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)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.