ATLANTIC DIVISION: Joe Johnson. Kyle Lowry. Jason Kidd. Jason Terry. Andrew Bynum. The Atlantic Division has been blessed with talent for the upcoming campaign. In recent years, the Atlantic had been an also-ran in the league (with the exception of the Boston Celtics), but now the fresh additions have made competing for a championship that much tougher.
NYQUIL (DON’T SLEEP): Who knew that Ye’ Old Philadelphia could make the gruff and tough Andrew Bynum smile? In a city like Los Angeles, filled to the brim with Malibu trees and sunshine, Bynum, the Los Angeles Lakers’ former child prince, rarely broke a smile. Most times we were lucky to get a smirk. But since arriving in Philly as a 76er, Bynum has done nothing but show his teeth from ear to ear, opining of his desire to make the City of Brotherly Love his longtime home. Let’s just see how long he smiles when the fans boo him in the midst of a multi-game losing streak.
1 PLUS 1 EQUALS 2 (THE INEVITABLE): It’s simple, and it’s something that happens every year with the New York Knicks. They will have an egregiously terrible losing streak, and all of Manhattan will panic. You can’t miss it. The team will start playing selfishly, get lazy on defense, stop making the extra pass, and play ‘Melo-ball. He will get blamed. The flipside to this is that with the Brooklyn Nets in town, a new tradition will commence – from now on, when the Knickerbockers burn for about a good month in the papers, the Brooklyn Nets will get the comparable glory. Carry on tradition.
LEFT FIELD (OH, IT’S COMIN’): This is a real newbie for the New York papers – there will be a controversy concerning Amar’e Stoudemire being on the trading block -- if he can return from injury. The reason? He’ll ‘surprisingly’ fail to return to his formerly devastating All-Star form, which will lead to another mini-saga – that of Carmelo Anthony publicly refusing to own his better play at power forward when STAT goes to the bench. Of course, then, ‘Melo will complain about who/what he is and not wanting to do the dirty work of a post player. He’ll protect his perimeter-oriented thoughts, saying that they have STAT and Tyson Chandler, so he doesn’t need to play the four. TRUST.
THE WACKNESS: I’m tired of people defending Carmelo Anthony because he’s talented. He doesn’t do everything necessary within his power to win. His 2003 counterparts – LeBron James and Dwyane Wade – have visibly sacrificed and sought teaching, and while ‘Melo is a very good talent, his rep is based in Syracuse, Oak Hill, and the Jumpman.
VIDEO: The composite co-sign for the Brooklyn Nets will be myriad for the team this year, and who better than Fabolous to show love with a few bars?
ALL DIVISION SQUAD
Kevin Garnett, Celtics, C: Arguably, no one in the league can defend the frontcourt and score from the block or in the mid-range like KG. Remember that he has rebuilt cadaver knee ligaments.
Carmelo Anthony, Knicks, F: Flaws and all, no one can match the pure scoring talent of ‘Melo. Down low, beyond the elbow, and striking at the basket, he just gets buckets.
Paul Pierce, Celtics, F: Pierce’s greatest assets mainly have little to do with his actual athleticism. His shooting and timing still make him lethal at all times on the floor.
Rajon Rondo, Celtics, G: Poised to proved that one man won’t stop the show, Rondo will likely impose his will on the league – especially after last year’s All-Star snub.
Deron Williams, Nets, G: He’s good enough, he’s smart enough, and doggoneit, opponents hate seeing him. Deron Williams is easily the best point guard after Chris Paul when it comes to sheer ability.
DIVISION NAME MVP – Deron Williams: He’ll likely own the Atlantic in 2012-2013. Why you ask? It’s simple. He’s the only one in the division will the ability to change the complexion of a game based on what he does and where he does it from. And, with the right kinds of talent, that can allow him to manifest all of the raw components of his game that make him elite. A real low post threat, slasher, and a sweet shooter will make most ballplayers competent, but what if you have all three, and you can dominant the game when you shoot, pass, and dribble? He will own.
HOOD PLATINUM: Kevin Garnett is a grown-A man. How crazy is that?! He went from young buck to relative gray beard in a lightning-fast 17 years, and the fans still respect his G. A barking, seven-foot-plus 20-10 machine still keeps the fans on the edge of their seats. Ball don’t lie.
1. Boston Celtics
Nobody quite knows what is forthcoming for the Boston Celtics. Success is pretty much a given for this team, but to what end? Kevin Garnett’s a year older, as is Paul Pierce, and with the rise of so many new talents in the Eastern Conference (not including the imminent dominance of the Miami Heat), the future is fairly hard to see for Boston. The Celtics could go to the Finals. They could lose in the first round. The surprise is in the mix.
KG is jumping center (officially). After so many years of masquerading as otherwise, he’s finally in the pivot definitively, but what makes the difference is for whom he’s guarding the paint. Jason Terry got dissed in Dallas and appropriately picked up his own pieces in Beantown. Courtney Lee took less money to follow. Ray Allen is explaining himself about leaving, and finding himself getting a kelly green cold shoulder. (Don’t count on Jeff Green, Boston.)
Bottom line, the Celtics have to defy their age. Fab Melo and Jared Sullinger are new blood, but the vets have to be sharp. If they can’t, they’ll get lapped and set up for early retirement. Not much of a margin for error.
Projected Record: 54-28
2. Brooklyn Nets
When it comes down to it, the Nets are similar to a remodeled home. The façade is different, the stylings inside have changed a bit, but the frame is the same. In the case of Brooklyn, the frame is based on potential, but when you have new furniture and colors, the old house is going to feel like a new home.
So much noise has been made about the Nets, that I’m quite sure that Russia can hear the New York tabloids as they’re being pressed. Brooklyn made moves before they left New Jersey, but, to be clear, they totally overpaid (you can do that when your owner is a billionaire, though). Joe Johnson is the house and finally gives Deron Williams his first real shooting guard with star talent…and with $90 million left on his deal. Gerald Wallace is an All-Star scrapper and he was apparently worth $40 million, an egregious amount as he slopes. Brook Lopez spent most of the previous year sick and ended up with the max. That’s a lot of money for a prospective non-contender.
And that’s mostly the team, save MarShon Brooks and the unheralded Kris Humphries. The Nets aren’t going to wave any banners in the near future, but the fans will wave Roc-A-Fella diamonds in the air. Good enough if you’re not gonna win chips.
Projected Record: 46-36
3. New York Knicks
Linning is no longer appropriate in The House of ‘Melo, but that doesn’t mean that the city won’t be wishing for old times at times. Jason Kidd and Marcus Camby are in town and aren’t necessarily the kind of change that fans believe in. J.R. Smith is re-signed and unsurprisingly unhappy. Raymond Felton is back with palpable trepidation since being purged from Manhattan, initially as part of the Carmelo Anthony deal. Melo happens to be in Year 3 of being a New York Knick and steadily feeling the heat…what’s the upside to any of this?
Well, for starters, Amar’e Stoudemire (after a long 10 years) sought the teaching of Hakeem Olajuwon and has dedicated himself to the post. He’s mostly healed from the back and leg injuries that had hobbled him in the previous year, and Mike D’Antoni has no chance of showing up to confuse the process. With that said, no one is going to confuse the Knicks for contenders. Tyson Chandler and ‘Melo’s gold medals aren’t going to keep the fans in a smiling stupor for long. “Put up or shut up” time is the Achilles’ heel of the Knicks. They won’t put up.
Projected Record: 45-37
4. Philadelphia 76ers
Strangely, there is a kind of peace surrounding the Philadelphia 76ers that doesn’t seem quite right. Andre Iguodala is gone after succumbing to the pressure of trying to be more than what he was (he couldn’t handle that). Elton Brand is absent, after failing to build on his Clipper success, through no real fault of his own. The future is now hanging in the balance, largely on Andrew Bynum, a young All-Star center who historically fails to play barely more than half of a full season at a time.
Evan Turner hasn’t gotten all that comfortable, but he’ll have his spot in the starting lineup. Nick Young was brought in to gun; but head Doug Collins is strong about his players defending and Young never bother in his previous chances.. Jrue Holiday has to be that guy. It won’t be enough for him to be an efficient playmaker – he has to be dynamic, set the tone. The main issue for the Sixers in 2011-2012 was that Iguodala, Turner, and Holiday were all starting and all were, virtually, guards who weren’t big on shooting. Maybe, with one guy out, clarity will come – either from the Ws or the Philly-fan boos.
Projected Record: 40-42
5. Toronto Raptors
If the NBA didn’t feel like a Canadian league presence would be a good form of NBA nation-building, it can be assured that the Raptors would be up for contraction. Neither Vince Carter nor Chris Bosh has left much of an impact on the franchise, and the team is years apart from those players on the roster. But, there is hope.
One hope is the leadership. Dwane Casey getting another year to continue to shape the young of the roster is going to pay dividends. New point guard Kyle Lowry is a trooper and one of the most savvy players in the league. Landry Fields is a competent wing that isn’t afraid to play with the ball in his hands. A big Lithuanian center doesn’t hurt, either.
But what are the real issues? Andrea Bargnani hasn’t become anything near what he was thought to be (unless being a rich man’s Matt Bullard was the plan). Despite putting up very solid numbers, he’s a virtual afterthought. DeMar DeRozan hasn’t leapt to another tier of play, either. The whole operation is hanging on those two to be accountable and strong. Nothing else is really more important.
Projected Record: 36-46
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