What the Heck Happened in the Atlantic Division?

Detroit Bad Boys

A Hollywood screenwriter couldn’t come up with a handful of teams with as much drama, intrigue and just plain mess as those found in the NBA’s Atlantic Division. You have a team that garners headlines no matter what it does (New York), a neighbor whose superstar demanded a trade that never came (Brooklyn), a team that needs to break through to finish the process before its window shuts forever (Philadelphia), a team fighting against terrible headlines and injury to remain a title contender (Boston) and, somehow, blessedly, the quietest, most competently run franchise in the entire league (Toronto).

Let’s do a quick rundown of what happened since the Golden State Warriors hoisted the title trophy and the offseason began.


2022 NBA Finals - Golden State Warriors v Boston Celtics

Photo by Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images

Offseason in 5 words or less

Where do I begin?

Big Changes

This team added Malcolm Brogdon and Danilo Gallinari to a team that was already one of the deepest in the league. The problem is they also swapped out head coach Ime Udoka for at least this season and possibly forever, and for now, the team is shepherded by an unproven Joe Mazzulla. Oh, also, the Celtics are the new home of former Pistons forward Blake Griffin. Don’t want to skip that huge development.

On paper, the team was going to be better on the floor, but then injuries hit (we’ll get there) and the franchise is indescribably worse off in the vibes department. The Boston Celtics were supposed to be the class of the Eastern Conference and the team that was talented enough and young enough to have a multi-year title window that could begin as early as this season.

Now?

Maybe? But how? The team still boasts Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown, but the reputation of both took a minor hit in last year’s playoffs when it was unclear if either had enough to truly carry a team to the promised land. But even if you accept that perhaps neither are destined for a LeBron, Durant, Curry tier, their depth and their chemistry were supposed to carry them. They still had Marcus Smart, Derrick White, Al Horford, Grant Williams and Robert Williams.

Then the injuries hit. Gallinari was lost for the season to a knee injury suffered at EuroBasket, Robert Williams is out for an extended period with knee surgery, and then they lost their coach for the year to a sex (and potential sexual harassment) scandal and had nobody with deep experience to take on the role.

Better or Worse?

They are still very good, but how can you not say they are not worse? Yes, they still have the talent to compete for a title, but to believe they will make it that far you would have to ignore … * gestures wildly * … all of this.

Playoff Contender?

Technically yes, but they look destined for an early exit in what will be a disappointing season and a chance to wash all the stink away and try again next season.


Boston Celtics Vs. Brooklyn Nets At Barclays Center

Photo by Jim Davis/The Boston Globe via Getty Images

Offseason in 5 words or less

The Empty Threat Franchise

Big Changes

It’s more about what didn’t change than what did. Kevin Durant demanded a trade or the axing of coach Steve Nash and/or GM Sean Marks. All still remain in Brooklyn and they’ll just pretend everything is A-OK. Oh yeah, and after threatening to forego the final year of his deal and take less money to earn his freedom, Kyrie is back, baby, just as we all knew he would be.

The team did lose some talent, most notably former Pistons Bruce Brown, Andre Drummond and Blake Griffin (RIP Pistons East). None will be felt more than Brown who was able to be a Swiss Army knife in Brooklyn and delivered a lot of the energy a veteran-laden team needs to stay committed during a long regular season.

The Nets did add some notable talent this offseason — they got in early on the Utah fire sale to grab Royce O’Neale and took a flier on TJ Warren. Both will help add competence on the wings and take a little bit of the burden off of Durant to do everything, but it still doesn’t feel like enough.

Better or Worse?

This team will go as far as Kevin and Kyrie allow it, which, frankly, could be pretty far. But if you believe in basketball karma, this whole misbegotten era of Brooklyn Nets basketball feels like exactly what we experienced with Kevin and Kyrie this offseason — a lot of hot air and ultimately empty threats. Of course, there is also a non-zero chance that Ben Simmons suddenly becomes the feel-good story of the NBA season. Crazier things have happened (see entry on Celtics, Boston).

Playoff Contender?

Not if there is justice in this universe.


Indiana Pacers v New York Knicks

Photo by Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images

Offseason in 5 words or less

Are the Knicks secretly … good?

Big Changes

The New York Knicks exuded … patience? Confidence? Competence? I’m so confused. Sure, it is easy to clown on them a bit for having CAA bring in yet another high-priced free agent to Madison Square Garden in Jalen Brunson. But Brunson is good. And it was a bit laughable to see everyone assuming a deal for Donovan Mitchell was all but a done deal only to see the Cavs swoop in and get him. But that might have been saving the Knicks from themselves. I’d much rather pair RJ Barrett with Brunson than add the undersized Mitchell. And that doesn’t even factor in all the draft assets they would have surrendered.

Speaking of draft assets, they collected a few as they traded picks and salaries to open up the money to pay Brunson. It cost them Jalen Duren (thanks, NY!), but they do have four future firsts headed their way including as many as three in 2023. They could make more deals to add talent.

Better or Worse?

They have quality scorers at guard, two quality centers in Mitchell Robinson and Isaiah Hartenstein and Obi Toppin continually fighting for more of a role. They are thin at small forward, but they’ve got plenty of talent. Can they finally do something with it?

Call me crazy, but I’m starting to believe.

Playoff Contender?

Mark my words, the New York Knicks will make the playoffs*


*Subject to change as I write more and more offseason recaps

2022-23 Philadelphia 76ers Media Day

Photo by Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images

Offseason in 5 words or less

The Process desperately needs results

Big Changes

The Sixers know they are top-heavy so they tried to address their depth. They signed super gule guy PJ Tucker, Montrezl Harrell, and De’Anthony Melton. Even if the old James Harden is gone, a slimmed-down and more serious Harden can still do plenty of damage on a nightly basis, and the more dangerous Harden is, the less taxed Joel Embiid is on a game-to-game basis. We deserve at least one healthy Joel NBA postseason to see what he is really capable of. PJ Tucker can go a long way in helping Embiid, even if he isn’t the perimeter threat he used to be a s small-ball five. Tucker adds a defensive stopper who can guard multiple spots on the floor and at least presents enough of a threat from deep that defenses will guard him. Tucker can play with Embiid or replace him if the team needs defense or lean on Harrell if they are desperate for offense.

The pieces seem to fit, and this team could do some serious damage.

Better or Worse?

I think they are better, healthier, more cohesive and with the right mix of personalities, young legs, veteran skill and an all-around quality rotation to be an incredibly dangerous team. If not this year, it might never happen for the Embiid Sixers.

Playoff Contender?

Most definitely a playoff contender, a presumptive Eastern Conference finalist(?) and could win an NBA title.


Toronto Raptors v Houston Rockets

Photo by Carmen Mandato/Getty Images

Offseason in 5 words or less

Quiet … a little too quiet

Big Changes

The Toronto Raptors were mostly content to stay pat this offseason. That makes sense when you’re already enjoying the ascension of young point guard Fren Van Vleet, the versatile Pascal Siakim and basking in the glow of grabbing reigning rookie of the year Scottie Barnes at No. 5 in a stacked draft.

Instead, they added Otto Porter Jr. who did a lot with the opportunities offered him by the Golden State Warriors last season and will look to do much the same in Toronto. They also added Juancho Hernangomez who is now a movie star, and that is sorta cool, I guess.

Better or Worse?

They feel stuck in neutral, and that seems a bit odd considering how aggressive Masai Ujiri has been in his career. And that is doubly true considering how it seems like the Raptors can’t simply rely on the majority of the Eastern Conference being a dumpster fire. The place is much more competitive these days, and the Canadian exchange rate isn’t what it used to be.

Gary Trent Jr. and VanVleet are likely to decline upcoming player options and will be awfully expensive to retain. Precious Achiuwa is cheap now but will be expensive soon. Siakam has only two years left on his monster deal, and perhaps the Raps look to move him sooner than later It definitely feels like Ujiri could be aggressive during the season and do quite a facelift on the current roster.

Playoff Contender?

They are good enough to be a lower tier in the Eastern Conference but also not so dominant that they would be a shoo-in. to survive a play-in game if it came to that. I like the Raptors players, but I’m a little worried about where they are as a franchise.

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