2011-12 Record: 36-30; lost to Heat in first round
Top Addition: Jason Kidd | Biggest Loss:Jeremy Lin
After being in transition for years, New York entered a full training camp with coach Mike Woodson emphasizing defense around a front line of leaders who are capable of protecting the paint. Health permitting, the Knicks will build their defense around Defensive Player of the Year Tyson Chandler, former Defensive Player of the Year Marcus Camby and Kurt Thomas, who will prove valuable when the playoffs come. Carmelo Anthony is in terrific shape after the Olympics and promised to share the ball with Amar'e Stoudemire, who spent the summer developing his low-post game. Most important is the acquisition of Jason Kidd, who will help fellow point guard Raymond Felton establish a flow to enable Anthony and Stoudemire to work in tandem. They'll be seeking to reincarnate the gritty climate of the old Jeff Van Gundy Knicks, and it's an achievable goal.
Spurned by Dwight Howard but reclaimed by Deron Williams, the Nets enter their new home with hope of instantly challenging the Knicks' ownership of New York. Their pieces make sense, because Joe Johnson is a star who doesn't crave the headlines, and Brook Lopez is the low-post threat who can balance the perimeter scoring of Williams and Johnson. This is a big team across the board with a coach in Avery Johnson who will emphasize defense. Will they get enough scoring off the bench from MarShon Brooks and 27-year-old Bosnian rookie Mirza Teletovic? The Nets will need time to develop chemistry, and their sense of togetherness will have to grow quickly amid the divisional challenges of the Knicks and Celtics.
2011-12 Record: 39-27; lost to Heat in East finals
With no young free-agent stars available for hire, the Celtics brought back their old names (or tried to, before Ray Allen escaped to Miami) for another year of contention. They'll use the regular season to weave in young complementary players like Courtney Lee, Jeff Green, Avery Bradley (who hopes to return before the new year after surgery on both shoulders) and rookie Jared Sullinger, who can provide much-needed rebounding. More important than their seeding in the conference will be the development of a deep roster that can support Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Jason Terry for another run to the Finals. Pulling all of this together is Rajon Rondo, the last of the pure point guards, who remains hungry to prove he is the league's best at his position. The Celtics will be leaning on him more than ever.
2011-12 Record: 35-31; lost to Celtics in second round
After maxing out their young small-ball roster to take Boston to a Game 7 in the Eastern semifinals, the 76ers went big by rebuilding around Andrew Bynum, the most skilled low-post scorer in the league. Not only will the Sixers be gambling on Bynum's health, but they'll also need to redevelop their depth chart around him while encouraging third-year swingman Evan Turner to take over the multiple roles filled by Olympic gold medalist Andre Iguodala, who was dealt to Denver in the trade for Bynum. There are sure to be nights when the Sixers won't quite know whether they're supposed to play fast or slow, but that's what Doug Collins is for -- he's one of the best coaches in the league, and he's going to have his hands full working through this transition to a new style of play.
The Raptors are the forgotten team of this crowded division, but they'll be heard from in years ahead. This season will be invested in establishing a frontcourt rapport between Andrea Bargnani (who will be trying to regain his health) and rookie center Jonas Valanciunas. Future star DeMar DeRozan will be paired with rookie shooting guard Terrence Ross to provide Toronto with explosive athleticism on the wing. Kyle Lowry will have a chance to lay down roots after leaving Houston in unhappy circumstances. The Raptors won't challenge for the playoffs this year, but by the end of the season there may be enormous hope for what's to come.
Players To Watch
2011-12 Stats: 6.2 PPG, 5.5 APG, 1.7 SPG
Career Stats: 13.0 PPG, 9.0 APG, 1.9 SPG
He's 39 and yet the Knicks are counting on him to be their version of Steve Nash -- a player who provides direction and leadership to a contender that needs help with chemistry. Though he'll be expected to come off the bench behind Felton, Kidd will be crucial in creating an understanding between Anthony and that will allow both to perform like stars when they're on the floor together.
2011-12 Stats: 15.8 PPG, 8.2 RPG, 1.0 BPG
Career Stats: 19.3 PPG, 10.6 RPG, 1.5 BPG
He's 36 and coming off an outstanding few months after his move to center late last season. He had been planning to retire, but his outstanding play and the commitment of coach Doc Rivers to remain with the Celtics for the long term persuaded Garnett to sign a three-year deal. His length around the basket gives Boston an advantage that has been troubling to Miami, but the Celtics will have to remain cautious in parsing minutes to Garnett in order to keep him at his best -- for without him they'll have no hope.
2011-12 Stats: 19.1 PPG, 12.1 RPG, 2.0 BPG
Career Stats: 16.3 PPG, 10.9 RPG, 2.2 BPG
He's about to turn 25, but Bynum's future is uncertain. He has been set back by numerous knee injuries and was held out of training camp while recovering from a medical procedure on both knees that he underwent over the summer. The Sixers will be trying to develop him as a team leader, but for most of his seven years in Los Angeles Bynum was subservient to Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol. He has never faced the double teams that are sure to come as Philadelphia reinvents its offense around him in the low post. This will be an interesting experiment to watch.
Can the Celtics be healthy for the playoffs? On paper, Boston should be Miami's most dangerous challenger because the Celtics are superior at point guard (Rondo) and center (Garnett). But their top four players include three who are 35 or older -- Garnett, Pierce and Terry -- and will they be able to successfully weave in younger players while keeping the elder stars off their feet and in spry condition for the playoffs? It's a question that no one can answer. We'll know the answer when we see it.
Can Carmelo Anthony and Amar'e Stoudemire co-exist? Over their two abbreviated segments together -- after Anthony's midseason acquisition in 2011 and then during the shortened lockout season -- these two have failed to bring out the best in each other. On the nights when one of them has excelled with the ball, the other has turned into an expensive role player. The Knicks will disappoint unless they can find a way for their two biggest stars to complement one another and thrive together.
Who will be the best team in New York? After years of dereliction and hopelessness, New York has turned into an NBA capital thanks to the rebirth of the Knicks and the reinvention of the Nets. Knicks fans are sure to take enormous pride in trying to prove that their home-court advantage is superior to that of the Nets in Brooklyn, where everything -- the franchise, the roster and the building itself -- is new.
Did You Know?
The Celtics have won the Atlantic every year since trading for Garnett in 2007.
Bynum has missed 166 regular-season games in seven NBA seasons; Garnett has missed 91 games in 17 seasons.
No Raptors starter is older than 26 and they're being raised to emphasize defense by Dwane Casey -- that's why their future is so promising.
By way of their seeding in the playoffs, the Knicks will emerge as Miami's surprising challenger in the conference finals.
Atlantic Video Preview
Chris Mannix's Fast Breaks: Brooklyn Nets
SI.com's Chris Mannix previews the 2012-13 NBA season for the Brooklyn Nets.
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