I don’t know about you guys, but I’m excited as hell about the NBA season. After the Finals end, I spend a long time obsessing over hoops, but eventually football starts. For a few weeks, it’s easy to forget about the NBA as we watch juiced out maniacs try to concuss each other every weekend.
Alas, the preseason is now just a couple weeks away and the Bulls open the season in Miami in a little over a month. I’ll be predicting each division’s standings as we approach the opening tip of the 2013-14 season. First up, the Atlantic Division in the Eastern Conference. (Note: I won’t be including predicted records because when the math inevitably adds up wrong I won’t be able to sleep. I’ll just be ranking the teams.)
1. Brooklyn Nets (Last year: 2nd)- The Nets made the biggest splash this offseason by pulling off the impossible, yet again. After making moves to bring in Joe Johnson’s Contract last year, Russian playboy Mikhail Prokhorov pulled off an incredible trade with Boston to bring in future Hall of Famers Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce. The Nets gave up nothing of value, and even helped their long-term (key word: long) cap situation by getting rid of Gerald Wallace. They topped that off by signing the extremely useful Andrei Kirilenko for way below market value. Low enough that some were speculating about AK47 and Prokhorov’s ties in Mother Russia. Regardless of whether or not you believe the conspiracy theories, Brooklyn got a lot better and deeper. Anything less than top three finish in the East will be a disappointment, and Pierce and KG are aching for one more ring.
2. New York Knicks (Last year: 1st)- My fellow DRaT writer Stavi made some waves yesterday with his bold prediction that the Knicks would finish under .500. While I wouldn’t go that far, the Knickerbockers are definitely due to fall off a little from last year. Then, the oldest team in NBA history surprised everyone by winning 54 games. However, the core is another year older and bringing in Andrea Bargnani will only serve to create a logjam among New York’s big men. JR Smith is out for at least a month with a knee injury, and suspended his first five games when he’s able to return. This team still has too much talent to self-destruct completely (unless Carmelo gets hurt for an extended period) but I can’t envision a scenario where they climb back to 54, or even 50 wins.
3. Toronto Raptors (Last year: tied 4th)- This is where the Atlantic Division starts to get poopier. Toronto’s biggest move last year was to bring in Rudy Gay, and it’s a questionable one. However, reigning GM of the Year Masai Ujiri was lured away from Denver over the summer and has already made an impact. Somehow, Toronto pilfered a first round pick from the Knicks for a player they were considering amnesty-ing (Bargnani). Not long after, Detroit offered to take Rudy Gay off Ujiri’s hands but he curiously declined. I thought for sure the Raps would jump at that chance, but Ujiri has earned the right not to be judged on his decisions immediately. Regardless, they’re a very average team with two wings who do the exact same thing in Gay and DeMar DeRozan (four capital letters in one name? Really?). If everything goes right they could sneak into the playoffs, but that would say more about the depth in the Eastern Conference than the talent in Toronto.
4. Boston Celtics (Last year: 3rd)- Riggin’ for Wiggins baby. Or whatever we’re calling it these days. Since the second KG and Pierce were shipped to Boston for a bunch of nothing, it’s been clear as day the Celtics are tanking away the 2013-14 season. And for good reason: why limp into a first round slaughter from LeBron or D-Rose when the 2014 draft looks so promising? Boston accurately realized what it had to do, and got started but hoarding draft picks from Brooklyn. Seriously, they’ll have two first rounders in three of the next four years, and the opportunity to switch with the Nets in a few years. This team is set up perfectly for an epic rebuild. Furthermore, they hired Butler boy genius coach Brad Stevens, which is just perfect. Stevens can struggle as he learns the NBA strategies because the team doesn’t expect to compete for at least two or three years. I love what they’re doing, even if it’s hard to watch.
5. Philadelphia 76ers (Last year: tied 4th)- The Sixers are the only team doing a better job tanking than Boston. They got things started by moving Andre Iguodala for Andrew Bynum, who played zero games last year. New management came in and knew what they had to, shocking the NBA world by moving All-Star point guard Jrue Holiday to the Pelicans for Nerlens Noel and a 2014 first rounder. Now that’s how you jump-start a rebuild! Now, Philly is set up for a top three pick from itself and a likely low lottery pick from New Orleans in a stacked draft. On top of that, rookies Michael Carter-Williams and Nerlens Noel will have plenty of opportunity and zero pressure in their first season. Philadelphia is playing the long game, and it’s a beautiful thing.