In preparing for the upcoming season, I first wanted to preview each team individually on the basis of how exciting they would be to watch. This was called the League Pass Rankings; check them out, they have their own category on the Home Page.
However, while it was a lot of fun to do a more light-hearted preview about which squads will be eating up the greatest amounts of my free time this year, I also wanted to do a more serious look at how good these teams can realistically expect to be: who will be winning each division, who will be qualifying for the postseason, and any big shake-ups that happened to the NBA’s balance of power over the summer.
So, welcome to the division rankings! I went through the season’s schedule and did a rough prediction for each team’s win-loss record and their final standings. Although the Atlantic Division is the first to be previewed alphabetically, it is also very fitting as this is the home of your New York Knicks!!
The Atlantic Division
Much as it pains me to say it, this is hands down the worst division in basketball. Outside of the Northwest, it is the only division to feature two teams actively trying to tank their way into the lottery (and the Northwest features Kevin Durant and Damian Lillard), including a team that almost managed to set a record for consecutive failure by a major league sports franchise. Not only that, but if we are to believe the ridiculous nonsense that this is a rebuilding year for the Knicks, this division features only two playoff teams, neither of whom are scaring ANYONE in the postseason. Even in the East. The good news? The Knicks get to take on all these guys 4 times for some easy wins.
Let’s start across the river. After his first year of head coaching Jason Kidd attempted some kind of power play, mutiny on Brooklyn’s godawful GM Billy King. He was promptly given the boot and fled to Milwaukee, with the rather ominous phrase issued that “The Russians are done with Kidd“. Much as I loved Kidd on the Knicks, this is a great move for a lousy franchise, that got to pick up ex-Grizz coach Lionel Hollins. Hollins gives his teams a tough, gritty identity which should pair well with KG’s bellowing. Other than that, kind of a lost summer for the Nets. They did lose their other dinosaur in Paul Pierce to the Wizards and grabbed Jarrett Jack after Shaun Livingston fled to Golden State. Mostly, this is going to be the same team as last year, though, just a tiny bit older.
As for our two tank-squads in Philadelphia and Boston, just more dumping of assets and worsening of their rosters. Philly finally got rid of its last quality player in Thad Young and picked up two EXCELLENT draft picks, which should help them… oh wait. Neither of them will play this year. Boston got a steal in the draft in Marcus Smart and then grabbed Evan Turner for some reason. Someone from Boston will explain this to me. Toronto was also very quiet over the offseason, swapping John Salmons for Lou Williams and Lucas Nogueira’s hair. Williams should be a good scorer off the bench, but for the T.Dot this summer was mostly about locking down Kyle Lowry, letting their young guys continue to improve together, and fighting off rumors that they were changing their names to the Toronto Drakes.
Yayyy let’s get to the Knicks, who easily had the busiest summer of the Atlantic. PHIL JACKSON C’MON!! My favorite part about bringing in this basketball mastermind isn’t his hands full of championship rings or the fact that we can distance ourselves more from our terrible owner, it’s that he’s already busy hiring a “Mindfulness Coach” and calling Spike Lee ignorant in interviews. Oh, and he got Raymond Felton off this roster! I love you Phil.
Seriously, though, this is an all-new team. Again built around Carmelo Anthony, but this time with some kind of plan. Huge upgrade at PG in Jose Calderon, a couple decent guys in Sam Dalembert and Jason Smith to replace Tyson Chandler’s super skinny legs and a whole crew of intriguing young guys like Quincy Acy, Shane Larkin, and Cleanthony Early who may actually see the court. It’s gonna be ugly getting this whole thing together, but I love the new direction.
What to be Most Excited About?
I’m going to put this one through my bias lenses once again, but instead of just saying watching the Knicks try to learn the triangle… The Cross-River Rivalry!
Ever since the Nets moved to Brooklyn and brought in Joe Johnson who bit off Melo’s style with the #7, media and marketing guys have been trying to turn Knicks-Nets into a legitimate Lakers-Celtics type rivalry. Its pretty transparent in forcing New Yorkers to watch two fairly shitty teams and buy a ton of overpriced gear and WILDLY overpriced tickets but you know what, I don’t care! I’m buying in!
For the last two seasons these guys have basically been able to go out and party in the Meatpacking district and treat “Away” games like they can roll out of bed at 2 in the afternoon and hop on a subway. And yet, the energy isn’t lacking. Both MSG and the Barclays are packed with supporters from either team and the fans go NUTS watching these two expensive rosters battle it out for the title of “less mediocre”. Melo has professed to loving to play in Brooklyn and circles these games on his calendar so he can toast the team that couldn’t attract his attention back when they were in NJ.
The series’ themselves have been fairly equal, with the Knicks actually taking it 5-3. This was some small consolation for how terribly both teams started off the season last year. The Nets may have pulled it together to make the playoffs, but HEY, we went 3-1 against them! I only anticipate these games getting more fun, and me shooting more trash talking texts to all the Brooklyn hipsters wearing their all-black Brook Lopez jerseys. New York baby!!
Biggest Question Heading into 2014?
This one’s a two parter. Is there any way three teams from this division make the postseason?
The first way to look at this is can the Knicks make the playoffs after having a terrible season last year and watching most of the East get better? A lot of analysts (read: Haters) are projecting this to be a 9th or 10th seed team in the East, but they still have a top-10 player and top-5 scorer in Carmelo Anthony who has shown his willingness to put this entire team on his back and play any amount of minutes necessary to win. I also believe a lot of the issues from last year were coaching and chemistry related and the Knicks went a long way to fixing that in the offseason and bringing in a new organization that preaches teamwork and defense over any kind of numerical success. I know its still the preseason and everyone is optimistic, but these guys look like they’re having fun with one another. The Knicks are not going to be a great team in the first year of a new system, but they don’t really have to be. They have more talent on paper than a lot of teams in the East, and should be able to capture that 8th seed if they really all buy-in and show more effort defensively.
The other part of this question is can we expect any kind of regression from the Nets? As always, when we’re talking about these guys, a huge part of the equation is the health of Deron Williams and Brook Lopez. With both of them in the lineup on a regular basis, these guys are a playoff lock and the likely division winners. Without them? Jason Kidd actually did a really good job of juggling his lineups to feature these weird, hybrid groups that forced a lot of turnovers and played great defensively. However a big part of that success was having Paul Pierce at the 4, and he’s gone now. Also, not to use the Spurs argument here, but these guys are all a year older. KG can’t be expected to play more than 15 minutes a game and the problem with Williams and Lopez isn’t that they were hurt last season, it’s that they are CONSISTENTLY hurt. I don’t know if coach Hollins can have the same kind of success re-imagining this team if their two best players (maybe Joe Johnson is 2nd best) go down again.
I hate to expect that people will get injured so I won’t. This means, much as it pains me, I have the Nets winning this division. At full strength they are definitely superior to the Raptors, though may not want to run with them. They are also, sadly, a little better than the Knicks as they have experience playing together and the Knicks will be trying out a bunch of new things. That being said, I’m still optimistic about my team and I am calling them making the playoffs right here. I would love to see them play each other in the postseason. Subway series round 2 let’s get it done boys!
Brooklyn Nets (47-35) Last Year (44-38)
Toronto Raptors (46-36) Last Year (48-34)
New York Knicks (44-38) Last Year (37-45)
Boston Celtic (25-57) Last Year (25-57) wow same record
Philadelphia 76ers (12-70) Last Year (19-63)