Friday , Nov , 03 , 2006 Oly Sandor

NBA Atlantic Division Preview

Boston Celtics

Last year: 33-49.
 
2006 playoffs: did not qualify. 

Key players returning: Al Jefferson, Kendrick Perkins, Paul Pierce, Delonte West, Wally Szczerbiak.

Who’s new: Leon Powe (rookie), Theo Ratliff (acquired from Portland in trade), Allan Ray (rookie), Rajon Rondo (rookie), Sebastian Telfair (acquired from Portland in trade).

Who’s gone: Dan Dickau (traded to Portland), Raef LaFrentz (traded to Portland).

The deal: For the past few seasons, the Celtics have been faced with this dilemma: do they keep superstar Paul Pierce or do they trade him and start rebuilding around their younger players? Pierce’s new contract shows that Boston has put the rebuilding plans on hold, but ‘The Truth’ and his newest supporting cast lack the talent to compete with the Eastern Conference’s best teams.

Prediction: The green-and-white will find it difficult to qualify for the playoffs.

On the hot seat: Danny Ainge and Doc Rivers haven’t got it done as the Celtics’ GM and coach. If this team stumbles out the gate, changes will occur.

 
 

New Jersey Nets.

Last year: 49-33. 

2006 playoffs: Lost to Miami in the Eastern Conference semi-final, 4-1.

Key players returning: Vince Carter, Richard Jefferson, Jason Kidd, Nenad Kristic.

Who’s new: Hassan Adams (rookie), Josh Boone (rookie),Eddie House (free agent signing from Phoenix), Mile Ilic (rookie), Mikki Moore (acquired from Seattle in a trade), Marcus Williams (rookie).                                                                                                             

Who’s gone: Lamond Murray (signed with the LA Clippers as a free agent), Scott Padgett (waived), Zoran Planinic (returned to Europe), Jacque Vaughn (signed with San Antonio as a free agent).

The deal: It’s the same old story in ‘Brick City’-the Nets have failed to provide Carter, Jefferson, and Kidd with a supporting cast that can legitimately challenge Miami and Detroit. Other than Nenad Kristic, the Nets have not added any real talent to play next to their big three. Only this year it will cost them. Look for up-and-coming teams like Chicago and Cleveland to leapfrog New Jersey in the Eastern Conference standings.

Prediction: Fifth to eighth in the Eastern Conference.

On the hot seat: Nets’ exec Rod Thorn could sink in the swamps of Jersey because most of his free agent signings and draft picks have yielded disappointing results.

 
 

New York Knicks.

Last year: 23-59.

2006 playoffs: did not qualify.

Key players returning: Jamal Crawford,Eddie Curry, Steve Francis, Channing Frye, David Lee, Stephon Marbury, Quentin Richardson.

Who’s new: Renaldo Balkman (rookie), Mardy Collins (rookie),Jared Jeffries (free agent signing from Washington). 

Who’s gone: Jackie Butler (signed with San Antonio as a free agent), Jalen Rose (bought out), Maurice Taylor (bought out), Ime Udoka (waived).

The deal: On paper, the Knicks have more individual talent than Staten Island’s finest, The Wu-Tang Clan. After all, Francis and Marbury have both been perennial all stars; Curry and Frye have tons of offensive skill. Isiah Thomas, New York’s controversial GM and newly minted coach, has a number of options at the three-spot and off the bench.

But as the Knicks found out the hard way, basketball games aren’t played on paper. Last year, this collection of players failed to come together as a collective and got caught up in more drama than Gray’s Anatomy.

Five Borough hoop heads are hoping New York can return to the postseason. 

Prediction: Ninth, or tenth in the Eastern Conference. The Knicks aren’t as bad as everybody says, but they aren’t particularly good, either.

On the hot seat: After the Larry Brown debacle, ownership has given Isiah one season to turn things around. If Isiah gets the pink-slip, hopefully, for everyone’s sake, he steers clear of the broadcast booth.

 
 

Philadelphia 76ers.

Last year: 38-44.
 
2006 playoffs: did not qualify.

Key players returning: Samuel Dalembert, Steven Hunter, Andre Iguodala, Allen Iverson, Kyle Korver, Kevin Ollie, Chris Webber.

Who’s new:  Edin Bavcic (rookie),Rodney Carney (rookie), Alan Henderson (free agent signing from Cleveland), Bobby Jones (rookie).

Who’s gone: John Salmons (signed with Sacramento as a free agent).

The deal: Philadelphia is a franchise that lacks direction. Ownership wants to sell the club. Billy King has been an utter failure as GM. Maurice Cheeks is too meek to be an NBA head coach. And ‘The Answer’, Allen Iverson, can’t be pleased because the 76ers spent the summer trying to trade him.

On the court, Philadelphia lacks direction, too. Iverson’s one-man show is no longer enough to win games. Chris Webber has shown that he will never re-capture his old MVP-caliber form from Sacramento. Samuel Dalembert and Andre Igoudala are the organization’s best young talent, but they often get lost in Iverson’s enormous shadow. 

Prediction: Out of the playoffs. Former 76ers’ owner and life-coach Pat Croce should return to counsel this dysfunctional mess.

On the hot seat: Billy King, the GM. He’s just as bad as Rob Babcock and Stu Jackson.

 
 

Toronto Raptors.

Last year: 27-55.
 
2006 playoffs: did not qualify. 

Key players returning: Chris Bosh, Jose Calderon, Morris Peterson.

Who’s new: Andrea Bargnani (rookie), T.J. Ford (acquired from Milwaukee in a trade), Jorge Garbajosa (free agent signing from Europe), Kris Humphries (acquired from Utah in a trade), Fred Jones (free agent signing from Indiana), Rasho Nesterovic (acquired from San Antonio in a trade), Anthony Parker (free agent signing from Israel), Uros Slokar (free agent signing from Europe).

Who’s gone: Rafael Araujo (traded to Utah), Andre Barret (waived), Matt Bonner (traded to San Antonio), Charlie Villanueva (traded to Milwaukee), Eric Williams (traded to San Antonio).

The deal: Bryan Colangelo has failed to amass all of the NBA’s available European talent. Here’s who he missed:

  • Tony Kukoc-‘The Waiter’, at 38, is still capable of driving the lane and throwing a left-handed, no-look dime to Bosh for a nasty jam.
  •  Sarunas Marciulionis- At 42, he could leave his post as commissioner of the North European Basketball League and teach Toronto’s perimeter players how to drive left every single time.
  • Vlade Divac- The flopper is still good for ten to fifteen minutes a night of playing time, but only if he gets to chain smoke cigarettes from the bench.
Jokes aside, Colangelo, Toronto’s new GM, deserves a lot of credit. He’s changed the culture of losing and apathy that had infested the Raptors’ organization, while also providing a clear vision for the future.

Chris Bosh, Morris Peterson, and T.J. Ford are expected to lead a club that’s suddenly deep at every position. If Anthony Parker, Jorge Garbojosa, Andrea Bargnani, and Rasho Nesterovic step up, then the ‘T-dot’ should jump from lottery-land to the post season.

Prediction: Sixth, seventh, or eighth in the Eastern Conference.

On the hot seat: Sam Mitchell. If the Raptors stumble, then Colangelo will fire the coach he inherited and bring in his own sideline boss.

 

Oly Sandor is an NBA analyst and free-lance journalist based out of Vancouver, Canada. His unique takes have been in the most prominent basketball websites and magazines. He is also a frequent contributor to various radio shows. Check out his blog at www.olysandornbaanalyst.blogspot.com or email him at olysandornbaguru@yahoo.com.