much weaker Atlantic Division, but only finished 5th in the east and didn’t get home court advantage in the first round of the playoffs. This year, they lost Ray Allen, and Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett are another year older. So why should they have a better record than last year? Of course, they did make some good additions with Jared Sullinger in the draft and Jason Terry in free agency, but I expect Boston to rest its players towards the end of the season so they could be ready for the playoffs. All Boston cares about is making the playoffs because that is where they will do their damage. The first 82 games will just serve as preparation for those playoffs.
4. New York Knicks (7th in east)
Projected starters: Raymond Felton, J.R. Smith, Carmelo Anthony, Amare Stoudemire, Tyson Chandler.
These Knicks are no better than the Knicks of the last two seasons. In the offseason they lost overrated players Jeremy Lin and Landry Fields and got nothing in return. To compensate, they signed ancient and washed up players Raymond Felton, Jason Kidd, Marcus Camby, and Kurt Thomas. Unfortunately for the Knicks, all these players will have to play pretty big roles, which means that this team could be in trouble. Additionally, nobody in this starting lineup aside from Tyson Chandler plays any defense and this team has to hope that Chandler can recover for all the mistakes they are sure to make. Carmelo Anthony and Amare Stoudemire have proved that they do not play well together and one of them may have to be traded (most likely Stoudemire) if the season is going downhill. The only player I like on the roster is Iman Shumpert, who does play excellent defense. However, his shot selection on offense is very poor like most of the other players on this team. I think that the Knicks will be able to sneak into the playoffs this year mostly riding on the offense of Carmelo Anthony. If they don’t make the playoffs, just imagine the criticism they will receive from fans and reporters.
5. Toronto Raptors (12th in east)
Projected starters: Kyle Lowry, Landry Fields, DeMar DeRozan, Andrea Bargnani, Jonas Valanciunas.
The Raptors are stuck in a pretty tough position because they can never sign any big name free agents. Nobody wants to play basketball in Canada, especially after superstars Vince Carter and Chris Bosh left the team. Because of that, they have to overpay overrated players like Landry Fields to come to the team. The only reason anybody has even heard of Landry Fields is because he was on a big market team in New York. His stats (8.8 ppg, 4.2 rpg) don’t back up his contract at all. The Raptors did make a pretty good move in trading for Kyle Lowry, but he will not be able to bring this team to the playoffs anytime soon. Toronto won’t be terrible this season, but they will be pretty bad, especially because they are playing in the toughest division in basketball.