The current state of the Eastern Conference's everchanging Atlantic Division from a Toronto Raptors perspective.
To call this NBA summer eventful, would be a disgraceful understatement. With such an electrifying draft and an unbelievable amount of player movement of cosmic proportions; this offseason will significantly shape the future of the league for years to come.
A few key changes that led this summer to be as insane as it took place in the Atlantic Division; specifically, the IT/Kyrie trade. In this piece, I will be breaking down the Atlantic Division, and how the Raptors match up with each team. Let’s look at the division, dating back to the lockout year, 2011-12 (fun fact: The Nets’ last year before moving to Brooklyn):
Boston (4th): 39-27
New York (7th): 36-30
76ers (8th): 35-31
New Jersey: 22-44
New York (2nd): 54-28
Brooklyn (4th): 49-33
Boston (7th): 41-40
Toronto (3rd): 48-34
Brooklyn (6th): 44-38
New York: 37-45
Toronto (4th): 49-33
Boston (7th): 40-42
Brooklyn (8th): 38-44
New York: 17-65
Toronto (2nd): 56-26
Boston (5th): 48-34
New York: 32-50
Boston (1st): 53-29
Toronto (3rd): 51-31
New York: 31-51
Like most divisions in the NBA, the Atlantic has been all over the map for the past few years. A couple of years ago, you could argue that the Atlantic was the weakest division in the league. With this offseason behind us, however, the Atlantic is on the rise and looking much more promising than the past three to four years.
The Win-Now Teams
As we know, the Raptors are going to continue to be in a win-now mode for this year, plus the next two. We can see this simply based on how the core players’ contracts are structured: Lowry, Valanciunas, and Ibaka all expire after the 2019/2020 season, with Demar expiring after the 2020/2021 season. As bleak as it may sound, the Raptors have the next two, maybe three years to get the job done. "The job," being either make the Finals or win the championship.
The Celtics have stockpiled a few future firsts’ from other teams and can use that to their advantage to add some pieces down the road. As of right now, it’s debatable as to who has the better roster right now, between Boston and Toronto. The Kyrie/IT trade shook things up on a whole other level. The deal means we get to meet Kyrie a few more times than usual next year! (yay?). Their first matchup with the Raptors will be an afternoon game in Boston, on Sunday, November 12th.
The Rebuilding Teams
The 76ers have to be on the back of every team's’ mind right now. Embiid teased us last year with 31 games of 20/8/2 with 2.5 blocks a game. Along with that, he captured a player of the week award, three rookie of the month awards and a spot on the first-team all-rookie. This man played about a third of the NBA season.
Along with that ludicrousness, we will be getting our first glimpse at Ben Simmons in the NBA. First overall pick Markelle Fultz is making his debut, Dario Saric is going into his sophomore year following his rookie-of-the-year season, JJ Reddick came over for a cool 20-million, Amir Johnson will be joining the squad and Jahlil Okafor, as complex as his situation in Philly is, is still only 21.
Other names like TJ Mcconnell, Tiago Splitter, Robert Covington, NBA Champion James Michael Mcadoo, Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot (TLC) and Nik Stauskas round out the squad.
This an incredibly enticing team, that under the right circumstances, could do some serious damage this season, and for many seasons to come. Although they are still in the rebuilding stage, I expect terrifying things from them this year.
The Nets aren’t as close to the light at the end of the tunnel, but I like what they did this summer. They picked up bad contracts (Carroll and Mozgov) and dealt Brook Lopez for a 1st rounder and D’Angelo Russell. These trades are smart moves; the Nets aren’t going to be able to coax any big free agents in the offseason, so they soak that excess cap space on bad contracts, in turn for draft picks or a chance at a star.
When I say a chance at a star, D’Angelo is who I'm referencing. Love him or hate him (as many most likely hate him), he does have star potential, and that’s what why the Nets gambled. A young, promising player (who has some off-court issues) that they’ll give the (short, possibly long-term) keys to the franchise to, in return for loyalty and someone to lead them to the promised land.
They won’t be a competitive team next season, but this seems like the first off-season since their implosion back in 2015, where they seem to have steered in the right direction.
New York Knicks
Lastly, we have the Knicks. Are they going to keep Melo? Are they going to trade Porzingis? Who knows?!? And after hearing these phrases over a thousand times over the summer, I ceased to care.
After what felt like an eternity of a shambled organization, Phil Jackson stepped down and mutually parted ways with the Knicks. The Knicks are still a mess, but fans are banking on the team to play their cards right, and draft and/or trade their way out of this mess.
This season won’t be competitive for the Knicks, but as a basketball fan, I hope to see them make a step in the right direction and tackle their personnel issues head-on.
Overall, you can still argue that the Atlantic Division is still the weakest (only comparable to the Southeast and Pacific)division, but you can't disagree that it isn't on the rise.
As for now, however, the Raps’ should surely take their respective series’ against the 76ers, Nets, and Knicks. The Toronto/Boston series is incredibly enticing. Their matchup on the 12th of November will be a key indicator as to how the series will play out. Here is how I see the Atlantic Division shaping up, from my most honest perspective:
2017-2018 Atlantic Division Prediction Boston Celtics (1st) 63-18 Toronto Raptors (4th) 56-22 Philadelphia 76ers (7th) 42-40 New York Knicks 26-52 Brooklyn Nets 24-54.