The NBA's Atlantic Division might be the easiest of all the to pick a winner for in the upcoming 2009-10 season with the Boston Celtics the absolute cream of the crop.
Boston Celtics (1/1)
One doesn’t have to be a brain surgeon to realize that if Kevin Garnett stays healthy and Rasheed Wallace keeps his head screwed on even part of the time, then there’s a great chance the Celtics will playing basketball well into the postseason.
Paul Pierce, Ray Allen, Rajon Rondo, and Kendrick Perkins, plus outside shooting specialist Eddie House, give the Celtics an assortment of weapons which will be even more effective with quality inside minutes from KG and Wallace. Outside of the obvious questions surrounding Garnett’s health, the other key question is Boston’s depth. Leon Powe exited by way of Cleveland leaving Glen Davis and Perkins as the only reliable big bodies. Powe’s loss is potentially huge as he leaves a hole in Boston to fill one in Cleveland. In this case what’s good for Lebron isn’t good for KG. Either way as long as the Celtics stay healthy, they’re easily one of the top three teams in the East.
Harvey’s Take: The Celtics are the cream of the crop in a very weak Atlantic division. However that’s not saying much and that’s not to imply they’re the team to beat in the East. That honor goes to the new and improved Cleveland Cavaliers. You’ll see plenty of Celtics post-season basketball, just not in the NBA finals.
Philadelphia 76ers (8/1)
Losing Andre Miller will likely prove to be a significant setback for the Sixers, despite the talk that Andre Iguodala could try playing the point. Elton Brand's impact on the team was far from positive before he got hurt, and it will be interesting to see if they can incorporate him effectively into the mix this season. Lots of questions to be answered in Philly, and without a proven starting point guard it could be a long year.
New coach Eddie Jordan has a lot of pieces to work with in Philadelphia, but whether or not they're a good fit is really up for debate. Jrue Holiday has all the potential in the world, but he’s young and untested.
Harvey’s Take: Elton Brand has been a bust and a victim of big-time karma after jilting the Clippers (not that I blame him). I’ve never been a huge Eddie Jordan fan so I don’t see him being a difference maker. What’s that they say about square pegs and round holes? Sorry Sixer fans. There will be no extended playoff run for you this year. But come on, you’ve already got the Phillies and Eagles. What more do you need?
Toronto Raptors (9/1)
This team started slowly and tapered off last season. Chris Bosh got hurt and the Raptors made a coaching change just a month into the season. When Jay Triano replaced Sam Mitchell as the coach in early December, the rest of the campaign inevitably became a very bumpy flight across North America. Toronto lost five straight games in December, seven straight in January, and six straight from the final week of January through Feb. 7. At 19-34 after those three crippling experiences, the Raptors limped to the finish line and gave thanks that their turbulent journey was over. Is their reason to believe this season will be any better?
The Raptors have Jermaine O’Neal whose career has been sidetracked by one injury after another. If he’s healthy and Bosh can turn in another double-double type year, then the Raptors would have a very nice front line. Now that T.J. Ford is gone, Jose Calderon will also have to continue his growth and prove to Toronto that their sizable investment in him was a good one.
Harvey’s Take: The Raptors will be better team this season than they were a year ago, but still aren’t even close to being a championship-caliber team. A third place finish in the division is a possibility.
New Jersey Nets (66-1)
Lawrence Frank is trying to hang on as Nets coach at least until the team makes its long-sought move to new digs in Brooklyn. Frank got rid of one huge headache, Vince Carter, in a trade to Orlando and in exchange they got two guys, Rafer Alson and Courtney Lee who actually believe in a team first mentality. Carter is now Orlando’s problem and given his propensity to be a black-hole ball swallower who inhibits team-first play at the offensive end of the floor, figures to make Stan Van Gundy’s job much more difficult. I love the addition of Lee who gave Kobe all he could handle in last year’s finals.
Harvey’s Take: Either fourth or fifth in the division and if everything falls right, I could seen them making a run for the seventh or eighth playoff spot in the East. That’s if Alston, Lee and rookie Terrance Williams have big years. If not, its wait until 2010-2011.
New York Knicks (40/1)
I’m surprised the books have the Knicks picked to finish higher than New Jersey. Have they seen this Knicks roster? Talk about dysfunctional. Darko Milicic? Eddy Curry? Al Harrington? Cuttino Mobley? David Lee? Larry Hughes? To me this looks like an expansion team. Not even the Knicks expect big things from this team. They’re saving their cash and have put all of their free agent eggs into a basket they call Lebron James.
For now, it's hard to see how Mike D'Antoni's up-tempo system will produce a playoff berth. If everything were to fall just right for this team, it would max out at 38-40 wins and perhaps slip into the eighth seed in the East, provided that the rest of the conference struggles. Forget the playoffs. This team is all about saving the loot to lure Lebron to the big apple.
Harvey’s Take: I at least hope D’Antoni can get these guys to run and give us a chance to cash in a few on the high side this season. Shoot first, rebound second and defense be damned. Just say Over baby!