As the 2018 NBA preseason begins, we will be analyzing each division and the conferences as a whole. At the end of this, we intend to give our predictions for the 2019 NBA postseason. We start with the Atlantic Division in the Eastern Conference.
The winner of this top-heavy 2018-2019 Atlantic Division will likely determine who gets home court advantage throughout the Eastern Conference playoffs. Arguably the three best teams in the East, the Celtics, Sixers, and Raptors are all looking to capitalize on the first Lebronless Eastern Conference since 2002, while the Knicks and Nets look to bounce back from their subpar
2017-18 seasons. Let’s get into it.
If the Celtics’ shellacking of the favored 76ers in last year’s playoffs taught us anything, it’s that Danny Ainge and Brad Stevens have created and molded an incredibly talented nucleus. Even without stars Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward, the Al Horford led Celtics managed to dominate their way to the Eastern Conference, finishing one win shy of reaching the NBA finals.
With Hayward and Irving set to return from injury, the Celtics simply worked to maintain their championship caliber core of players this offseason, while adding depth and bolstering their bench. After quickly resigning role players Marcus Smart and Aron Baynes, the Celtics acquired 27 year old former German league MVP, Brad Wanamaker, to add depth at the guard position. The Celtics also drafted Texas A&M big man, Robert Williams; a pick that only strengthens the team’s already imposing presence in the paint.
Assuming the Celtics avoid catching the injury bug two years in a row, they’re fully equipped for the number one seed in the Eastern conference for the 2018-19 NBA season.
Key Acquisitions: Brad Wanamaker (Free Agency), Robert Williams (Draft)
Key Losses: None
Predicted Record: 58-24, 1st in Atlantic, 1st in Eastern Conference
After the first winning season since 2012, the Philadelphia 76ers are closing in on completing a fairly long-winded process. Rising stars Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid have shown abilities unlike those seen in today’s NBA game, so their expanded leadership roles could take this team to a new level.
Following a second round exit to the Boston Celtics, Philly anticipated an offseason with more excitement then actually generated. With a free agent class the likes of Lebron James and Kawhi Leonard, the Sixers settled for the more moderate acquisitions such as Mike Muscala, Wilson Chandler, and first round draft pick Zhaire Smith. Philly’s most significant acquisition may in fact be a healthy Markelle Fultz; the unproven former first overall pick has shown flashes of his former self in several Instagram videos this offseason. Given the historically impatient fanbase and gruesomely long rebuild, Brett Brown and newly appointed GM, Elton Brand, have to be looking at their first NBA Finals birth since 2001 as the team’s season goal.
Despite all of their progress, it’s hard to believe, that this Sixers team will have the firepower to compete with the giants of the Western Conference without adding another superstar.
Key Acquisitions: Mike Muscala (Trade), Wilson Chandler (Trade), Zhaire Smith (Draft Pick)
Key Losses: Ersan Ilyasova (Free Agency), Marco Belinelli (Free Agency), Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot (Trade), Justin Anderson (Trade).
Predicted Record: 55-27, 2nd in Atlantic, 2nd in Eastern Conference
After three consecutive playoff exits courtesy of Lebron James and co., the Raptors looked to change things dramatically in the offseason. Despite leading Toronto to the one seed in the Eastern Conference, Coach of the Year Dwane Casey was swiftly fired after the Raptors’ early playoff departure. Unfortunately for Casey, the bane of his coaching tenure, Lebron James, exited the East, leaving the Conference wide open for Toronto immediately after Casey’s termination. In Toronto’s effort to seize the opportunity and upgrade their core of talent, they traded Demar Derozan to the Spurs for Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green. While Demar was a beloved staple in Toronto, Kawhi is an undeniable upgrade and legitimate top five two-way player in the league. His presence on both sides of the ball could potentially propel Toronto back to the top of the Eastern Conference.
Along with the Derozan trade, Toronto acquired Center Greg Monroe, and re-signed Fred Vanvleet and Lorenzo Brown. Vanvleet and Brown were key pieces to the Raptors’ success last season and Monroe should strengthen Toronto’s paint presence off the bench.
With Lebron finally out of the Raptors’ path to the NBA finals, the team finally has a legitimate opportunity to win the Eastern Conference.
Key Acquisitions: Kawhi Leonard (Trade), Danny Green (Trade), Greg Monroe (Free Agency)
Key Losses: Demar Derozan (Trade), Jakob Poeltl (Trade), Dwane Casey (Fired)
Predicted Record: 53-29, 3rd in Atlantic, 3rd in Eastern Conference
New York Knicks
While the New York Knicks often seem like a team destined for consistent failure, the franchise looks like it could be headed for a bright future. A possible escape for the Melo-Phil Jackson ridden purgatory is perhaps the best outcome, even if it means sacrificing this season for those in the near future. The Knicks found their franchise altering star in Kristaps Porzingis, and with possible future talents in Kevin Knox, Frank Ntilikina, and Mitchell Robinson, they may have secured a decent foundation.
Kristaps’ rehab from the ACL tear he suffered last season has to be priority #1 moving forward for this franchise. The second priority lies in the arms of the Knicks front office. If this widely popular organization is committed to returning to elite basketball, the young core and Kristaps must be paired with another star this coming offseason. Reports suggest superstars such as Jimmy Butler and Kyrie Irving have shown interest. There are too many teams with more than one superstar for the Knicks to be content with their current roster.
The 2018-2019 New York Knicks should expect many bumps along the road. Many times the key to building an elite dynasty is enduring several tough years in the process. With Kristaps out indefinitely, this year seems like it is shaping up to be a fairly tough one.
Key Acquisitions: Mario Hezonja (Free Agency), Noah Vonleh (Free Agency), Kevin Knox (Draft), Mitchell Robinson (Draft)
Key Losses: Michael Beasley (Free Agency), Jarrett Jack (Free Agency), Kyle O’Quinn (Free Agency)
Predicted Record: 32-50, 4th in Atlantic, 11th in Eastern Conference
As expected, the 2017-18 NBA season wasn’t kind to the Brooklyn Nets. Though slightly improved from the 2016-17 season, the Brooklyn Nets again wound up near the bottom of the Eastern Conference, finishing 28-54. For new general manager Sean Marks, this offseason marked another summer of salary dumps and low profile acquisitions during Brooklyn’s ongoing rebuild.
In anticipation of making a splash in free agency next Summer, The Nets cleared cap space, trading away Timofey Mozgov and Jeremy Lin who were owed $16 million and $12.5 million respectively next season. The Nets also signed a slew of short, inexpensive deals, clearing any long term commitments beyond their young core.
As for the 2018-19 NBA season, you can expect more of the same from Brooklyn. Barring a game changing trade for Jimmy Butler, who expressed interest in the Nets, Brooklyn should remain out of the playoff picture. While their moves make sense in the grand scheme of their rebuild, the Nets current roster will likely have trouble competing in the weak Eastern Conference.
Key Acquisitions: Kenneth Faried (Trade), Jared Dudley (Trade), Shabazz Napier (Free Agency)
Key Losses: Jeremy Lin (Trade), Timofey Mozgov (Trade)
Predicted Record: 24-58, 5th in Atlantic, 15th in Eastern Conference