By Ian Thomsen
December 19, 2011
2011-12 NBA Preview: Atlantic Division
How They'll Finish
Boston Celtics
2010-11 Record: 56-26; lost to Heat in conference semifinals
Top Addition: Brandon Bass | Biggest Loss: Glen Davis
They were unable to trade for Chris Paul or David West of the Hornets, but the Celtics still have four All-Stars who know one another as well as any core in the league. They may be a step behind Miami and Chicago, and Jeff Green will be missed, but Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen, Paul Pierce and Rajon Rondo should win their fifth straight Atlantic title -- not that another divisional championship will mean much to them.
New York Knicks
2010-11 Record: 42-40; lost to Celtics in first round
Top Addition: Tyson Chandler | Biggest Loss: Chauncey Billups
After years of false promise the Knicks have a chance to live up to the hype, as the front line of Carmelo Anthony, Amar'e Stoudemire and newly signed center Chandler promises to excel at both ends of the court. It may not happen quickly -- the roster needs to be filled in, especially at point guard -- but this season could launch a run at the NBA Finals in years to come.
Philadelphia 76ers
2010-11 Record: 41-41; lost to Heat in first round
Top Addition: Nikola Vucevic | Biggest Loss: Jason Kapono
They finished a promising 26-18 under first-year coach Doug Collins, who inspired the Sixers to play with energy around Andre Iguodala and the successful comeback of Elton Brand. The return of its roster, the arrival of new ownership and the improvement of second-year guard Evan Turner could put Philadelphia back into the playoffs.
New Jersey Nets
2010-11 Record: 24-58
Top Addition: Marshon Brooks | Biggest Loss: Travis Outlaw
This is a hard team to predict, given the transitional nature of its cap space and under-construction roster. The Nets will continue to seek another major move to go with last season's acquisition of point guard Deron Williams. They can't contend for the playoffs in their current form, but the Nets don't intend to finish the season with this roster.
Toronto Raptors
2010-11 Record: 22-60
Top Addition: Jonas Valanciunas (overseas) | Biggest Loss: Sonny Weems
Andrea Bargnani is still in a Raptors uniform (for now). He is the biggest asset on a Raptors team that will be seeking to create a new identity around first-year coach Dwane Casey and second-year big man Ed Davis, who has put on weight in his attempt to fill the hole created by Chris Bosh's departure to Miami. Many more moves must come before the Raptors can hope to return to the playoffs.
Players To Watch
Deron Williams
2010-11 Season Stats: 15.0 PPG, 12.8 APG, 4.6 RPG
Career Stats: 17.2 PPG, 9.2 APG, 3.2 RPG
The free-agent-to-be says he wants to stay with the Nets, and the Nets are all for that after surrendering a package of young assets for Williams last February. In the meantime, look for Williams to be outplaying his fellow All-Stars in the early season, thanks to the weeks he spent playing in Europe while his peers waited at home for the lockout to end.
Carmelo Anthony
2010-11 Stats: 26.3 PPG, 6.7 RPG, 3.0 APG
Career Stats: 24.8 PPG, 6.3 RPG, 3.1 APG
This is his first full season (or as "full" as a lockout-shortened season can be) since his midseason move to the Knicks. Anthony is coming off successful elbow surgery, and the presence of big men Stoudemire and Chandler have created an opportunity for Anthony to elevate his All-Star play to the highest level.
Rajon Rondo
2010-11 Stats: 10.6 PPG, 11.2 APG, 4.4 RPG
Career Stats: 10.7 PPG, 7.6 APG, 4.4 RPG
Boston's interest in Chris Paul was unsettling for Rondo, who hasn't been sure whether he represents the future of the franchise or an asset to be dangled during the Celtics' eventual makeover. The best thing Rondo can do is to organize his team for another extended playoff run and make himself irresistible -- either for the Celtics or a rival that covets him.
Burning Questions
Can the Celtics make a final run at the Finals? They'll be seeking to protect their cap space going into the summer, when the contracts of 36-year-old Allen and 35-year-old Garnett expire. In the meantime, coach Doc Rivers will push his elderly stars through the compacted regular season in hopes of making one last championship run. The turbulent circumstances of the lockout may yet create an unpredictable season for the NBA, and who's to say the Celtics won't emerge as the biggest surprise?
How quickly can the Knicks integrate Chandler? Their expensive investment in one of the league's defensive leaders proves that the Knicks are serious about improving. The focus will be on coach Mike D'Antoni as he depends on the defensive advice of new assistant Mike Woodson, but the real keys will be Anthony and Stoudemire -- if Chandler inspires them to defend, then the Knicks could eventually be contenders.
Will the Nets make a big move? A rumored trade for Dwight Howard would surely persuade Williams to re-sign next summer. Williams' impending free agency and the Nets' upcoming move to Brooklyn demand that they turn their cap space into a major acquisition, especially now that the Knicks have been transformed.
By The Numbers
105.7 Points the Knicks yielded last season, ranking them No. 28 overall. They also enabled opponents to convert 47.2 percent from the floor, worse than all but four teams.
20-16 The Celtics' overall record since they traded center Kendrick Perkins to Oklahoma City last February.
22 The number of players who appeared in a Raptors uniform last season -- and the number of wins they produced.
Bold Prediction
By the trade deadline, the Nets will make a major deal -- if not for Dwight Howard, then for another big name -- to turn this previously weak division into a powerhouse of major markets.
Atlantic Video Preview
Knicks 2011-12 season preview
Source: SI's Chris Mannix says that for the Knicks to be true contenders in the East this season, Carmelo Anthony must embrace the role of being a facilitator as well as a scorer.

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