Troy Pierce | October 17th, 2019
It was a tight race for the Atlantic Division championship last season, and the 2019-20 edition is shaping up to be equally as competitive. Well, except for the New York Knicks… My apologies to the Knicks faithful.
With a lot of player movement this past offseason, the Atlantic division was one of the more affected sections of the Association. But, not to worry! I am here to help walk you through all of the familiar faces in new places and shed some light on how the Atlantic division will shakedown.
Let’s start with the reigning NBA Champions.
2018-19 Season Record: 54-38; Atlantic Division Champions; NBA Champions (def. Golden State Warriors 4-2)
Key Additions: Rondae Hollis-Jefferson
Verdict: The Raptors knew Leonard would be a flight risk following the 2018-19 season, and once the Finals wrapped up it became clear that Danny Green would also be leaving for greener (or warmer) pastures.
Despite losing two of the more important players from their roster, Toronto believes they are still capable of winning an NBA Championship. Toronto will need Pascal Siakam to take another leap forward, as well as OG Anunoby. But, with largely the same team returning for another campaign, Toronto should be clear of any bumps in the road.
Title aspirations may be a bit much, but what do you expect from the defending champs? They are not just going to lay down while the rest of the league lines up for a shot at the championship. They still have Kyle Lowry and Marc Gasol, along with a talented bench rotation. Expect Toronto to be right near the top of the Eastern Conference.
2018-19 Season Record: 51-31; Lost to Toronto Raptors 4-3 in the second round
Verdict: Philadelphia made a great choice by bringing in Al Horford. He is a defensive-minded stretch four that will be able to play side-by-side with nearly every Sixer almost seamlessly because of his unselfish style of play. It’s also another addition to the list of Elton Brand‘s great moves while sitting in Philly’s front office.
Philadelphia also made out well in terms of replacing Jimmy Butler. Josh Richardson is younger and plays with just as much energy on both ends as Butler. While Richardson won’t provide the same scoring punch, he also won’t be asked to fill Butler’s empty shoes in that aspect. Philadelphia is my pick to win the Atlantic division and should find themselves back in the hunt for a conference title.
2018-19 Season Record: 49-33; Lost to the Milwaukee Bucks 4-1 in the second round
Verdict: Boston is in a weird spot heading into the 2019-20 season, and it makes it difficult to truly gauge expectations on them. The Celtics have a new point guard, a new big man, a new lease on Gordon Hayward’s health, and young guns ready to make a leap. But the holes left by Al Horford and Kyrie Irving aren’t entirely filled just yet.
Enes Kanter, outside of scoring in the low post, doesn’t help fill the role that Horford left vacant. Kanter isn’t known for his defense, doesn’t stretch the floor, and doesn’t have the same playmaking ability that Horford provided while in Boston. He is, however, a hard-nosed player that isn’t afraid to make waves. Boston needs that grittiness.
Many expect Kemba Walker to provide a better sense of camaraderie and to help be a breath of fresh air. Something Kyrie Irving, by all accounts, couldn’t or wouldn’t do – not exactly what you want from your starting point guard.
Young guns Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown look ready to make the leap and find the magic that found both youngsters leading the charge to the 2018 Eastern Conference Finals. I expect both to continue to their development, with Tatum making the leap and gaining all-star consideration. Brown will need to be a defensive anchor and shoot the ball consistently to stay in Boston past this season.
According to reports, contract talks between Brown and the Celtics have stalled. If Boston feels they’re one piece from true contention then Brown could be moved. Boston needs a rim protector, and with Steven Adams and Clint Capela rumored to be on the trade market, it seems the final piece to Boston’s championship puzzle.
Boston is also gaining what looks to be a fully healthy Gordon Hayward. He has looked confident and composed throughout preseason despite the shooting woes. But the season is yet to start and Hayward should return to his all-star level of play.
2018-19 Season Record: 42-40; Lost to the Philadelphia 76ers 4-1 in the first round
Verdict: After signing two of the biggest names on the 2019 free-agent market, many crowned Brooklyn as the next Eastern Conference Champs. A bit premature to say the least.
The arrival of Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant was met with excitement and high expectations, as expected. However, Durant has already said he doesn’t expect to play this season, and that immediately puts a cap on their championship aspirations. No Kevin Durant puts the ball solely in Kyrie Irving’s hands with yet another chance as the leader of a championship hopeful. But we’ve already seen that story, and we know how it ends – early playoff exits and underwhelming expectations.
The arrival of DeAndre Jordan is likely the most underrated up their three big-name signings this summer. The Nets have a budding rim protector in Jarrett Allen and the signing of DeAndre Jordan should only further his development in that regard.￼￼￼
New York Knicks
2018-19 Season Record: 17-65; Finished last in the Eastern Conference
Key Departures: Tim Hardaway Jr.
Verdict: The Knicks were humbled in a big way this past summer. With aspirations of Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant suiting up for the historic (historically bad) franchise, and hopes of landing Zion Williamson with the first overall pick, the Knicks largely fell flat on their collective faces.
New York did, however, bring in up and coming power forward Julius Randle, and drafted RJ Barrett out of Duke University. Knicks’ brass is looking at their newly formed duo to carry the team into the future.
Despite missing out on the top names, Julius Randle was actually a good signing, even if it does come with a steep price tag. But the signing also begs the question: Why didn’t the Knicks give D’Angelo Russell a max contract and reunite him with Randle?
If Russell hits the trade market I fully expect the Knicks to join the conversation. The Knicks have bigs to spare, and Golden State needs to bolster their size near the basket. Landing D’Lo could be the missing piece for the Knicks to get back into the playoff conversation, though an appearance this year is unlikely.
When half of the playoff pool is coming out of one division it’s safe to assume that division will be difficult to win. I expect another close division race this season.
While the Atlantic division may only have one true championship contender (Philadelphia), the other squads will surely be making their case.
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