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Gibberman: NBA preview – Atlantic division

The Fall Classic is around the corner, NFL and College Football are in full swing, the NHL faced off and the NBA tipoff is a month away. Over the next four weeks I will take a look at every NBA team by division. In my previews I will break down the teams in the order they finished last season and then, in the final edition, I will give my predictions.

What was supposed to be a quiet offseason leading up to the hyped class of 2010 was anything but. The major theme for me leading up to 2009-10 NBA season was the rich got richer and the poor got poorer. The elite class of the NBA distanced themselves from the rest of the pack. The Lakers added Ron Artest, the Spurs picked up Richard Jefferson and Antonio McDyess, the Mavericks grabbed Shawn Marion, the Celtics snagged Rasheed Wallace, the Magic traded for Vince Carter and the Cavaliers acquired Shaquille O’Neal. I usually like to be creative with my NBA Finals picks; this year is going to be tough, I don’t see a sleeper with that type of potential. Let’s get to the division previews, starting off with the Atlantic Division in the Eastern Conference:

Boston Celtics

Last Season: 62-20

The Boston Celtics put up a valiant fight against the Orlando Magic in the Eastern Conference Semifinals without Kevin Garnett. KG should be back at full strength for the season opener and this year they have added front court depth by signing playoff veteran Rasheed Wallace. When “The Big Ticket” came to Boston he changed the demeanor of the Celtics, I am curious to see if he can get Sheed to control his temper.

Ray Allen and Paul Pierce are both a year older and their legs should be slowing down, especially with extended playoff runs the last two seasons. Danny Ainge picked up wingman Marquis Daniels, who will be an effective scorer off the bench. After Daniels the Celtics are shaky with Tony Allen, Bill Walker (already hurt) and J.R. Giddens.

The Celtics are set at PG for the next 10 years with Rajon Rondo (if they re-sign him). This is the biggest storyline for the Celts going into 2009-10 season; there were rumors going around during the offseason and playoff run that Doc Rivers and Danny Ainge were not happy with Rondo. Rajon is still a kid, he is entering his fourth year in the league and it is expected that he would have moments of immaturity. Rajon Rondo is not going anywhere and this season he will continue his development as one of the top five point guards in the NBA.

Philadelphia 76ers

Last Season: 41-41

The Philadelphia 76ers, just like the Boston Celtics, gave the Orlando Magic everything they could handle in last year’s playoffs. They lost starting PG and team leader Andre Miller to the Portland Trailblazers and did nothing to adequately replace him. Louis Williams will be expected to fill the role, but he is more of a scoring guard in a PG’s body – I don’t see him developing into a true NBA point guard. They also drafted Jrue Holliday in the 1st round of the NBA Draft out of UCLA, who only played one season in college. Holliday has the physical tools, but is a couple of years away from being able to contribute on the NBA level.

The 76ers do have a couple of young complimentary players. SF/PF Thaddeus Young was a pleasant surprise last season and second year PF Marreese Speights from the University of Florida showed flashes. The biggest problem for Philly is that after Andre Iguodola there is not one player that you know what you’re going to get every single night. The plan for GM Ed Stefnaski was to build the team around Igoudala and Elton Brand. Relying on Brand is a big risk; he has only played 37 games the last two seasons.

New Jersey Nets

Last Season: 34-48

While it is unsure where the New Jersey Nets will be playing basketball in the near future, we do know one thing: President Rod Thorn knows how to build a winning basketball team. In the past two seasons Thorn has taken the Jason Kidd, Richard Jefferson and Vince Carter aging core and turned it into Devin Harris, Yi Jianlian, Courtney Lee, Brook Lopez and Terrence Williams. The only player in that group that I am not a big fan of is Yi Jianlian, but from reading up on the Nets it sounds like Head Coach Lawrence Frank is happy with his progress. I’ll withhold judgment till I see it with my own two eyes.

I don’t think New Jersey will stay as currently constructed throughout the 2009-10 season. After Devin Harris the Nets have two more solid PGs with Keyon Dooling and Rafer Alston. If SF Chris Douglas-Roberts makes strides in his second year Jarvis Hayes and Trenton Hassell also become expendable pieces.

Whether the Nets can make a run at 7th or 8th seed will depend on the development of their young big men. Brook Lopez has the skills to become an All Star center, Sean Williams can be shot blocking beast if he has matured mentally, and Josh Boone can play D and hit the boards. If these three players reach their potential the New Jersey Nets will be a very dangerous team in the Eastern Conference.

Toronto Raptors

Last Season: 33-49

Toronto Raptors GM Bryan Colangelo loves his foreigners and has built the most diverse team in the NBA. They have five rotational players that come from outside the United States.

Last year I felt that Chris Bosh was underwhelming. A player of his caliber should never let his team be 16 games under .500. I know his numbers were fantastic, but to be a great player it is about the Ws, not averaging a double-double.

The Raptors have one of the longest, most versatile frontcourts in the league with Andrea Bargnani at C, Bosh at PF, and the newly acquired Hedo Turkoglu at SF. It will be interesting to see how opposing coaches try and match up with them defensively.

I like Hedo Turkoglu as a player, but I think the Raptors made a mistake throwing that type of money at him. Turkoglu is not a player that you can build a team around – he is a complimentary player. Turkoglu signed a five year contract, in the last year of the contract he will be 35 years old. Making a mistake on a big contract like Hedo’s is the type of move that can set an NBA Franchise back 3-5 years.

New York Knicks

Last Season: 32-50

The New York Knicks tried to find a veteran presence this summer to be a leader for a very young group of players. They swung and missed with Jason Kidd and Grant Hill, who both took the extra money and stayed with their teams from last year.

The key to the Knicks season is second year forward Danilo Gallinari. Last year he was hampered by a back injury, but when he got the opportunity to play you could see the upside that made the Knicks take him instead of Eric Gordon or Brook Lopez. Gallo can flat out shoot the rock and has underestimated handle. For the Knicks to have a puncher’s chance, Gallinari will need to make the same jump Dirk Nowitzki made from year one to year two. In Dirk’s rookie year he averaged 8 PPG, in his second season that number jumped to 17.5 PPG.

We all know with the New York Knicks, with Donnie Walsh and Mike D’Antoni, the plan was to build a team for success in the long haul, not to win right away. The Knicks have put together a roster with pieces that should be attractive to get a superstar in 2010; David Lee, Nate Robinson, Danilo Gallinari, Wilson Chandler, Toney Douglas and Jordan Hill are all under the age of 26. Knicks fans, it’s been a long time since you have had a successful NBA season, one more year isn’t going to kill you.