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2007-08 NBA Preview: The Atlantic Division
By RAUL SMITH, MOP Squad Sports Staff Writer
Oct 14, 2007 - 4:41:55 AM

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It’s that time of year once again, sports fans.   Baseball’s NLCS and ALCS are underway, football is very much in full throttle, and the NHL has kicked off, leaving one major sports league left to get started…the NBA!


And much like last year, I will once again take a stab at predicting how the NBA season will go in 2007-08.   So with that said, here is a look at the NBA, division-by-division, team-by-team, courtesy of MOP Squad Sports columnist Raul Smith.


Yesterday, I took a look at the ultra-competitive Central Division.   Today, it’s a look at a division that could be won by just about any of the five teams in it, the Atlantic Division.


Boston Celtics

Head coach : Doc Rivers is in his fourth season as head coach of the Celtics, and his ninth season as a head coach in the NBA.

Last year’s record : 24-58, which earned this team fifth and last place in the Atlantic Division, and obviously a trip to the lottery.

MVP Candidate : one of the newest members of the Boston Celtics, Kevin Garnett is the MVP candidate already.   Where he goes is where this franchise goes.   Plus, he’s a former NBA MVP.

Here’s the lowdown : the Celtics have been starving so badly for success that Danny Ainge started hearing cries from the fans about his job.   That’s why Ainge felt he should do something about that.   On draft day, Ainge drafted Jeff Green with the fifth pick in the draft, and afterwards subsequently shipped him and Wally Szczerbiak to Seattle for veteran sharpshooter Ray Allen.   Then, during the offseason, he ripped last year’s team apart and sent half of his roster to Minnesota for MVP candidate and perennial All-Star Kevin Garnett.   Immediately, talk of a seventeenth championship banner flooded the local sports talk radio lines.   However, there is one flaw in the master plan: as a result of the Kevin Garnett trade, the Celtics are left without much talent at the point guard and center positions.   They have tried to resolve these issues by signing key free agents such as Scot Pollard, Eddie House, and even James Posey.   Can the trio of Garnett, Allen, and Paul Pierce overcome a lack of a point guard and center in order to get this team back to the promise land?   Danny Ainge sure is betting his job on it.

Player to watch this season : with all this talk about Ray Allen this and Kevin Garnett that, many outside of Bean-Town have forgotten that Paul Pierce is still here.   Remember how well he did when he had Antoine Walker still in Celtics green?   We may see a return of that Paul Pierce with KG in the post.


New Jersey Nets

Head coach : Lawrence Frank is in his fifth season as head coach of the Nets.

Last year’s record : 41-41, which was good enough for second place in the Atlantic Division and a 6th seed in the Eastern Conference Playoffs.   The Nets defeated division rival Toronto in the first round 4-2, but lost in the second round to Cleveland 4-2.

MVP Candidate : despite Jason Kidd’s passing abilities, it’s still Vince Carter that drives this team.   Where he goes is where this team goes.

Here’s the lowdown : after advancing to the second round of the playoffs last season only to lose to the Cleveland Cavaliers, the New Jersey Nets approached this offseason under the old adage, “If it’s not broke, don’t fix it.”   They pretty much have the same team from last year intact, aside from a few minor pieces.   They did, however, add a few new pieces to the roster, including free agents Jamaal Magloire and Eddie Gill, as well as the seventeenth overall pick in the draft, Sean Williams from Boston College.   With all these pieces in place, it would appear the Nets are once again poised for another division title.

Player to watch this season : if in fact Richard Jefferson, whose name has appeared in quite a few trade rumors this offseason, gets dealt before the trade deadline, look for third-year man Antoine Wright to fill in and immediately make a major impact for this team at the 2-spot.   There was a lot of talk about how he was a draft steal when the Nets drafted him; now is the time to prove it.


New York Knicks

Head coach : the troubled and disgraced Isiah Thomas is in his second season as head coach of the Knicks and his fifth season as a head coach in the NBA.   BTW, he’s also the team president.   Don’t know if you knew that already.

Last year’s record : 33-49, which was good enough for fourth place in the Atlantic Division, but not good enough for a trip to the playoffs.

MVP Candidate : with Steve Francis now gone, there are no more excuses for Stephon Marbury not to be the MVP of the Knicks.   The time to get it done is now, Starbury.

Here’s the lowdown : oh wow, where to begin…I caught a little bit of that ESPN original miniseries that they aired a while back called “The Bronx is Burning”, which was about the New York Yankees of the late-70’s.   I liken the New York Knicks franchise for the past three seasons to that miniseries: a train wreck waiting to happen.   First, you had the team completely fall out of the playoff race right about the same time Knicks owner James Dolan extended Isiah Thomas’ contract as head coach/president.   Then, you had said president making a very ill-advised move during draft day, trading Steve Francis.   The part where he finally was able to get rid of Steve Francis wasn’t bad; it was bringing in Portland thug Zach Randolph that was the problem.   So now, instead of two selfish point guards to worry about, he now has two guys that want the ball in the low post to worry about.   Great move, Zeke!   Oh, and let’s not forget about that fiasco where said president was found liable of sexually harassing a former Knicks executive.   I’m sure that made for great pub in New York.   Now comes word that former Knicks shooting guard Allan Houston is to the rescue.   Yes, Allan Houston is un-retiring to try and bring the Knicks out of this rut.   What, they couldn’t convince Charles Oakley, Patrick Ewing, John Starks, or even Latrell Sprewell to come out of hiding?   Oh, that’s right; you wouldn’t want any part of Spree since he might try to choke you.   All in all, a very entertaining and yet tragic head-on car collision just waiting to happen.   Much like “The Bronx is Burning”.

Player to watch this season : it will be most interesting to see what happens with Zach Randolph.   Will he revert back to his old ways from his days in Portland, or will he take on a new identity and help this team back to glory?   The odds on the former are currently favored by 41-1/2 points.   Oops, sorry USC.


Philadelphia 76ers

Head coach : Maurice Cheeks is in his third season as head coach of the Sixers and his seventh season as a head coach in the NBA.

Last year’s record : 35-47, which was good enough for third place in the Atlantic Division, but not good enough to earn them a playoff berth.

MVP Candidate : with Allen Iverson now gone, it will be up to the other AI, Andre Iguodala, to ensure the Sixers return to past glory.

Here’s the lowdown : after the trade that sent Allen Iverson to Denver for Andre Miller, the Philadelphia 76ers were never the same last season.   Yes, Miller and Iguodala started to gel towards the end of the season, which should translate to good news for this season.   The catch slogan for this year’s team is “Strength is Derived from Unity.”   Considering the Sixers haven’t made many moves this offseason, they surely hope the slogan rings true.   Iguodala, Miller, Kyle Korver, and Samuel Dalembert are all back, and in place of Joe Smith is the twelfth overall pick in the draft, Thaddeus Young from Georgia Tech.   The question is no longer about how well the Sixers can rebound from losing their franchise’s icon after more than a decade of service, but rather now how well they can gel together and make a push for the playoffs.

Player to watch this season : while all the attention will be on Andre Iguodala, Andre Miller will be the X-Factor for this team.   If he doesn’t play well this season, it will be surprising to see this team go anywhere.


Toronto Raptors

Head coach : Sam Mitchell is in his fourth season as head coach of the Raptors.

Last year’s record : 47-35, which was good enough to win this team the Atlantic Division title and a 3rd seed in the Eastern Conference Playoffs.   However, they couldn’t capitalize on that 3rd seed, as they lost in the first round to the New Jersey Nets 4-2.

MVP Candidate : fifth-year man Chris Bosh is clearly now the team captain and MVP of the Raptors.   He saw career-highs in most major statistical categories last season.

Here’s the lowdown : how can the Toronto Raptors, a franchise all but left for dead, top what was, to some, a very surprising 2006-07 season, a season which saw this team win the Atlantic Division title for the first time ever?   Well, for starters, all of the pieces from last year are back this year, with exception to Morris Peterson, who was replaced by Miami sharpshooter Jason Kapono.   Bosh is back after an MVP-type season, along with all the guys from last year that helped make this the team nobody ever saw coming.   With the other teams doing so much to improve, however, it will be interesting to see how Toronto responds.

Player to watch this season : aside from Andrea Bargnani, the other rookie Toronto showcased regularly last season was the surprising Jorge Garbajosa from Spain.   It will be interesting to see how he’ll top his surprising rookie season.   Please, no “Hip, Hip, Jorge” jokes.


Overall, here’s a look at where I think each team will rank at the end of the season:


1.) Boston Celtics: this team’s success in recent years is like a rollercoaster: one season they’re one of the worst teams in the league, the next they’re the division champs.

2.) New Jersey Nets: with this much talent on their roster, they should make a push to challenge Boston for the division crown, assuming they get much for Richard Jefferson should they trade him.

3.) Toronto Raptors: from division champs to third place and possibly out of the playoffs.   I guess that’ll happen when one of your rivals trades for both Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett.

4.) Philadelphia 76ers: they may show unity and strength throughout the season, but it won’t mean much in the grand scheme of things if your team doesn’t have talent.

5.) New York Knicks: hope all those moves both with the roster and with that former executive were all worth it, Zeke.


That’s a look at the Atlantic Division.   Tomorrow, I’ll wrap up the Eastern Conference by venturing to the Southeast Division.


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