The Atlantic Division has lacked a dominant team for the last decade as many of the franchises have struggled to find a winning formula. However, it was a busy offseason for one of the league’s traditional powerhouses. Let’s dive into the best and worst case scenarios for each Atlantic team.
Last season: 53-29, lost conference finals to Cavaliers, 4-1
Best case: The new look Celtics defy expectations and their revamped starting lineup is set to explode offensively from the start of the season. Kyrie Irving, liberated in a new system, is at his unstoppable best averaging 26 points and eight assists for the regular season. Meanwhile, Gordon Hayward thrives in Brad Stevens’ ball-sharing offense and provides Irving with a reliable second option whilst also proving himself to be an outstanding defender on the wing.
The Celtics win 55 regular season games and claim the top seed in the Eastern Conference. In the Conference Finals, the Celtics face the Cavaliers and Irving’s old mentor LeBron James. Irving justifies his decision to leave the Cavs by dominating the series and leading the Celtics to a dramatic victory in seven tight games. In their first Finals appearance since 2010, Boston face the Golden State Warriors who prove to be a step too far - defeating the Celtics in five.
Worst case: Boston’s star studded line-up lacks the toughness and togetherness of previous Brad Stevens teams. The Celtics severely lack a presence in the middle as Al Horford’s rebounding struggles continue. Jae Crowder and Avery Bradley are sorely missed as Boston’s defense collapses into one of the league’s worst units, allowing a miserable 109 points per 100 possessions.
Despite these defensive frailties, the Celtics still win 45 games and make the playoffs as the third seed. However, they are defeated in the conference semi-finals by the Washington Wizards who gain revenge for last season’s defeat by sweeping the Celtics in four quick games.
Prediction: Best Case
Last season: 20-62, missed playoffs
Best Case: In a rebuilding year for the Nets, new acquisition D'Angelo Russell flashes the potential which made him the second overall pick in the 2015 draft. Russell also shows the maturity which was lacking in Los Angeles, developing into a trusted leader for coach Kenny Atkinson. Meanwhile, Jeremy Lin rekindles Lin-sanity in New York City - providing some much-needed excitement for Nets fans. Brooklyn only win 28 games but with the effects of the Pierce and Garnett trade finally subside and the future looks a little brighter in Brooklyn.
Worst Case: The Nets continue to be the punch-line to a joke that stopped being funny years ago. Russell is the same frustrating character he was in LA and new addition DeMarre Carroll looks uninterested. Timofey Mozgov is one of the league’s worst centers and Brooklyn’s offense is turgid all season, scoring a league-worst 94 points per game. Brooklyn wins just 16 games and Atkinson is fired halfway through the season by meddling owner Mikhail Prokhorov. The Nets still look years away from becoming relevant.
Prediction: Worst Case
New York Knicks
Last season: 31-51, missed playoffs
Best Case: Finally free of the disastrous reign of Phil Jackson the Knicks bring hope back to The Garden. Coach Jeff Hornacek can finally run an offensive system from this century and as a result Kristaps Porzingis is an absolute monster all season. Porzingis averages 28 points, 11 rebounds and shoots 43% from deep, receiving serious MVP buzz.
Led by Porzingis, the Knicks have a strong Euro influence all year as Willy Hernangomez and Mindaugas Kuzminskas each have breakout seasons. The Knicks win 42 games, their first winning season since 2013, and make the playoffs as the seventh seed. In the playoffs, the Knicks are defeated in five games by the Washington Wizards but for the first time in years, there is serious positivity in NYC.
Worst Case: Still angry about the way he was treated by the previous regime, Porzingis is a sulky mess all season. The Latvian takes bad shots all year and refuses to pass to his increasingly frustrated teammates. Meanwhile, Joakim Noah plays just four games as his monster contract looks like a white elephant that will be impossible to trade away. The Knicks win just 25 games and miss the playoffs for a fifth straight season.
Prediction: Worst Case
Last season: 28-54, missed playoffs
Best Case: Joel Embiid starts 65 games and has fans in Philly trusting ‘The Process’. Embiid is dominant, averaging 27 points, nine boards and a ridiculous four blocks per game. J. J. Redick benefits from the chaos Embiid causes in the paint, leading the league in three-point percentage with 48%. Rookie Markelle Fultz looks at home in the NBA from day one. Equally comfortable playing on or off the ball, the Washington standout wins Rookie of the Year honors. The young Sixers team wins 40 games and makes the playoffs as the eight seed.
Worst Case: Embiid starts the first 15 games of the season, giving Philly fans another tantalizing glimpse of his potential as the Sixers start 10-5. However, the Cameroonian is lost for the season as the injury curse strikes again and Philadelphia slide to yet another losing season. Without Embiid, Ben Simmons looks poor in his first full season as teams sit off him and dare him to shoot from deep. Simmons hits just 18% from beyond the arc and everyone wonders what all the hype was about. After yet another disappointing year, Sixers fans finally lose faith in ‘The Process'.
Prediction: Best Case
Last season: 51-31, lost conference semi-finals to Cavaliers, 4-0
Best Case: Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan are at their dominant best all season, averaging a combined 58 points per game and reminding the NBA that they are one of its premier backcourts. Serge Ibaka rediscovers his presence in the paint, crashing the offensive glass all season as the Raptors storm to another 50-win campaign.
In the playoffs, Toronto finally avenge the painful defeats to Cleveland, beating the Cavs in seven to advance to the NBA Finals for the first time in franchise history. The road ends there as the Warriors confirm they are the class of the NBA yet again, sweeping the Raptors easily.
Worst Case: The Raptors win 50 games in the regular season but familiar shortcomings are exposed in the playoffs. Dwane Casey’s lack of offensive acumen is painfully obvious as the Raptors bow out to Milwaukee in the first round. After the season-ending Game 6 defeat, in which DeRozan shoots 25 contested mid-range jumpers, Casey is fired by Masai Ujiri and the Raptors enter a rebuilding phase.
Prediction: Worst Case
What do you think are the best and worst case scenarios for these teams? Comment below!