I know my discussion of basketball probably bores some of y'all, but it's more so I can look back later and see how wrong and shortsighted I was. And now, to finish of the Eastern Conference, I present: the Atlantic Division!
Philadelphia 76ers. For you non-hoops junkie out there, Philly no longer has Allen Iverson, who is still one of the most exciting players to watch in the NBA (he's with the Nuggets now). And since they traded their star, this team is has been sorely lacking in identity. They've got some good building blocks, but I expect them to remain in the cellar for most of the year. Their best player is the other AI - Andre Iguodala, an exciting swingman and spectacular dunker. He's only been in the league 3 years, so I expect him to continue to improve and be a mainstay of this franchise for years to come. Samuel Dalembert has shown flashes of being a defensive and rebounding monster, but doesn't have the hoops IQ to justify his enormous contract. They've also got a good, durable PG in Andre Miller, but his lack of range on his shot allows defenses to sag off him, limiting drive-and-kick opportunities for their slashers.
In the draft, the Sixers used their pick on Thad Young, a 6'8" lefty small forward from Georgia Tech. I don't expect him to contribute right away, as he's very raw - he's got good range on his shot, but is lacking in hoops IQ and will turn the ball over frequently. He has the tools to become a versatile threat, but needs to learn the ropes first. Not sure if he can get minutes, as this team has a logjam now at SF, with Iguodala, Korver, Jones, and Carney all competing for playing time. This team is a couple of rebuilding years away from challenging for the division title.
New Jersey Nets. This team's level of play surprises me every year, and this year will be no exception. Overrated dunkers Richard Jefferson and Vince Carter continue to have their careers extended by playing with Jason Kidd, who remains one of the top PGs in the league. However, this team has been in desperate need of an interior presence, and they attempted to fill that hole in the draft, taking troubled C Sean Williams. Williams was kicked off of Boston College for getting busted with pot (twice, if I remember correctly). Now, I'm sure he's not the only player in the NBA (or college) who smokes, but getting caught multiple times means you're either smoking too much, or you're just plain stupid. But then again, you've blocked 75 shots in 15 games before getting suspended, so here's a multi-million dollar contract! Don't spend it all in one place!
The Nets also will have Nenad Kristic back, who was out most of last season with an ACL injury. He's a 7-footer who was having a career year in terms of points and rebounds before the injury. He's got post moves and shooting range out to 20 feet - his offensive versatility makes up for his lack of strength on the boards and defensively. Sean Williams and Jamal Magloire should also help out with interior play, and I expect sophomore PG Marcus Williams to improve behind Jason Kidd. I expect this team to hover around .500 again this year, which is usually enough to compete for the Atlantic Division crown.
Toronto Raptors. The Raptors rebuilding process has been interesting to watch. What was once 4 guys watching Vince Carter play has now turned into a Who's Who of international players with talent. #1 pick overall last year Andrea Bargnani, a small forward trapped in a center's body, will continue to improve and eat up minutes, though he will need to work on his rebounding if he wants to stay on the court. Fortunately, he is flanked by All-Star Chris Bosh, whose skill-set has reminded many of KG. Too bad KG is in your division now, eh?
Other Raptors standouts include TJ Ford, a lightning quick PG who can get to the basket, but needs to work on his shooting. Toronto also has a stable of European players, and I'll admit to knowing almost nothing about them, so this team is truly a wildcard. Joey Graham, Luke Jackson, and Jason Kapono are all swingmen who will benefit from Ford's ability to get into the paint, and Bosh's ability to draw doubleteams. The European guys have experience, it's just a matter of whether this team will continue to jell after another season of playing together.
New York Knicks. Well, if one thing is consistent about the Knicks, it's this: once again, this team has the largest payroll in the NBA. This team usually looks good on paper, but for some reason, has been unable to play well as a team. Zach Randolph should help provide an interior presence alongside Eddy Curry, and Stephon Marbury has never met a shot he didn't like. Renaldo Balkman, last year's first round pick, is a solid defender and a hustle guy, but his shooting remains a question mark.
Honestly, I can't make heads or tails of this team. Sure, they got Randolph in the offseason, because it's not the Knicks unless you have a new franchise player every year. It's like they've assembled the greatest group of players who fill stat sheets, but have never played together with a winning club. Jared Jeffries, David Lee, Nate Robinson, Jamal Crawford are all guys who could get it done, but I foresee another year of mediocrity unless more is done to establish a pecking order among the guys. This team needs cohesiveness, and would benefit from some veteran leadership to go along with their individual talents.
Boston Celtics. Since this team still has some holes to fill, it's too early to give an accurate assessment of this team. But seriously - KG, Ray Allen, and Paul Pierce should be enough to propel this team to the Eastern Conference Finals at the least. An injury to one of those three guys could spell disaster for this undermanned team. I'll write more about my new 3rd-favorite team (no one can replace my Pacers or Wolves) later when their roster is more filled out. They have to be seen as a top team for vets who want that ring, and want to prove they have something left in the tank. A Chris Webber, Dale Davis, Gary Payton, or Cliff Robinson would really help this team out.