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Don't know if you heard, but the Celtics run this joint. And by joint, I mean league. So everything in the Atlantic starts and ends with the defending champs. Let's start there with our list of headlines, shall we?
Time Waits For No Man, But Is Still Scared of Kevin Garnett
Considering how interesting, exciting, and unpredictable last season was supposed to be, you have to wonder why we came to that conclusion. The Celtics traded for two legit superstars, had their role players develop into a cohesive unit, had the best team in the league from start to finish, then, despite several seven-game series, won the championship rather handily over a Lakers squad that was considered the heavy favorite. Doesn't really seem like rocket science. And there's no massive change to this squad. James Posey headed off to New Orleans to hit big shots elsewhere, but other than that, this is the same team that dominated for most of the season. Yet we have to create reasons why they won't repeat, because otherwise, well, that's called sports.
So let's see, what can we use.. oh! I know! The age card! That one's easy. Kevin Garnett is 32, Paul Pierce is 30, Ray Allen is 32, and Sam Cassell is three thousand years old. So eventually there's going to be a slide, right?
Of course, Garnett is in unbelievable form, Pierce is still in the tail-end of his prime, Rajon Rondo is only 22, the Celtics only needed Allen in spots, and the rest of the team has years in front of them. But still?
Okay, how about this one? The ol' championship hangover trick! Yeah! After finally obtaining the prize that's eluded them their entire careers, Garnett, Pierce, and Allen may get a little comfy. Pierce had a slight altercation in Vegas from partying too much and Garnett looked like he was having some sort of mental breakdown after winning the championship. This team won't have the same fire that led it to 66 games, right?
Of course, Kevin Garnett is essentially the most intense person on the planet (in commercials at least), and Pierce thinks he's the best player alive. So it's entirely possible that they'll simply thrive on the expectation for them not to repeat and put another beatdown on the East.
Look, we can look for reasons all we want but the fact is that the Celtics have to be the favorite to win the Eastern Conference if not the NBA title again this season. They are loaded with superstars, terrific defensively, experienced, focused, and look good in green. Odds are 2008 comes up a similar shade.
So is there anyone else from the division to compete with the Celts?
Enter The Brand Man
Making the biggest free agent signing of the summer is kind of a big deal. So when a playoff team that pushed the Detroit Pistons around a bit before succumbing to the vaunted "playoff-tested veterans" machine of doom goes out and lands Elton Brand without losing any significant pieces? You had better take note. The Sixers are now in a position to make some real noise in the East. They spent last season finding themselves, and discovered they had a legit scorer in Andre Iguodala, a legit lower-top-tier point guard in Andre Miller, and a crew of sweeping youngsters. Adding Brand just augments the attack. This allows Thaddeus Young to move to the small forward spot permanently, and allows Iguodala to drift and freelance a bit more. As one NBA scribe mentioned to me, they've become a fleet of fighters with an aircraft carrier. Brand is the aircraft carrier. Capable of defending any big in the league, scoring in the paint, running the break, and being a team leader, Brand was an absolute coup for Ed Stefanski and the Sixers front office.
There are questions about whether Andre Iguodala is worth the mountain of gold that was thrown at him over the summer, and about whether Brand will be able to come back from injury to be the Brand of old. But let's face it, the team is loaded. Young is explosive, built like a cannonball, and a tough defender. The whole team is full of tough defenders. With Brand in, the face of the Eastern Conference has changed.
Larger, More Injury-Prone Dinosaurs Roam The Earth
The Toronto Raptors took a look at their team and said "You know? We're essentially a bunch of pygmies surrounding a Buick Plymouth trying to take down Tanks. Maybe we should add some guns." They also realized that they had to commit to one point guard or another, settled on Jose Calderon over TJ Ford, and turned a problem into a solution, trading for Jermaine O'Neal. That's good swappin', right there. The Raptors are hoping that O'Neal is going to give them the things they've been missing out on, namely interior defense and scoring. And while I admire the brazen approach to improving your squad, this is not without its complications.
O'Neal has averaged only 52 games over the last four seasons. He was a malcontent at times in Indiana (who wasn't?). He's not a dominant force inside in the traditional sense. And then there's the question of how he fits in with Chris Bosh. You've got two very similar players attempting to mesh into the same system. While the perimeter players should benefit from the added attention inside, it may take some time for the Raptors to figure out a way to integrate them both effectively.
Seven Seconds A Test For Rebuilding Knicks
See what I did there? That's gold, I tell you. Comedy. Gold. What? It's not like anyone else is riffing on it.
Ahem. Anyway. The Knicks are finally on their way out of the monster hole Isiah Thomas put them in. They've got a new GM, a new head coach with a tradition of winning, and a new sensation. It's called hope, New York. Hope you enjoy it. Because that's all you've got for a while. Stephon Marbury, Zach Robinson, and Eddy Curry are still around, wasting money and resources, and the roster is still in need of a massive overhaul. Not helping the situation is what has not started out well as a rookie campaign for Danilo Gallinari, who's been injured since before Summer League and still has not made it into full practice, let alone floor time.
But it's not all bad. D'Antoni has promised the Knicks will be more entertaining, if not still low in the win department. Wilson Chandler is showing significant progress, David Lee is a coach's dream for a hustle player, Nate Robinson has a good dynamic with the new staff, and um... Madison Square Garden is still nice. The important thing is that Knicks fans have something to get excited about. And not just out of fear.
A Season Later, There's Nothing But Nets Leftovers
Jason Kidd got shipped out last year. That was the start. Next went Richard Jefferson to Milwaukee for Yi Jianlian and pieces. Welcome to the future, Nets fans. Enjoy it while it's still in Jersey (at least till 2011!). Truth be told, there are some pieces on this team, and there are a lot of holes. Vince Carter is still Vince Carter. Devin Harris is promising. Chris Douglas-Roberts could be a second round steal. Brook Lopez looks raw but could develop. Other than that it's a mish-mash of stop gaps and young guys. Many people have the Nets picked last in the Eastern Conference. The biggest questions involve how the rookies will develop and if Vince Carter will still be around by the end of the year.
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