Nine of the last 12 NBA championships have been won by the Western Conference representative, and for a majority of the past decade, the Western Conference championship really served as the NBA championship.
During the 2010 NBA Draft Lottery, all of the luck seemed to favor the Eastern Conference as the top three picks went to the East, including the second and third landing to Atlantic Division teams.
Historically one of the toughest divisions in the NBA has been dominated by the Celtics recently, and with the most talented roster of the five teams, Boston will continue its stranglehold on the Atlantic Division this season.
The following is a division-by-division breakdown of each team, their expected record at the end of the season, a glance of the positive and negative off season moves and a breakout star.
Boston Celtics (48-34)
Gunning for their fourth consecutive Atlantic Division crown, the Celtics shouldn’t have a problem fending off the competition from the other four teams in the division this year. Still equipped with the most talented and experienced roster and best player, Rajon Rondo, Boston proved last year it can coast through the regular season and still be a championship contender. Equipped with a huge trading chip, Rasheed Wallace’s $13 million expiring deal, Boston can play a few months, assess where an upgrade is needed, then acquire even more talent to its team. When the roster is full of savvy veterans, deals like that can be made.
Oh yeah: Already possessing the most dominant front court rotation in the league, Boston provided security for Kendrick Perkins, recovering from a knee injury suffered during the NBA Finals by bringing in two O’Neal’s. Adding Shaquille O’Neal and Jermaine O’Neal to the rotation, the Celtics should continue to dominate by force.
Oh no: By letting Tony Allen leave for Memphis in free agency, the Celtics lost their lock down perimeter defender. After letting James Posey go to New Orleans following the team’s championship season, Boston doesn’t have anyone to consistently bother the premier players in the league. The team unsuccessfully pursued free agent Matt Barnes.
Watch out for: Boston addressed its thin back court in the draft by selecting Avery Bradley 19th overall. The defensive specialist expected to fill Tony Allen’s role, with the added bonus of being able to handle the ball.
The biggest win of the season for Philadelphia came in May at the Draft Lottery. The 76ers jumped six places in the draft to land the second overall selection. Even with the tremendous luck, the biggest changes to the organization won’t be wearing jersey’s next season. Doug Collins was brought in to coach a Rookie of the Year candidate and team president Rod Thron, one of the best minds in basketball, left the New Jersey Nets to join Philadelphia. Finally ready to move on from the Allen Iverson era, Philadelphia fields its most talented roster since reaching the finals 10 years ago. Evan Turner was college basketball’s Player of the Year in 2010
Oh yeah: For the second consecutive season, Philadelphia used its first round pick to take a guard expected to contribute for years to come. Point guard Jrue Holiday (the 17th pick in 2009) and shooting guard Evan Turner, the second overall selection, form the best young back court in the league. Much like Iverson, Turner is a proven warrior. Only missing six games after fracturing his back, he showcased his all-around talents by averaging 20.4 points, 9.2 rebounds, 6 assists and 1.7 steals per game. Turner excels in transition and once he adds a three-point shot to his arsenal, something Holiday needs to work on as well, Turner will become an unstoppable scorer.
Oh no: The roster doesn’t have an established superstar and is still $11 million over the salary cap. Collins must find a way to blend Elton Brand, a player that thrives in a set half court offense, with the up-tempo style that plays to the strengths of Holiday, Turner and small forward Andre Iguodala. Brand has been constantly looking over his shoulder as his name has been swirling in trade rumors and finding a way to keep him, and the $80 million contract he signed, heavily involved in the organization will be a great challenge.
Watch out for: Young point guards have been dominating the NBA for the past five years. Nearly every team in the NBA can call a point guard its best player and in Philadelphia, Holiday will make a push to be one of the best in the conference after an impressive season where he was the youngest player in the NBA. Once he was named the starter toward the end of the season, the 20-year-old guard will thrive with Collins.
New York Knicks (37-45)
The Knicks spent three years shuffling the roster around to land LeBron James, when he passed on New York, the team set its sights on Amar’e Stoudemire. The 27-year-old instantly became the face of the franchise and has the daunting task of leading the Knicks to their first playoff appearance in six years. Expecting results now, Stoudemire has little room for error and without pick-and-roll partner Steve Nash on the team, he is facing the toughest test of his eight-year career.
Oh yeah: Stoudemire’s presence is a welcome addition after years of suffering in Madison Square Garden. While New York has certainly embraced its new power forward, the question is, if the team struggles will he be able to handle it? Stoudemire has only missed the playoffs twice (once the year before Phoenix acquired Steve Nash and again two years ago, the team struggled after Stoudemire needed eye surgery repair a detached retina, and the team still went 46-36) in his eight seasons, but with a stronger Eastern Conference, his addition alone doesn’t make New York a lock for the post season. Knowing he can’t do it alone, Stoudemire needs small forward Danilo Gallinari to develop into a 20 point per game scorer to keep the pressure off of him. The easiest move the team can make to round out its roster is to sign Earl Barron, a 10-day contract hero from a year ago, to a deal. With tons of uncertainty in the front court, the Knicks could certainly use a 7-footer that averaged 11 rebounds during his tenure in New York, including a 17 point, 18 rebound effort against Boston.
Oh no: How many players with heart conditions can one team trade for? Five years ago the Knicks dealt two first round draft picks for Eddy Curry following the a report stating he “had multiple hear conditions“, and the team still hasn’t recovered from the lopsided deal. Three years later Cuttino Mobley was forced to retire after being acquired from the Clippers without every playing a game for New York. Newly acquired Ronny Turiaf has recovered from open heart surgery,but New York has been burned twice by such circumstances.
Watch out for: For years the Knicks dealt away draft picks and sacrificed young talent in deals to land veterans that served as a band-aid over a giant gash. For the first time in years, New York acquired a young player full of potential. 21-year-old forward Anthony Randolph. Equipped with a skill set enabling him to play all three front court positions, with the handle of a guard, Randolph is poised for a break out season. The Knicks have even discussed playing a massive lineup, with 6’10 Turiaf at center, 6’10 Stoudemire at power forward, 6’11 Randolph at small forward, 6’10 Gallinari at shooting guard and 6’1 Felton at point guard.
New Jersey Nets (28-54)
Following one of the most miserable seasons in NBA history, the Nets have completely overhauled the team from top to bottom. New owner Mikhail Prokhorov has brought a new sense of hope to the team, but failed to land any prominent free agents in his first summer. Billy King was installed as general manager and Avery Johnson rejoined the coaching ranks to turn around a team managing just 12 wins last season. The Nets hope the turn around starts with the number three overall selection from the 2010 NBA Draft and a few modest free agent signings.
Oh yeah: Even though the Nets didn’t win the John Wall sweepstakes, landing Derrick Favors as a consultation prize won’t set the franchise back. To provide some time for Favors to develop, New Jersey acquired Troy Murphy. Favors won’t have to handle all of the front court pressure by himself, with center Brook Lopez serving as the Nets anchor in the paint. Acquiring Murphy also makes sense for the team because if he plays well, they can resign him in the off season, or if he struggles or Favors develops faster than expected, they can let Murphy walk and insert Favors into the starting lineup for his sophomore season.
Oh no: Unable to land LeBron James, Dwyane Wade or any of the talented power forward free agents available, New Jersey scrambled to sign Travis Outlaw to a five-year $35 million deal. Outlaw has been in the league for seven seasons with his scoring average reaching double-digits just twice. With a career average of 9.5 points per game, it’s never a good sign when your cap figure is nearly the same as your scoring average. New Jersey has been rumored to be a potential destination for Carmelo Anthony, but until it actually happens, the Prokhorov’s tenure may have gotten off to a rocky start.
Watch out for: Seeking a consistent long-range threat, New Jersey signed Anthony Morrow away from the Golden State Warriors this summer. A career 46 percent shooter from three-point range, Morrow will have plenty of opportunities to knock down shots with Lopez and Murphy in the post and point guard Devin Harris’ ability to get into the paint.
Toronto Raptors (25-57)
If losing the face of the franchise, Chris Bosh, wasn’t enough, the most expensive free agent signing in team history, Hedo Turkoglu, left the organization saying no free agent wants to play there. With the lack of interest from any of the available players, he may be right. Unable to make significant acquisitions this summer, Toronto is headed for one of the worst seasons in team history.
Oh yeah: Almost by default, the only positive move the Raptors made was bringing in Linas Kleiza from Greece. The team was only able to land draft picks after agreeing to a sign-and-trade with Miami for Bosh. Klezia spent four solid seasons with the Denver Nuggets prior to signing with Olympiakos last season. Although he won’t replace Bosh’s production by himself, he’s a capable scorer that isn’t afraid to dive on the floor for a loose ball.
Oh no: If the Nets panicked to sign Travis Outlaw, Toronto was preparing for Armageddon when proposing an offer to Amir Johnson. Starting just 29 games during his five-year NBA career, Johnson hasn’t shown a knack for scoring or rebounding, with career averages of 4.7 points and 4.2 rebounds per game. The move was so poorly received, it was awarded a score of 150 on a scale of 1-10 on the Stupid Signing scale.
Watch out for: With no consistent scoring threat, the team will likely lean on shooting guard DeMar DeRozan next season. Although he failed to post impressive numbers last season (8.6 points, 2.9 rebounds 0.7 assists per game) the rookie only averaged 21.6 minutes per game. Blessed with as much athleticism as any player in the league, the ninth overall selection of the 2009 draft will be given plenty of opportunity to carry the scoring load for the Raptors.
Other Division Previews: