June 5, 2012; Miami, FL, USA; Boston Celtics small forward Mickael Pietrus (28) during the second half in game five of the Eastern Conference finals of the 2012 NBA playoffs at American Airlines Arena. Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-US PRESSWIRE

2012 NBA Offseason: Atlantic Division Projections

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While one team in the Atlantic Division lost a key cog of their “Big Three,” another squad might have created their own.

The trio formed in Brooklyn – Deron Williams, Brook Lopez, and new addition Joe Johnson – could easily challenge the 2008 NBA champion Boston Celtics on offense, but will their defense be able to keep up?

 

Boston Celtics

PG: Rajon Rondo
SG: Courtney Lee
SF: Paul Pierce
PF: Brandon Bass
C:  Kevin Garnett

Bench: Avery Bradley, Jason Terry, Keyon Dooling, Fab Melo, Kris Joseph, Jared Sullinger, Chris Wilcox

The five-time defending division champion Celtics have gone a major transformation in the four years since winning the franchise’s 17th NBA title. With the “Big Three” of Pierce, Garnett, and Ray Allen officially broken up, it’s now Rondo’s team to control. The dynamic guard can be exciting and frustrating to watch all at once, with a slick pass on one possession followed by a knuckleheaded move like throwing a ball at a referee.

Regardless, Rondo and Bradley should carry the team offensively for the foreseeable future, with Melo, Sullinger, and Joseph also being part of the youth movement. Garnett signed a three-year deal over the summer as well, meaning he’ll likely retire a Celtic. The addition of Terry should also help offset the loss of Allen and his prolific three-point shooting, but will the team be able to contend for much longer?

 

Brooklyn Nets

PG: Deron Williams
SG: Joe Johnson
SF: Gerald Wallace
PF: Kris Humphries
C: Brook Lopez

Bench:  MarShon Brooks, Keith Bogans, CJ Watson, Reggie Evans, Jerry Stackhouse, Tyshawn Taylor

A perennial bottom-feeder in the Atlantic, the Nets  may have done more than just upgrade their arena and jerseys in this offseason. After scoring a major free agency coup in resigning their star point guard Deron Williams, the Nets also added Joe Johnson, a prolific scorer from Atlanta. They also resigned three major components of their team – Humphries, Lopez, and Wallace.

“The Core Four,” as they’re being touted, do form a very competitive group, with some solid bench players. Even after trading away five players for Johnson, they seem to have put together a patchwork of seasoned veterans and promising young guards. Brooks played great in his rookie season last year, averaging 12.6 points, and Taylor was a four-year senior at Kansas, one of college basketball’s true powerhouses. Boston has ruled the Atlantic for half a decade, but could Brooklyn become the top team?

 

New York Knicks

PG: Raymond Felton
SG: J.R. Smith
SF: Carmelo Anthony
PF: Amare Stoudemire
C: Tyson Chandler

Bench: Jason Kidd, Iman Shumpert, Marcus Camby, Steve Novak, Kurt Thomas

Determined to not let the Nets take up all of the New York spotlight, the Knicks went out of their way to make sure they didn’t get ignored this offseason. Unfortunately, it might have been by making all the wrong moves.

After Jeremy Lin helped send them to the playoffs last season, team owner James Dolan got frugal with his money and allowed “Linsanity” to walk right out of New York. For a team that never seemed to mind spending money, it was a curious move. To compound losing Lin, they signed Kidd and Felton; one’s on the decline and the other has been average his whole NBA career.

The team’s “Big Three” of Anthony, Stoudemire, and Chandler should once again be solid, but with Anthony being a vacuum on offense (ball stops at him), Stoudemire can’t truly live up to his Phoenix days. Chandler only needs a few alley-oops a game to be productive, so Anthony doesn’t have as much of an effect on him. Shumpert was an extremely solid defensive player last season as well, but will his torn ACL be healed and ready to go come October?

 

Philadelphia 76ers

PG: Jrue Holiday
SG: Evan Turner
SF: Andre Iguodala
PF: Spencer Hawes
C: Kwame Brown

Bench: Nick Young, Thaddeus Young, Lavoy Allen, Nikola Vucevic, Dorell Wright, Moe Harkless, Arnett Moultrie

Last year, the Sixers recovered from an average regular season to snag the eighth seed in the East and the chance to play Chicago in the first round. What transpired was easily their most successful postseason since 2001 – they upset the Bulls in six games, becoming just the fifth eighth seed to win a first-round series. While they lost in the next round to the Celtics, they took Boston to seven games.

So naturally, they amnestied their best post player (Elton Brand) to sign a shoot-first guard (Nick Young), lost a quality scorer to the Atlanta Hawks (Lou Williams), and acquired two more wing players (Wright and Harkless). They did resign Hawes, who came on at the end of last season after struggling to find his niche in the league for several years, but they also signed Brown, a perennial underachiever. All in all, it wasn’t the worst offseason possible, but Philly will be hard-pressed to replicate last season’s success.

 

Toronto Raptors

PG: Kyle Lowry
SG: Terrence Ross
SF: Demar DeRozan
PF: Andrea Bargnani
C: Jonas Valanciunas

Bench: Jose Calderon, Landry Fields, Linas Kleiza, Amir Johnson, Ed Davis, Quincy Acy

The Raptors are an interesting team. DeRozan has overtaken Bargnani as the team’s most viable “star” after nearly defeating Nate Robinson in the All-Star dunk contest, and then averaging over 16 points a game in just his second and third seasons. While the rest of his stats leave something to be desired (career average of 1.5 assists and 3.4 rebounds), he may be the best player Toronto has.

Valanciunas, the latest foreign import for GM Bryan Colangelo, is a player that may be shooting for that title, however. The 20-year old Lithuanian is finally headed to the NBA after playing his final season with Lietuvos Rytas, and his arrival is highly anticipated. Pairing him with Bargnani could finally allow the former #1 pick to play outside, where he seems to be most comfortable. This squad should be more competitive than the 23- and 22-win teams of the last two years, but they’ll likely still be lottery-bound.

 

Is Boston still the team to beat in the Atlantic, or have the two New York squads overtaken them?

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Tags: Atlantic Division Boston Celtics Brooklyn Nets NBA News New York Knicks Offseason Philadelphia 76ers Toronto Raptors

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