By Chris Mannix
August 10, 2010
Offseason Grades: Atlantic Division

The Celtics face stiff competition if they want to repeat as Eastern Conference champions. But Atlantic Division champs? That one should be a walk in the park. Armed with nearly $60 million in cap space combined, the Knicks and Nets failed to attract much star power, and the result will likely be both teams finishing below .500. The Sixers have a new coach and a new young potential star, but most of the same moldy roster that sleepwalked through last season remains intact. And Toronto is bracing itself for Year 1 of the post-Chris Bosh era. Add it all up and the Celtics, who made a couple of (very) big additions themselves, once again stand as class of the division.

B+ Boston Celtics

Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images

The band is all back
Despite being five points from raising banner No. 18 to the rafters, there was consideration to breaking up the Celtics' Big Three and starting from scratch. But Ray Allen was handed a two-year deal, Paul Pierce received a four-year contract and general manager Danny Ainge persuaded coach Doc Rivers to give him one more year on the sideline.

Go Big
Kendrick Perkins' knee injury -- which is expected to keep him sidelined until at least January -- left a gaping hole in the frontcourt. Enter Shaquille O'Neal and Jermaine O'Neal, two aging ex-stars who, in tandem, should give Boston some low-post punch.


The Big Shaqsterisk
At his best, Shaq (pictured) is still a decent option in the post who rebounds and defends the lane. At his worst -- which we saw at times in Miami, Phoenix and Cleveland -- he's a lumbering human roadblock who sulks when things don't go his way. I'm convinced the O'Neal experiment will be a success, but there are concerns around the league about a longtime leading man like Shaq fitting into a supporting role. The Celtics' success has been built on team chemistry and they can't afford an unhappy Shaq taking a blowtorch to it in the locker room.

Tony Allen isn't irreplaceable, but ...
He needed to be replaced after signing with Memphis. Allen's D was critical in Boston's surprising playoff run and his ability to give quality minutes against the likes of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Kobe Bryant is something the Celtics can't duplicate. They will turn to the offense-oriented Marquis Daniels to fill that role, but Daniels had a nightmarish first season with the C's and is not considered anywhere near the caliber defender of Allen.


It could struggle to secure a high seed in the East, but a healthy Celtics team going into the playoffs is still a threat to win.

C- New Jersey Nets


The structure is in place
There is an owner (Mikhail Prokhorov) willing to spend, a GM (Billy King) who assembled a Finals team at his last stop (albeit with mixed results overall) and a coach (Avery Johnson) with a Coach of the Year award and a trip to the Finals on his résumé. The Nets are looking at a long road back to respectability, but they have the organizational pieces in place to get them headed in that direction.

Favoring the frontcourt
The Nets already had one frontcourt spot secured in 22-year-old center Brook Lopez. Derrick Favors (pictured), an athletic power forward with Bosh-type skills, could give them another. Favors, 19, is raw and will take a few years to develop, but in time he could be a cornerstone.


Picking third
Visions of John Wall were dancing in the Nets' heads during their 12-win season, but the lottery gods dropped them to No. 3, denying them the chance to select the draft's only perceived instant-impact player. Favors could still be a star, but Wall would have immediately changed the culture of the franchise.

Spending just to spend
Like their cross-river counterparts, the Nets were eyeing the big prizes in free agency. When they missed out, they committed a combined $57 million to Travis Outlaw, Jordan Farmar and Johan Petro. For a team going nowhere this season, preserving that cap space might have been a better bet.

In Rod we trust(ed)
Rod Thorn was the architect of the Nets' 2001 and 2002 Eastern Conference championship teams and the man responsible for clearing $30 million in cap space this summer. But Thorn abruptly walked away from the team last month. King could work out, but losing Thorn, regarded as one of the top executives in the league, sure hurts.


The Nets are pointed in the right direction, but it's going to take them a long, long time to get there.

C New York Knicks


That's Amar'e
Amar'e Stoudemire's (pictured) five-year, $100 million contract might seem a bit excessive, but the forward-center gives the Knicks a measure of star power they haven't had in years. The self-titled "STAT" can score inside and out and, at 27, is just coming into his prime.

Finally, a point guard
Raymond Felton won't make anyone stop dreaming of the day Chris Paul is running the point, but the 6-foot-1, 200-pound bulldog is a solid playmaker who can fill it up when needed. Given who has been playing the position in recent years -- a diminished Stephon Marbury, Chris Duhon, Toney Douglas -- Felton represents a significant improvement.

Big return for Lee
The Knicks swindled the Warriors in the sign-and-trade for David Lee, getting a quality backup big man (Ronny Turiaf), an explosive scorer and defender coming off a knee injury (Kelenna Azubuike) and a skilled 21-year-old with franchise-forward potential (Anthony Randolph). Not a bad haul.


No LeBron, Wade or Bosh
The Knicks waited three years for a shot at the free-agent Big Three only to whiff on each of them. After asking fans to endure a rotting roster and cap-clearing trades, they should expect some backlash to accompany any struggles this season.

Isiah? Really?
Rehiring Isiah Thomas -- the man primarily responsible for exploding payroll with mismatched pieces -- in the ambiguous role of consultant threatens to undermine the work Donnie Walsh and Mike D'Antoni have done to turn around the franchise. If he is a consultant now, it won't be long before owner James Dolan restores even more of his duties.


The Knicks will be better, but a shot at .500 probably isn't what fans were hoping for in the 2010-11 season.

B Philadelphia 76ers


The ping-pong balls fell
Evan Turner (pictured) probably wasn't on Philadelphia's radar after the season, but the Sixers cashed in their 6 percent chance of landing the No. 2 pick and used it on the former Ohio State star. Turner is a polished two-guard with a solid mid-range game and a knack for scoring around the rim. It's hard to see him not playing in an All-Star Game in five years.

Welcome back, Doug
The last time Doug Collins came to Philly, he was being asked to resuscitate the franchise as the No. 1 pick in the 1973 draft. He's being asked to do it again, this time as the coach of a mediocre team searching for an identity. Collins is the king of the quick turnaround: He improved the Bulls by 10 games and the Pistons and Wizards by 18 each in the first season at his previous stops.

Bye, bye Sammy
Samuel Dalembert's constant locker-room lawyering wore down everyone last season, so his departure is addition by subtraction. In dealing their longtime starting center to Sacramento, the Sixers picked up a rugged forward in Andres Nocioni and a young center in Spencer Hawes to evaluate for a possible long-term fit.

Iggy going for gold ... maybe
Andre Iguodala looked like a long shot to make USA Basketball's final roster for the FIBA World Championships in late August, but a solid showing during a minicamp in Las Vegas last month has him on the cusp. Most players who have worn a U.S. jersey improve as a result, and Iguodala could be next.


Here's Elton
Dumping Elton Brand was one of Philadelphia's top priorities, but it couldn't find any takers for its once-prized power forward who just hasn't worked out. Brand's contract (he has three years and $51 million left on a five-year, $80 million deal) limits the Sixers' financial flexibility down the road.

No real upgrades
Turner was a coup, but Philadelphia didn't do much else to improve last season's 27-win team. The Sixers are banking on Collins getting through to the young talent and Turner being the franchise-changing star they can build around.


Collins is the real deal on the sidelines and the Sixers have far too much talent not to be in the hunt for a .500 record this season.

D Toronto Raptors

Barry Gossage/NBAE via Getty Images

Cut bait with Hedo
Hedo Turkoglu's one-year stay was an unmitigated disaster, with the veteran forward averaging a six-year low in points (11.3) and rankling management with his attitude and lifestyle. Toronto not only escaped the final four years and $44 million of Turkoglu's contract in a trade with Phoenix but also picked up a quality role player in Leandro Barbosa (pictured), a former Sixth Man Award winner who should bolster the bench.

The replacements
First-round pick Ed Davis and former Nuggets forward Linas Kleiza won't remind anyone of Chris Bosh, but Davis is the rugged rebounding type who should complement the finesse game of Andrea Bargnani, while Kleiza led Greek team Olympiacos in scoring last season.


Bosh bolted
No matter how you spin it, losing Bosh is a crippling blow. Bosh may not have been the prototypical franchise player, but he is close to an automatic 20-10 guy and one of the most skilled big men in the game. Unless the Raptors could replace him with a comparable talent -- and they didn't -- there was simply no way for the team to get better.

Toronto elected to spend all the money earmarked for Bosh on other players: It gave Kleiza
$18.4 million (not too bad) and Amir Johnson $34 million (really bad), on top of last year's $50 million extension for Bargnani that kicks in this season. The Raptors are hitching their wagons to some very questionable players.

The trade that wasn't
Michael Jordan's reported cold feet cost the Raps an opportunity to pick up two skilled frontcourt players (Boris Diaw, Tyson Chandler) while dumping a big salary (Jose Calderon) on the Bobcats. The Diaw-Chandler duo would have reinforced the frontcourt with proven talent to supplement the youngsters Toronto is trying to develop.


The Raptors better hope that a Bargnani-Johnson-Davis frontcourt blossoms.

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