Tag Archives: Lionel Hollins

Brooklyn’s Bubble Has Burst

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When the Nets left New Jersey in favor of Brooklyn, New York in 2012, they brought with them a ton of excitement. The Nets won 49 games in their first season in Brooklyn and the future appeared to be bright for them. And although the Nets have made the playoffs in each of the last three seasons, their win total has declined in each year. But for a franchise that’s all-time winning percentage is just .439, the Nets are off to one of the worst starts ever. The Nets lost their first seven games to begin this NBA season and even though they’ve been able to be more competitive in their recent games, Brooklyn’s record is now 2-11. A championship cannot be won this early into the NBA season, but a start like the Nets have had can surely diminish their chances of being a contender.

Lionel Hollins

Lionel Hollins is in his second season as the Nets head coach which in itself is a miracle due to the fact that Brooklyn hasn’t had a head coach last more than one season since they crossed backed over the Hudson River. Hollins is a no-nonsense head coach that will hold his players accountable. Hollins’ approach led the Nets to buying out the contract of point guard Deron Williams over the summer which marked the end of his disappointing tenure with the club. And although the victories have not been there for the Nets so far this NBA season, Williams is one less headache that they have to worry about.

The Nets surely weren’t going to win with Williams, but this is a team that still needs an upgrade at the point guard position. Point guard Jarrett Jack was brought in last season to push Williams, but he ended up becoming the Nets starting point guard when Williams fell out of favor with Hollins. Jack is an NBA journeyman, but this season he is enjoying his best start as a professional as he is averaging 14.7 points and 7.3 assists per game. However, Jack is a solid backup point guard. And for the Nets, they have lacked a franchise player at point guard ever since they traded Jason Kidd to the Dallas Mavericks in 2008 which is what they thought they were getting with Williams.

(l-r) Brook Lopez, Joe Johnson, Thaddeus Young

What the Nets currently have is a team consisting of a few solid players in center Brook Lopez, power forward Thaddeus Young, and shooting guard Joe Johnson. This is a trio of good players, but no of these players has the ability to put the Nets on his respective back.

But regardless of who is currently on the Nets roster, they must find a way to win in spite of their unfavorable schedule to begin this season. 13 of the Nets first 16 opponents this season were playoff teams last year which has included them losing four of their first five games by at least 10 points. And as the losses have piled up for the Nets, general manager Billy King is watching with a keen eye as it might be time to wave the white flag soon if this trend continues in Brooklyn.

Johnson is in the final year of his contract as he is earning nearly $25 million this season. Expiring contracts are like gold in the NBA and for a player like Johnson who is 12th on the NBA’s all-time list for made three-point field goals, he could provide a spark to a contending team should the Nets attempt to trade him. But at the same time, what the Nets need to practice most is patience.

Mikhail Prokhorov

When Mikhail Prokhorov purchased the Nets in 2010, he vowed to deliver a championship within five years. And in hoping to make good on that boast, Prokhorov allowed King to trade away draft picks along with young players in order to bring in veterans that he felt would lead Brooklyn to a title. But that hasn’t worked out as the Nets have not made it past the conference semifinals since coming to Brooklyn. And what the Nets need to do is to develop some patience while also attempting to get younger.

With Lopez and Young under contract with the Nets through 2018, the Nets should build around them which starts with bringing in a quality point guard. Memphis Grizzlies point guard Mike Conley Jr. is set to become an unrestricted free agent next summer. And although Conley is not a top-tier point guard, he is a player that is familiar with Hollins’ system from their time together with the Grizzlies while he is also a player that could potentially team with Jack to provide the Nets with two serviceable point guards which would improve their play. The Nets already have nearly $57 million committed to player salaries for next season which surprisingly puts them under the NBA’s salary cap and it could also give them flexibility to contend; as long as they discontinue their recent practice of taking on massive contracts for aging players.

This NBA season doesn’t have the makings of a good one for the Nets, but should Prokhorov and King decide to display some patience with Hollins, this is a team that could turn it around. But at the same time, it isn’t a good sign when you’re beginning to look forward to next NBA season for a team and we’re not even at Thanksgiving.

Source: Basketball-reference.com

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2015-2016 Atlantic Division Projections

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Y-Toronto Raptors 46-36 (7)

The Toronto Raptors are coming off of their best regular season in franchise history, but will they be able to take the next step in the NBA Playoffs? The Raptors have won the Atlantic Division is each of the last two NBA seasons, but it hasn’t resulted in success in the postseason as Toronto has been bounced in the first round each year. Under general manager Masai Ujiri, the Raptors have been a guard oriented team with their big men mainly focusing on rebounding. This philosophy is good enough for the Raptors to win Atlantic Division in the regular season, but the postseason is a different animal.

Kyle Lowry, DeMar DeRozan

The Raptors two leading scorers recently have been shooting guard DeMar DeRozan and point guard Kyle Lowry. DeRozan is an athletic wing player while Lowry is a grizzled point guard. Lowry has shed a few pounds during the off-season in the hope of being able to endure the grind that is the NBA season. Together, DeRozan and Lowry have the ability to put the Raptors on their back which could lead to another division title.

The Raptors do have some size in their frontcourt in center Jonas Valanciunas and power forward Patrick Patterson and they’ll need to improve on the boards as they were just 26th in the NBA in rebounding last season while the acquisition of power forward Luis Scola and small forward DeMarre Carroll should provide Toronto with some extra depth and scoring options up front.

For Raptors head coach Dwane Casey, “small ball” will once again be in effect for his team which should lead to another division title, but they will more than likely be hung out to dry next spring in the NBA Playoffs.

X-Boston Celtics 43-39 (8)

Brad Stevens

It wasn’t pretty at times, but the Boston Celtics found a way to make the NBA Playoffs last spring. The Celtics went 40-42 to grab a playoff spot in the Eastern Conference as the rebuilding process under head coach Brad Stevens is paying off. Stevens is set to begin his third season as the head coach of the Celtics and his squad in Boston is reminiscent of his teams when he was the head basketball coach at Butler University. The Celtics might not have the overall talent of other teams in the NBA, but they scrap, claw, and play as a cohesive unit on a nightly basis which is something that you’ll see from them once again in the upcoming NBA season.

Like some other teams in the NBA, the Celtics have become a guard oriented team. The Celtics acquired point guard Isaiah Thomas last season from the Phoenix Suns. And in 21 games with the Celtics, Thomas averaged 19.0 points per contest. This season it would not surprise me to see Stevens employ a three guard lineup at times with Thomas, along with fellow point guards Marcus Smart and Avery Bradley as they all possess speed along with the ability to score and facilitate.

In the Celtics front court, they are hopeful that this will be the season in which power forward Jared Sullinger will be able to remain healthy. Sullinger in entering his fourth season with the Celtics, but he has only appeared in 177 games. At 6’9″, 280 lbs., Sullinger gives the Celtics an imposing presence in the post, but he cannot help the team if he is not playing. This off-season the Celtics acquired power forward David Lee from the Golden State Warriors. And if Lee is healthy, what he’ll be able to provide the Celtics with is a player that is always active who doesn’t need many offensive plays called for him in order to contribute which will fit into Stevens’ system.

Swingman Evan Turner is a solid wing player while small forward Jae Crowder, power forward Amir Johnson, center Tyler Zeller, and center Kelly Olnyk give the Celtics depth and size in their front court; especially coming off of the bench.

The Celtics won’t be able to sneak up on teams this season, but a favorable schedule to begin the NBA campaign along with solid determination will have them once again contending for a postseason berth.

Brooklyn Nets 41-41

In their first year under head coach Lionel Hollins, the Brooklyn Nets posted a losing record, but they still were able to navigate their way to the postseason. And in the upcoming NBA season, the Nets are out to prove people wrong who are ready to write them off as far as being able to be a contender.

It was addition by subtraction for the Nets when they parted ways with point guard Deron Williams over the summer. Williams had developed a reputation in New York City of being a “high-priced diva”. And when your production doesn’t equate to your paycheck in the Big Apple, the fans and media alike there don’t have a problem in letting you know that. The Nets would simply buy out the remainder of Williams’ contract as they decided that it was time for them to move on from their former franchise player.

The Nets are the seventh NBA team that point guard Jarrett Jack has played for. Last season with the Nets, Jack averaged 12.0 and 4.7 assists per game as he was splitting time with Williams. But with Williams now with the Dallas Mavericks, Hollins is giving Jack the opportunity to be a starter which is something that he hasn’t consistently done in the NBA. What Jack gives the Nets at the point guard position is a player who is a veteran floor general that can get his teammates involved while staying within the realm of what Hollins wants to have executed on the floor.

Brook Lopez

After flirting with trading center Brook Lopez last season, the Nets have decided to keep their big man around as he has begun to display the aggression that Hollins consistently needs from him in the post. Lopez has always been a solid scorer, but not a superstar. And if the Nets are cool with Lopez hitting his career averages of 17 points and 7 rebounds per contest, then they’ll have a solid contributor on their hands. Whereas the Nets traded center Mason Plumlee to the Portland Trailblazers over the summer, they are raving about the potential that power forward Thaddeus Young possesses. Nets general manager Billy King drafted Young into the NBA with the Philadelphia 76ers back in 2007. And even at the age of 27, we still don’t know how good that Young can truly be as a player due to the fact that he’s never had a solid opportunity to be a focal point of a team which we should see more of this year.

The Nets still have veteran sharpshooter Joe Johnson who is in the final year of his contract. Johnson is set to earn $24.9 million this season and if he or Brooklyn gets off to a slow start this season, I could see him getting shipped out of town. But Johnson is still a solid three-point shooter that could benefit from pick and roll action with Jack along with playing off of Young and Lopez in the post as he looks to join the 20,000-point club this season.

The Nets reserve players will consist of point guard Shane Larkin, swingman Bojan Bogdanovic, and veteran small forward Andrea Bargnani who all have something to prove this season after up and down campaigns last season to say the least.

The Nets will embark on a difficult schedule to begin the NBA season which includes games against the San Antonio Spurs and Chicago Bulls, but Hollins is a good motivator and he knows how to adjust as the season goes along which should allow Brooklyn to remain in the hunt for a playoff spot.

New York Knicks 30-52

For some folks it may appear that there is a dark cloud hanging over Madison Square Garden and the New York Knicks. The Knicks have not won the Eastern Conference since 1999 and they have not won the NBA Championship since 1973. But in recent years, the Knicks have become a laughing stock in professional sports. The Knicks are coming off of their worst season in franchise history as they went 17-65, and to make matters worse, the ping pong balls didn’t bounce their way at the NBA’s Draft Lottery as they received the fourth overall pick of the draft. The Knicks would select forward Kristaps Porzingis which was welcomed by a chorus of boos in New York City. Porzingis is a 20-year old native of Latvia who Knicks team president Phil Jackson is classifying as a “project” and only time will tell will tell how good that he can be. But the problem is that the folks in New York City don’t want to hear about a player being a project as they are looking for a winner right now which is something that they shouldn’t hold their breath on with this current Knicks team.

When Jackson came on board as the Knicks president, he wanted to do things his way which meant him bringing his famed triangle offense to town. Jackson hired Derek Fisher to be the Knicks head coach last year due to his familiarity with Jackson’s system during his playing days with the Los Angeles Lakers. But Fisher is the one who is coaching the Knicks and not Jackson and the message of the triangle is not getting across to the players in New York.

Derek Fisher

In Fisher’s first season with the Knicks, he appeared to be lost for the most part as their has been a steep learning curve for him as he made the quick jump from NBA player to being a head coach without any period of transition as an assistant coach. Fisher also hasn’t helped himself or the Knicks being that he is now embroiled in a saga involving himself and the ex-wife of current Memphis Grizzlies small forward Matt Barnes. And although the Ringling Brothers Circus no longer comes to Madison Square Garden, there is still plenty of circus action around 33rd and Broadway due to the calamity of errors that the Knicks have become.

Carmelo Anthony

Small forward Carmelo Anthony is the Knicks best player, but at 31-years of age, and coming off of knee surgery, can he be the same player that he once was? For his 12-year NBA career, Anthony has averaged 25.2 points per game. Anthony is a phenomenal scorer that doesn’t make the players around him better and with the triangle offense predicated on ball movement, it seems to be a marriage of oil and water between he and Jackson’s system.

With a team president that is out to lunch, a head coach that is searching for answers and a superstar player in Anthony that has a scorer’s mentality, fans of the Knicks don’t have a lot to look forward to in the upcoming NBA season.

Philadelphia 76ers 20-62

There’s bad and then there’s how bad that Philadelphia 76ers have been recently. During the 2012-2013 NBA season, the 76ers won 34 games. But over the last two NBA seasons, the Sixers have won a combined 37 games. And by the look of things, you can expect more of the same in Philadelphia from them during the upcoming NBA season. Sam Hinkie is entering his third season as the 76ers team president/general manager and even though he wants people to trust the process, it is time that he produces some positive results for this team.

Jahlil Okafor

The Sixers owned the third overall pick of the 2015 NBA draft which they used on center Jahlil Okafor whom they are hopeful will be a building block for them, but at the same time will they stick with him long enough to develop? Under Hinkie, the 76ers have a history of giving up on some of their young players quickly while they’ve also made turned the NBA Draft into a joke due to the fact that they select players that are injured as they’ll once again be without the services of center Joel Embiid for the entire season.

Under head coach Brett Brown, the Sixers have a young team, but they must find a way to become more competitive as they lost 23 games last season by at least 15 points. Right now the Sixers are not a respected organization around the NBA which means they are going to have to earn respect, but by the looks of things, they don’t have the personnel to be that competitive.

Source: Basketball-reference.com

Y-Division Winner

X-Playoff Berth

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A Common Sense Move For The Nets

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The Brooklyn Nets have released point guard Deron Williams which could pave the way for him to join the Dallas Mavericks. Williams has played in the NBA for ten years with nearly five of those seasons being spent with the Brooklyn Nets. In 2012, the Nets signed Williams to a lucrative five-year deal that was worth $98 million and he has failed to live up to it. Williams began his NBA career with the Utah Jazz where he averaged 17.3 points and 9.1 assists. But with the Nets, Williams’ numbers have slightly dipped as he averaged 16.6 points and 7.5 assists with them. Williams’ field goal percentage has also been down as he shot 42 percent from the floor with the Nets compared to almost 47 percent with the Jazz. Williams has seen his minutes per game average go down in every season with the Nets as injuries and his inability to perform in the clutch have made him a lightning rod of controversy in New York City. When Williams put his name on the dotted line with the Nets, there were high expectations, and if you are unable to deliver the mail in the Big Apple, the folks there will let you know about it.

http://latestcommentary.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/07/deron-williams.jpgWith the Nets, Williams has been the typical player that wanted the money and the prestige from being on the big stage, but not the overall responsibility that is attached to it. When the Nets acquired Williams in 2011, he was in the midst of making his second of three consecutive appearances in the NBA All-Star Game and he was acknowledged as being one of the best point guards in the league which was evident by him being a member of the United States Men’s Basketball Team that won the gold medal in the Summer Olympics in both 2008 and 2012. But as soon as the Nets signed Williams to his extension in 2012, the real D-Will emerged.

All of a sudden Williams didn’t like the system that Nets head coach Avery Johnson was using. This was the same system that Johnson had implemented in which Williams played in for more than a year before signing his new deal. But now Williams envisioned himself as being made out of teflon and thus Johnson was fired. Williams has developed a reputation around the NBA as being a “coach killer”. During Williams’ time with the Nets, he played for four different head coaches and once you factor in that he ran Jerry Sloan out of town with the Jazz, he hasn’t built a quality reputation. This past season the Nets had a head coach in Lionel Hollins that wasn’t going to put up with Williams and his excess baggage which saw him benched in favor of backup point guard Jarrett Jack.

Williams is now 31-years old and with diminishing basketball skills, he still wants to show that he can get it done and a change of scenery is just what the doctor ordered for both him and the Nets. If Williams does get his wish to join the Mavericks, he will be a part of an organization that has championship aspirations, but he would be playing for an owner in Mark Cuban and a head coach in Rick Carlisle that would not have a problem putting him in his place. Gone are the days where Williams can command a max contract from any NBA team as he has proven that he checks out mentally as soon as the ink dries on the big deal. And for the Nets at this point it is all about getting the stench of Williams off of them.

When Mikhail Prokohrov purchased the Nets in 2010, he vowed to build a champion in five years. Prokohrov is not afraid of spending the money, but he overpaid for players such as Williams and a high-priced player is not always a good one. The Nets are trying to remove themselves from paying a large luxury-tax bill to the NBA for a team that has to sneak into the NBA Playoffs instead of contending for a title. The Williams contract should be a lesson to Prokohrov, Nets general manager Billy King and anyone that calls themselves a basketball fan; that unless you’re team is signing LeBron James, there is no such thing as a quick fix in the current NBA.

Source: Basketball-reference.com

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The Nets Could Be Rolling The Dice

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In the NBA it is tough to win a championship without a quality big man as you simply cannot coach size. And most teams that have gone on to raise the Larry O’Brien Trophy as NBA Champions have had a player checking in at 6’9″ or taller play an integral part in their success. Brooklyn Nets center Brook Lopez doesn’t have the footwork of Hakeem Olajuwon, the power of Shaquille O’Neal, the tenacity of Moses Malone, or the hook shot of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, but he is still a viable player. Lopez has a player option for next season of $16.7 million which he is more than likely going to walk away from this summer and become a free agent. The Milwaukee Bucks are reportedly interested in Lopez’s services, but would the Nets really allow him to leave Brooklyn?

http://cdn.fansided.com/wp-content/blogs.dir/307/files/2015/05/brook-lopez-nba-orlando-magic-brooklyn-nets1-850x560.jpg

Brooklyn Nets

In his first season as Nets head coach, Lionel Hollins wasn’t an overwhelming fan of Lopez. Hollins felt that Lopez wasn’t tough enough and aggressive enough at times which led the head coach to benching the 7-footer. The Nets even put Lopez on the trading block and he appeared to be a goner until a three-team deal involving the Oklahoma City Thunder and Charlotte Hornets fell through. Lopez never complained about the benching or trade rumors and instead he let his play do the talking as he became vital in helping the Nets obtain the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference this past spring. And for the season Lopez averaged 17.2 points and 7.4 rebounds for a Nets team that needed every bit of it.

But it wouldn’t surprise me one bit if the Nets allowed Lopez to leave Brooklyn as they have been a poorly constructed franchise for the majority of their existence. This is the same franchise that was broke when they joined the NBA in 1976 and thus they were forced to sell Julius Erving to the Philadelphia 76ers. After that the Nets were an afterthought in the NBA until they acquired point guard Jason Kidd in 2001 and he led them to their only two Eastern Conference Championships in 2002 and 2003. The Nets attempted to rekindle that magic in 2011 when they acquired point guard Deron Williams from the Utah Jazz. But all that the Nets have gotten out of Williams is an overpaid prima donna who has become a lightning rod for criticism in the New York media. The Nets bloated payroll is a luxury tax nightmare as even without Lopez on their roster for next season, they would still be over the NBA’s salary cap.

When Mikhail Prokohrov purchased the Nets in 2010 with an impending move to Brooklyn in 2012, he tried to have an instant winner which has blown up in his face immensely as money alone and bloated contracts cannot win a championship. But allowing Lopez to leave Brooklyn wouldn’t make things any easier for the Nets going forward.

The Nets have allowed themselves to get caught up in the New York media shuffle as they’ve tried for the quick fix as opposed to building a stable and consistent contender and in the process they’ve overestimated Lopez’s skill set on the basketball court. Lopez is not going to average 25 points and 15 rebounds per game, but there are not too many players currently in the NBA that can put up those numbers of a nightly basis. And even though Lopez is not the most athletic center in the NBA, he has still averaged 17.9 points and 7.3 rebounds for his career which most teams would gladly take.

One man’s trash could be another’s fortune and if Lopez were to join the Bucks, he would once again be under the guidance of Kidd as his head coach as the former point guard coached him in Brooklyn for one year. If Lopez were to join the Bucks, he would also be a part of a team that has a young nucleus and they have the look and the feel of a team that is ready to do some damage in the Eastern Conference. Milwaukee is also one of the smaller media markets in the NBA and it would be a place where Lopez wouldn’t have any added pressure as he would be removed from the spotlight of the New York media and his numbers could improve there.

Nets general manager Billy King must find a way to pool all of his resources together in order to keep Lopez in Brooklyn this summer. The Nets have previously tried build a team around Williams and it hasn’t worked. Point guards in the NBA are a dime a dozen, whereas 7-footers such as Lopez that can score don’t come around the bend that often. Williams is due $21 million next season and there is an early termination option on his deal for the 2016-2017 NBA season. The Nets don’t intend to buy Williams out, but it is definitely time to move on from him while keeping their options open on Lopez, or it will be the same phrase that has become too familiar with their franchise which is starting over.

Source: Basketball-reference.com

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Lopez’s Strong Play For The Nets

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The Brooklyn Nets currently find themselves in the middle of a playoff race. If the Nets are able to win out, it will mark the third consecutive season in which they’ll be bound for the NBA Playoffs. But unlike the previous two seasons, this one has been more difficult for the Nets to navigate through. Lionel Hollins is in his first year as the Nets head coach and he is also the fourth different head coach that Brooklyn has employed over the last three years. Hollins is a no-nonsense coach that doesn’t have a problem putting his players in their place. Hollins’ tough persona hasn’t meshed all season with a Nets team that at times has been labeled as “soft”. But Hollins and his players have found some common ground as of late and in spite of the Nets having a losing record, a postseason berth is within their grasp.

The Nets haven’t been above .500 since mid-November, but they have won eight out of their last eleven games to get back into playoff contention in the Eastern Conference. And a big part of the Nets recent surge has been the play of center Brook Lopez.

Brook Lopez

Lopez has been with the Nets since 2008, and at 7’0″, he has had lofty expectations placed on him from his first day on the job. If you’re looking for a player to average 25 points and 13 rebounds per game, then Lopez is not your guy. But for his NBA career, Lopez has been more than serviceable as he has averaged 17.9 points and 7.3 rebounds.

This month alone Lopez has averaged 22.1 points and 9.7 rebounds as the Nets are hopeful that they’ll be able to take the B-train all the ways to the NBA Playoffs. Lopez has also developed a knack for making the clutch shot which was recently highlighted by his game-winning shot against the New York Knicks on April Fool’s Day. But it always hasn’t been that smooth for Lopez this season.

Lionel Hollins

Earlier this season Lopez and Hollins were not on the same page and the Nets had placed their big man on the trading block. Hollins even went as far to remove Lopez from the Nets starting lineup this season. But when a deal fell through that would have sent Lopez to the Oklahoma City Thunder, cooler heads prevailed in Brooklyn and both the Nets and their big man have become better from it.

Amid all of the trade rumors that were surrounding Lopez, he never complained, nor did he publicly bash Hollins or the Nets organization. Instead Lopez has found a way to become more aggressive and fit into Hollins’ system. With the Nets, Lopez has always been that laid back kind of guy and Hollins really needs to consistent and dependable back-to-the-basket player. Prior to joining the Nets, Hollins was the head coach of the Memphis Grizzlies and he had to luxury have two quality and skilled big men in center Marc Gasol and power forward Zach Randolph. And Hollins knows that if the Nets are going to make any progress going forward, then they’ll need to have solid play from Lopez.

Part of Lopez’s improved play cab be attributed to Minnesota Timberwolves power forward Kevin Garnett. The Nets traded Garnett to the Timberwolves earlier this season. But in Garnett’s brief time with the Nets, he did work with Lopez on both the physical and mental aspects of the game. And who better for Lopez to learn from than Garnett who is one of the better big men to have ever played in the NBA.

It would not have worked out for the Nets had they traded Lopez to the Thunder due to the fact that you cannot coach size in the NBA as finding a big man that can score is hard to find. Even if the Nets make the playoffs this season, they aren’t expected to go that far being that they are facing the possibility of meeting the Atlanta Hawks in the first round. And aside from being the best team in the Eastern Conference this season, the Hawks have had their way with the Nets as well. Lopez has a $16.7 million player option for next season and unless he decides to opt out, he’ll be with the Nets next season. If that’s the case, it will give Hollins and Lopez more time to get on the same page as you simply cannot spell Brooklyn without Brook.

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The Race For Eighth In The East

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It’s the best of the worst who are trying to sneak into the NBA Playoffs in the Eastern Conference.

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2014-2015 Atlantic Division Projections

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X-Toronto Raptors 49-33 (4)

Kyle Lowry

Last season the Toronto Raptors came out of nowhere to win the Atlantic Division. The Raptors did it with a team that had a workman like approach and also had a star in the making. Last season Raptors shooting guard DeMar DeRozan averaged a career-high in points with 22.7 per game and at 25-years of age he is in the process of becoming the new face of the franchise in Toronto. Raptors general manager Masai Ujiri received good news this summer when point guard Kyle Lowry turned down an opportunity to join the Miami Heat and return to Canada. Like DeRozan, Lowry averaged a career-high in points last season (17.9) along with 7.4 assists per game. Heading into this season the starting backcourt of Lowry and DeRozan gives Raptors head coach Dwane Casey one of the best combos at the guard position in the Eastern Conference.

Aside from Lowry and DeRozan, the Raptors will rely on a slew of role players that include center Jonas Valenciunas, power forwards Amir Johnson, and Patrick Patterson along with guard Greivis Vasquez who all know how to go out there and do all of the dirty things for Toronto to be successful.

The schedule at the beginning of the season is not a difficult one for the Raptors and as their expectations have changed, Toronto will need to be up for the challenge in 2014.

Y-Brooklyn Nets 46-36 (5)

The Brooklyn Nets have called Downtown Brooklyn home for two seasons and in the process they have made a pair of trips to the postseason. But will the Nets be able to take that next step for the 2014-2015 NBA season? The Nets will begin this season with their fourth head coach since the start of the 2012-2013 NBA season. Lionel Hollins is the new head coach of the Nets. Hollins comes to the Nets after he led the Memphis Grizzlies to the 2013 Western Conference Finals and the main reason why he is in Brooklyn is the fact that he knows how to deal with different personalities.

The Nets are a veteran team that needs shooting guard Joe Johnson, center Brook Lopez, and point guard Deron Williams to all be healthy and on the same page. Last season Lopez only appeared in 17 games as a foot injury kept him on the sidelines. In the past three seasons Lopez has combined to miss 150 games. More than ever the Nets will need a healthy Lopez in the post as he has averaged 18.0 points per game in his NBA career.

Deron Williams

It is put up or shut up time for Williams in Brooklyn. Last season Williams had his worst season since his rookie campaign during the 2005-2006 NBA season. Last season Williams only averaged 14.3 points and 6.1 assists per game as he drew the ire of many members of the New York media as they feel that he is not living up to the five-year, $98 million deal that he inked two years ago. Williams has cited bad ankles, but he has developed a reputation of being a coach killer and a prima donna. Williams must push all of that to the side and find a way to focus on being the leader of the Nets. For Johnson he is coming off of one best shooting years as a pro as he was 40 percent from beyond the three-point arc and he should flourish in Hollins’ offensive system.

Hollins and the Nets have a tremendous supporting cast of veterans and youngsters alike to support Lopez, Williams, and Johnson. Nets power forward Kevin Garnett is entering his 20th NBA season and his second in Brooklyn. Garnett is 38-years old and he is coming off of his worst season as a professional as he only averaged 6.5 points and 6.6 rebounds per game. But Garnett is the consummate pro and he wants to go out on better terms than that. Last season as rookie, Nets center Mason Plumlee averaged 7.4 points and 4.4 rebounds and he has the potential for a breakout season if Brooklyn cannot rely on a healthy Lopez. At 6’10”, Plumlee has a knack for running the floor and the basketball always seems to find him. This season the Nets will be the seventh NBA team for point guard Jarrett Jack. For his nine-year NBA career Jack has averaged 10.9 points and 4.3 assists per contest and he is a player that will push Williams for minutes at the point guard position.

Of the Nets first seven games in the upcoming season, only one contest will be against a playoff team from last season which is an opportunity for Hollins and his crew to jump out of the chute fast as they look to win the Atlantic Division.

New York Knicks 40-42

The New York Knicks are set to begin a new era of basketball that has their faithful fans in the Big Apple buzzing. After winning 11 NBA Championships as a head coach, Phil Jackson has returned to the franchise that he helped win a pair of NBA Titles as a player in the 1970’s. But this time around Jackson will not be coaching as he has instead opted to be the Knicks team president. Jackson came aboard late in the 2013-2014 NBA season and he began the process of shaping the franchise in his own image.

Carmelo Anthony

Jackson’s first order of business was to find a protege that he could groom as a head coach. Derek Fisher just capped off a 20-year playing career in the NBA. Fisher spent 9 of those 20 seasons playing for Jackson with the Los Angeles Lakers where the two combined to win five NBA Championships. Now Fisher will get his shot to show the world that he can lead an NBA team.

Jackson had his hands full over the summer as he had to convince small forward Carmelo Anthony to remain with the Knicks. Anthony opted out of his deal and there was speculation that he would chase a championship in another NBA city. But the allure of being under the guidance of Jackson along with being in the Big Apple was enough to convince Anthony to remain with the Knicks. But this is not the most talented team in the world that will be around Mr. Anthony.

Knicks power forward Amar’e Stoudemire has a pair of bum knees and his stats have declined in each of his four seasons with the Knicks. Stoudemire is the final year of his contract as he is set to earn nearly $21.7 million and you can expect Jackson to attempt to trade him. The Knicks have a duo at the shooting guard position in Iman Shumpert and J.R. Smith that have fallen out of favor with the Knicks front office. Shumpert could simply use a fresh start with a new team while Smith has a low basketball IQ which will make it tough for him to navigate the triangle offense. Veteran point guard Jose Calderon is 33-years of age and he has been a journeyman as he appears to be the Knicks starting point guard of the present, but how effective will he be?

For his 11-year NBA career, Anthony has been one of the best scorers in the league. In the triangle offense Anthony will be asked be more of a team player, but the Knicks simply don’t have that consistent sidekick that he can depend on. Six of the Knicks first eight games this season will be against playoff teams from a year ago and the New York media will have a field day if the Knickerbockers get off to a slow start.

Boston Celtics 32-50

The Boston Celtics are rebuilding and the process could take a little bit longer than they initially expected. The Celtics only won 25 games last season. The ping-pong balls didn’t bounce the way that the Celtics expected last spring as they had to settle for the sixth overall pick which they used on guard Marcus Smart. By trade Smart is a point guard, but he has a scorer’s mentality and it will be interesting to see how he will be used in Celtics head coach Brad Stevens’ system. The Celtics already have point guard Rajon Rondo and you never know how the wind will blow with him. Rondo has seen the best of times and the worst of times with the Celtics as he was the starting point guard when Boston won the NBA Championship in 2008. Rondo can be high maintenance and it would be in the best interest of Celtics general manager Danny Ainge to trade Rondo. But it will be tough to ship Rondo out of town now since he is currently recovering from a broken hand.

Whomever the Celtics starting point guard is for the upcoming season he will team with shooting guard Avery Bradley in the backcourt. But Smart and Rondo must find a way to get the Celtics froncourt involved that includes forwards Jeff Green, Brandon Bass, and Jared Sullinger, along with center Tyler Zeller. Sullinger has the potential to become an All-Star, but it all comes down to the big man remaining healthy.

Stevens is set to begin his second season as the Celtics head coach and a fast start this fall could go a long way for him and his young team.

Philadelphia 76ers 22-60

Michael Carter-Williams

Unfortunately for the basketball fans on Broad Street, the term “starting over” and the Philadelphia 76ers seem to go together. The Sixers only managed to win 19 games last season and they have numerous questions marks on their roster heading into this season. The last two years have seen the 76ers use early picks in the NBA Draft on players that have been unable to contribute. Last year the Sixers traded point guard Jrue Holiday to the New Orleans Pelicans in exchange for the draft rights to center Nerlens Noel. While at the University of Kentucky, Noel suffered an ACL injury which kept him out of action for the entire 2013-2014 NBA season. Noel is expected to be on the floor for the Sixers this season, but you just don’t know what he is going to be able to give the team. Then there is center Joel Embiid. Embiid was selected by the 76ers third overall in last spring’s NBA Draft, but a broken bone in his foot currently has him sidelined. The Sixers do have the NBA’s reigning Rookie of the Year in point guard Michael Carter-Williams who averaged 16.7 points per game to go along with 6.3 assists, but one man cannot do it by himself in the NBA.

For the fans in Philadelphia, they can take solace that their Eagles are in playoff contention in the NFC East which can help to cushion the blow another potentially bad season from the 76ers.

Source: Basketball-reference.com

X-Clinched Division

Y-Clinched Playoff Berth

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