By Ian Thomsen
October 12, 2010
2010-11 NBA Preview: Atlantic Division
How They'll Finish
Boston Celtics
2009-10 Record: 50-32; lost to Lakers in NBA Finals
Top Addition: Shaquille O'Neal | Biggest Loss: Rasheed Wallace
Coach Doc Rivers is urging his elderly team to focus on the 82-game season. At the same time, he must also pare down his starters' minutes, install a new defensive coordinator in Lawrence Frank as a replacement for Tom Thibodeau, and hope that center Kendrick Perkins has made a full recovery from knee surgery in time for the playoffs. Even if the spirit is willing, will the old bodies be able to deal with the Heat?
Philadelphia 76ers
2009-10 Record: 27-55
Top Addition: Evan Turner | Biggest Loss: Samuel Dalembert
Doug Collins, take a deep breath and count to 10. The former Sixers' star takes over a team that still lacks a reliable point guard (the franchise remains committed to developing Jrue Holiday) and frontcourt. Collins must get numbers from Elton Brand, and rookie Evan Turner must complement Andre Iguodala. This will be a good year if Turner and Holiday turn the corner, and a dream come true if Brand is rejuvenated.
New Jersey Nets
2009-10 Record: 12-70
Top Addition: Derrick Favors | Biggest Loss: Courtney Lee
Coach Avery Johnson was an excellent hire for a young team that ran amok last season. He'll demand discipline in all phases with special attention to detail on defense. Let's say they don't make a big trade: They'll spend this year developing rookie Derrick Favors, establishing a style and plotting how to spend their cap space next summer (if such a thing exists in the next CBA) to fill out the skeleton of this promising roster.
New York Knicks
2009-10 Record: 29-53
Top Addition: Amar'e Stoudemire | Biggest Loss: David Lee
They've improved but they're not nearly good enough. Coach Mike D'Antoni must make the most of meager resources to rebound and run in order to exploit Amar'e Stoudemire and Danilo Gallinari while playing to the up-tempo strengths of fill-in point guard Raymond Felton. This franchise needs an overachieving year in hopes of developing momentum to help lure a star to New York next summer. Perhaps David Lee will be appreciated now that he's gone.
Toronto Raptors
2009-10 Record: 40-42
Top Addition: Linas Kleiza | Biggest Loss: Chris Bosh
No team in the East enters the season with less star power. Strengths include the duo of Jarrett Jack and Jose Calderon at point guard, Andrea Bargnani's outside shooting and DeMar DeRozan's athleticism. This team isn't likely to defend, but it must establish a blue-collar style to appease fans until reinforcements can be acquired. It won't help to see Chris Bosh winning four out of every five games (at least) with Miami.
Players To Watch
Shaquille O'Neal
2009-10 Stats: 12.0 PPG, 6.7 RPG, 1.2 BPG
Career Stats: 24.1 PPG, 11.0 RPG, 2.3 BPG
The league's truest center of attention -- you can't help but notice the biggest of all big men -- gives Boston hope of being able to pound the ball inside and control the tempo against both Miami and the Lakers. For the first time in his long career, Shaq can be one of the guys on this Hall-of-Famers team: a great fit to his (as yet) unarticulated goal of finishing his career by knocking off former teammates LeBron James, in May, and Kobe Bryant, in June.
Andrea Bargnani
2010 Season Stats: 17.2 PPG, 6.2 RPG, 1.4 BPG
Career Stats: 13.7 PPG, 4.8 RPG, 1.0 BPG
The No. 1 pick of 2006 is now by default the No. 1 player in Toronto. He can operate wherever he wants -- he doesn't have to defer to Bosh anymore -- and the Raptors will be asking Bargnani to fill in the post and become more than a three-point shooter. After four years of adapting to the NBA, the talented 7-footer is ready to launch himself on a new path. Can he become a star?
Evan Turner
2009-10 Stats: 20.4 PPG, 6.0 APG, 1.7 SPG (Ohio State)
2010 Preseason Stats: 10.7 PPG, 2.7 APG, 2.3 SPG (first three games)
The No. 2 pick is known for being hard on himself, so Collins may need to step back. Yet the Sixers need Turner to eventually become all things -- a ball-handler and playmaker to take pressure off second-year point guard Holiday, a scorer to complement Iguodala and a leader for a young team that has been adrift since the departure of Andre Miller. Turner will need time, but Philly is an impatient town.
Burning Questions
Are the Celtics too old? A deeper bench is supposed to be the antidote to the declining ages of the Big Three, yet the success of the bench depends on the high-mileage O'Neals (Shaq and Jermaine). The Celtics proved they weren't too old last year, but a return to the Finals is eight long months away -- which means Marquis Daniels and Delonte West must be reliable replacements who can help reduce the minutes of Paul Pierce and Ray Allen while keeping Boston in contention.
Will the Nets land Carmelo Anthony? For weeks they've been the rumored front-runner to acquire the Nuggets' small forward. His arrival would give the Nets hope of moving to Brooklyn in 2012 with more star power than their crosstown rival Knicks. The Nets are on a promising path already, but Anthony would hasten the process in a most explosive way while leaving New Jersey with the potential of cap space to add another star after this season.
What's next for the Knicks? The New York papers have been filled with reports that team president Donnie Walsh wants to hire Chris Mullin as heir apparent, but owner James Dolan won't permit the hiring of another former GM (to go with current execs Glen Grunwald and John Gabriel) after Walsh's management team failed to lure LeBron. It has been a long time since the Knicks' players created as much intrigue as their front office.
By The Numbers
27 feet, 9 inches The combined height of Celtics centers Perkins, Shaq, Jermaine O'Neal and rookie Semih Erden -- none of whom was on the floor while the Lakers were outrebounding Boston 23-8 on the offensive glass in Game 7 of the NBA Finals.
3 The number of playoff-series victories over the last seven years by New Jersey (which won all three), New York, Philadelphia and Toronto. By comparison, the Celtics have won eight playoff series over the last three years.
6.0 The body-fat percentage of Brand, the Sixers' power forward. It is his lowest since 2001-02.
Bold Prediction
For the second straight year, the Celtics will be the only playoff team to emerge from this once-powerful division.

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