Monday, October 22, 2007

2007-08 NBA preview (Atlantic Division)

The Red Sox are going to the World Series after rallying from a 3-1 deficit against the steroid-enhanced Indians, the top two college football teams could be headed for a fall (again), and there were plenty of goodies from another fat Sunday of professional football.

But who cares about all that? The NBA season starts a week from Tuesday, and even though the refs are corrupt, it's still my favorite league. I'll be rolling out a preview, division by division, on an irregular basis between now and the first tip. We'll be starting with the Atlantic Division, and like the great explorers Lewis, Clark, and the Oregon Trail families, we'll be making our way westward across the country while trying to avoid cholera, diphtheria, and the dreaded mad ox disease. Enjoy!

(Statistics in parentheses are points per game/rebounds per game/assists per game in 2006-07)

Boston Celtics
2006-07: 24-58
Coach: Doc Rivers
Starting lineup
PG Rajon Rondo (6.4/3.7/3.8)
SG Ray Allen (26.4/4.5/4.1)
SF Paul Pierce (25.0/5.9/4.1)
PF Kevin Garnett (22.4/12.8/4.1)
C Kendrick Perkins (4.5/5.2/1.3)
F James Posey (7.7/5.0/1.3)
G Tony Allen (11.5/3.8/1.7)
C/F Glen Davis (rookie, 35th pick)
PF Leon Powe (4.3/3.5/0.2)
G Eddie House (8.4/1.6/1.2)
F Brian Scalabrine (4.0/1.9/1.1)

The Celtics made the biggest move this offseason, acquiring 2004 league MVP Kevin Garnett (pictured, center), still one of the league's top-10 players, along with seven-time All-Star Ray Allen (pictured, right). They team with mainstay Paul Pierce (pictured, left) to make arguably the league's top threesome, but it remains to be seen whether that's enough to carry an otherwise unimpressive roster deep into the playoffs. The signing of James Posey, who started at small forward on the Heat's 2006 championship team, provides the team with a valuable sixth man who could see time as a backup for all three superstars. The viability of second-year man Rajon Rondo as a competent starting point guard is a question. Kendrick Perkins will be asked to carry the load in the post, given Garnett's aversion to playing close to the basket and the diminuitive height of 6-foot-8 backup Glen Davis. That might be too much to ask from Perkins, who's never held down a starting job for a full season.

New Jersey Nets
2006-07: 41-41
Beat Toronto 4-2 in first round
Lost to Cleveland 4-2 in conference semifinals
Coach: Lawrence Frank
Starting lineup
PG Jason Kidd (13.0/8.2/9.2)
SG Vince Carter (25.2/6.0/4.8)
SF Richard Jefferson (16.3/4.4/2.7)
PF Nenad Krstic (16.4/6.8/1.8)
C Jamaal Magloire (6.5/6.1/0.4)
C Jason Collins (2.1/4.0/0.6)
PF Josh Boone (4.2/2.9/0.2)
PF Malik Allen (4.0/2.0/0.3)
PF Sean Williams (rookie, 17th pick)
F/G Bostjan Nachbar (9.2/3.3/0.8)
SG Antoine Wright (4.5/2.8/0.9)
PG Darrell Armstrong (5.6/1.7/2.4)
PG Marcus Williams (6.8/2.1/3.3)

While most of the attention in the Atlantic Division has been focused on the Celtics' big off-season moves and the surprise first-place finish of the Toronto Raptors, the Nets quietly bolstered a team that's been the last team Atlantic team standing in the playoffs five of the last six years. Jason Kidd (pictured, center) is 34, but he's missed only four games over the past two seasons and is still one of the premier point guards in the game. Health is of greater concern for Richard Jefferson (pictured, left), who has missed significant time two of the last three years but combines with leading scorer Vince Carter (pictured, right) to make this team one of the most exciting offensively when they're together on the floor. Nenad Krstic returns after missing most of 2006-07 with a torn ACL, and the team hopes he can return to form as an all-around scoring threat. Veteran free-agent signee Jamaal Magloire, a classic, in-the-paint post player, is the best guess at center, as the Nets have a glut of power players, an area where they were thin last year. Jason Collins, Josh Boone, Malik Allen and Sean Williams are all in the running for post minutes. Sharpshooting swingman Bostjan Nachbar was a spark off the bench late last year and in the playoffs. Darrell Armstrong, 39, likely in his final season, will be the backup point guard for at least the first month of the season while Marcus Williams recovers from a broken foot.

New York Knicks
Coach: Isiah Thomas
2006-07: 33-49
Starting lineup
PG Stephon Marbury (16.4/2.9/5.4)
SG Jamal Crawford (17.6/3.2/4.4)
SF Quentin Richardson (13.0/7.2/2.2)
PF Zach Randolph (23.6/10.1/2.2)
C Eddy Curry (19.5/7.0/0.8)
F David Lee (10.7/10.4/1.8)
F/G Renaldo Balkman (4.9/4.3/0.6)
PG Nate Robinson (10.1/2.4/1.4)
G/F Fred Jones (6.5/1.8/1.7)
C Randolph Morris (0.8/1.8/0.2)
PF Malik Rose (3.0/2.7/1.0)
F Jared Jeffries (4.1/4.3/1.2)
C Jerome James (1.9/1.6/0.1)

The team's sexual harassment lawsuit surrounding Isiah Thomas (pictured, left) notwithstanding, there's reason for optimism for the first time in a while at Madison Square Garden. The team acquired Zach Randolph (pictured, right), instantly one of the top post performers in the Eastern Conference, in a draft night deal with Portland. Much has been made of the similarity between his game and Eddy Curry's, but two capable big men are better than none. Thomas will be challenged to design a system that gets the most out of both, but for once has a clear option at point guard with Stephon Marbury. Stability could benefit Jamal Crawford, the team's second leading scorer behind Curry, who has the job at shooting guard after vacillating between the bench and the starting lineup the past two years. Three-point bomber Quentin Richardson hasn't been the same since a stellar 2005 with Phoenix, but is the starting small forward for now. Fan favorite David Lee and Renaldo Balkman, who surprised as a rookie last year, provide depth at the wings, along with Thomas favorite Fred Jones. There's not much behind Curry and Randolph, particularly as Jerome James struggles to play with a bad knee that may require surgery.

Philadelphia 76ers
Coach: Maurice Cheeks
2006-07: 35-47
Starting lineup
PG Andre Miller (13.4/4.4/7.8)
SG Rodney Carney (6.6/1.9/0.4) or Willie Green (11.3/2.1/1.5)
SF Andre Iguodala (18.2/5.7/5.7)
PF Reggie Evans (4.9/7.0/0.7)
C Samuel Dalembert (10.7/8.9/0.8)
SG Willie Green or Rodney Carney
G/F Kyle Korver (14.4/3.5/1.4)
F/C Jason Smith (rookie, 20th pick)
SF Thaddeus Young (rookie, 12th pick)
PG Kevin Ollie (3.8/1.4/2.5)
C Shavlik Randolph (4.5/4.2/0.3)
G Louis Williams (4.3/1.1/1.8)

What a mess. The rebuilding process after the Allen Iverson trade is bottoming out, and this team could make a run at the worst record in the league. Athletic Andre Iguodala (pictured, right) is the go-to guy, and must show progress this year or he could become the second AI shipped out of Philly. Veteran Andre Miller is one of the league's better point guards, and deserves a better fate than to be stuck with this bunch. Reggie Evans is not a threat offensively, but his defense and rebounding was enough for him to start for a division champion Seattle team in 2005. Samuel Dalembert (pictured, center, with Kyle Korver, left) won't score much either, but he's a team mainstay and a viable option at center, particularly in the Eastern Conference. Rodney Carney and the undersized Willie Green are battling for the shooting guard spot, but the team must hope Carney can overcome defensive shortcomings and inconsistency after spending a first-round pick on him in 2006. This year's first-rounders, small forward Thaddeus Young and forward/center Jason Smith, will likely get plenty of minutes to prove their mettle off the bench. Third-year guard Louis Williams has impressed in heavy preseason minutes.

Toronto Raptors
2006-07: 47-35
Lost to New Jersey 4-2 in first round
Coach: Sam Mitchell
Starting lineup
PG T.J. Ford (14.0/3.1/7.9)
SG Anthony Parker (12.4/3.9/2.1)
SF Jason Kapono (10.9/2.7/1.2)
PF Chris Bosh (22.6/10.7/2.5)
C Andrea Bargnani (11.6/3.9/0.8)
F Jorge Garbajosa (8.5/4.9/1.9)
PG Jose Calderon (8.7/1.7/5.0)
C Rasho Nesterovic (6.2/4.5/0.9)
PF Kris Humphries (3.8/3.1/0.3)
SF Joey Graham (6.4/3.1/0.6)
G/F Carlos Delfino (5.2/3.2/1.1)

Plenty of people assumed NBA Coach of the Year Sam Mitchell won the Atlantic Division last year with smoke and mirrors, and that theory was backed up by a first-round playoff exit. It will be tougher to repeat as division champs this year with Boston, New Jersey and New York all improved, but the Raptors should be better, too, as long as Italian center Andrea Bargnani, the first overall pick in the 2006 draft, continues to develop. He needs to be more willing to mix it up inside and grab more rebounds. If he does so, he and Chris Bosh (pictured) could be the league's most fearsome post duo. The team is looking for repeat performances from last year's pleasant surprises, Anthony Parker and Jorge Garbajosa. The loss of Garbajosa to knee and ankle injuries late last year was a key reason behind the team's playoff defeat. Jason Kapono, the league's three-point shooting percentage leader with Miami last year, will likely inherit Garbajosa's small forward spot. T.J. Ford is one of the league's best point guards, and perhaps the most underrated at that position, and has a quality backup in Jose Calderon. Free-agent signee Carlos Delfino began the preseason with a chance to start, but played so poorly he might be out of the rotation.

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