With the NBA season just over two weeks away, there are some high stakes and plenty of changes for all teams involved.
One of the more intriguing divisions in the league will certainly be the Atlantic Division in the Eastern Conference.
You have four teams who will be hoping to come out of the East to show that they are true contenders and then you have the New York Knicks who are rebuilding.
The Toronto Raptors, Boston Celtics, Philadelphia 76ers and Brooklyn Nets all have championship aspirations and there should be intense battles with these teams throughout the 2020-21 season. All these teams have been active in an attempt to bolster their roster.
The big question will be who will be the best team in this division?
It’s common knowledge that the Knicks will not be relevant this season and will continue to develop the youth they have currently. They’ll be hoping Obi Toppin can be a major player, but the Knicks are banking on the development of RJ Barrett, Kevin Knox, Frank Ntilikina, Mitchell Robinson and Dennis Smith Jr.
Immediately, the Knicks are out of the equation.
Starting with last year’s Atlantic Division champions, the Toronto Raptors are facing a number of changes to their squad. They have lost Marc Gasol and Serge Ibaka who have been a massive part of their championship campaigns.
As a result, Toronto GM Masai Ujiri has brought in plenty of reinforcements to strengthen the depth of the Raptors. They signed Fred VanVleet and Chris Boucher to a contract extension while bringing in Aron Baynes, DeAndre Bembry and Alex Len for frontcourt help.
With another year under his belt, the Raptors will be hoping Pascal Siakim can take the next to lead Toronto on a deep playoff run. The strength of the Raptors clearly lies with their guard play led by Kyle Lowry, VanVleet and Norman Powell. But it will be interesting to see whether the front court additions can assist Siakim.
OG Anunoby had a mini-breakout season last year with his defensive responsibilities increasing while also having a career best shooting season especially from deep.
Chris Boucher could be due for a breakout season in 2020-21 whether he is the starting centre or the primary backup to Aron Baynes. With Baynes and Boucher at centre, they are still able to provide spacing with both players capable of shooting threes.
Toronto’s success will undoubtedly come down to whether Siakim can continue to evolve. Additionally, if they can get consistent frontcourt production offensively and defensively when it matters most, it will support the guards significantly.
The Boston Celtics made the Eastern Conference Finals but during their series against Miami, it was clear that they were just a missing a crucial piece. They needed a big man to assist them in particular matchups, with the main makeup of their team consisting of dynamic scorers.
Boston had Daniel Theis who did an admirable job as their centre. but was outmatched on a number of occasions. Celtics GM Danny Ainge would bring in help through Tristan Thompson.
Thompson who is capable of being a double-double machine should be able to matchup better especially in the paint with the likes of Bam Adebayo, Giannis Antetokoumnpo and Joel Embiid in the East. As a result, Theis will be an extremely productive backup.
While Thompson isn’t a lockdown defender, his ability to box out, secure rebounds on the offensive and defensive end will be massive for Boston.
The investment in Gordon Hayward never paid off and they finally parted ways with him this off-season. This clears Boston from a logjam and allows them to focus on Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown.
The Celtics also upgrade their backcourt depth by bringing in veteran Jeff Teague. With Kemba Walker and Marcus Smart becoming prone to injuries, they often had to rely on Brad Wanamaker who just wasn’t ready to contribute in a major role. Teague has all types of experiences and should be a significant asset especially in the postseason.
We move onto the Philadelphia 76ers who have made ground-breaking changes to their organisation. After a first-round exit in the 2020 playoffs, the 76ers fired Brett Brown and bring in Doc Rivers to coach the team.
They have also shipped Al Horford who failed massively in Philadelphia and Josh Richardson in an attempt to acquire more shooting to surround Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid.
The major additions to the 76ers include Dwight Howard, Seth Curry, Danny Green, Terrance Ferguson and Ryan Broekhoff.
Philadelphia should continue to be strong defensively, but the big question will be whether Doc Rivers can unlock the 76ers offense to be more efficient.
It has seemed for multiple years that Simmons and Embiid weren’t playing to their strengths and a lack of shooting certainly contributed to that. With all of these new pieces, it will be intriguing to monitor where the 76ers are in comparison to the top teams in the East.
We finally come down to the wildcard of this division, the Brooklyn Nets. Many people have them pencilled in as the favourites to represent the Eastern Conference in the NBA Finals.
Brooklyn have an insanely stacked roster when you view them as a playoff team that are adding a healthy Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant into the squad. Their depth allows the Nets to ultimately field two units that could easily be a starting lineup in the NBA.
Listing the quality of players they have without Irving and Durant, they also possess Spencer Dinwiddie, Caris Lavert, Jarrett Allen, Joe Harris, Landry Shamet, Taurean Prince, DeAndre Jordan, Jeff Green and Bruce Brown.
All the names listed will certainly be major players in the rotation and there are even more players outside of those listed who can contribute meaningful minutes.
If there is a question mark about Brooklyn, you always have to consider whether they can indeed stay healthy. But ultimately, the main question is Steve Nash becoming a head coach for the first time. He was one of the best point guards to play the game through his amazing ability to run an offense.
Will his on-court abilities translate into the coaching role however? This is a very similar situation to Jason Kidd who made the switch from great point guard to head coach. Ironically, Kidd’s first team was the Brooklyn Nets.
You can’t doubt that Brooklyn have the best roster in the East and potentially the NBA, but you just never know what might happen. Brooklyn’s season could see them having a turbulent regular season although they may figure things out by the playoffs.
Hence, the Brooklyn Nets are the wildcard. While many people may claim they are favourites, nothing is ever guaranteed in the NBA.
In the playoffs, rotations usually become short and with their depth, it may create an environment for everyone to be on their top game. By having multiple options, if a player isn’t performing well, you could insert another hungry player to try and shake things up.
Overall, this is definitely the strongest division in the Eastern Conference. While trying to look at potential shortcomings for the Nets, they definitely have the best roster in the East and barring a major collapse, they should be the best team in this division.
The Celtics with their additions should take a step forward especially with Tatum and Brown getting another a year of development. I can easily see Boston being the second-best team in this division now that they have Tristan Thompson joining the roster.
Toronto and Philadelphia will be a very difficult choice to split. With the Raptors having to play in Tampa due to COVID-19 it will be interesting to see whether that affects the Raptors in any way.
With the additions that Philadelphia have made however, you probably have to say that they have more upside. Defense was never the issue for the 76ers and if their added shooting can unlock things inside for Simmons and Embiid, Philadelphia will become an entirely different team.
Meanwhile, as shown in the playoffs last season, if you can slow Siakim down, it makes things a whole lot more difficult for Toronto. Lowry will be an extra year older and having to rely on VanVleet and Norman Powell doesn’t instil massive confidence.
Nonetheless, it should be fun to monitor how all these teams go as they will most likely aim to be battling for a Conference Finals berth