Offseason grades: Atlantic Division
With most of the summer already in the books, SI.com is grading each team's offseason performance as well as examining their best and worst moves. First up, Chris Mannix breaks down the five teams in the Atlantic Division.
Analysis: The ping pong balls didn’t fall Boston’s way on lottery night, preventing the team from landing a sure-fire franchise player on draft night. But in Year 2 of the rebuild, the Celtics are well positioned. Rookies Marcus Smart and James Young fortify a treasure trove of assets at GM Danny Ainge’s disposal, including eight first-round picks over the next four years. Ainge has not abandoned the pursuit of Kevin Love, but even if, as it appears, Minnesota ships Love elsewhere, the Celtics have the pieces to appeal to a team that may be looking to deal a star midseason.
The decision not to force a trade for free-agent-to-be Rajon Rondo was smart; Rondo’s value will increase early in the season when, presumably, he looks more like the four-time All-Star than the player rebounding from a knee injury the second half of last season. The addition of Smart, a burly, bulldozing playmaker, gives Boston the freedom to explore deals for Rondo before the February trade deadline. Zeller is a decent young center to plug alongside Jared Sullinger and Kelly Olynyk and Thornton’s $8.6 million salary comes off the books next summer, when Boston has a better chance of being players in free agency.
Analysis: It’s been a tumultuous offseason for the Nets. The team rebounded well from the sudden departure of head coach Jason Kidd, hiring Lionel Hollins, whose experience and coaching style could be a better fit. But the loss of Paul Pierce hurts. The Nets spin was that the luxury tax ramifications of re-signing Pierce was too costly (right) and that they wanted to create more opportunities for Bogdanovic, the 2011 second-round pick and one of the best prospects in Europe. But losing Pierce, who thrived as a power forward in the Nets small frontcourt, hurts, more when you consider the haul of assets Brooklyn forked over to Boston to acquire Pierce and Kevin Garnett last summer.
As always, the Nets fate will be tied to the play of Deron Williams and Joe Johnson. Injuries and inconsistency have caused Williams to tumble from the ranks of the NBA’s elite playmakers -- he averaged the fewest points and assists since his rookie year last season and underwent surgery on both ankles in the offseason -- and at 30 it’s fair to wonder if Williams will ever get back. Johnson was solid, particularly in the clutch, and the departure of Shaun Livingston will put more pressure on Johnson to produce. Livingston’s replacement, Jarrett Jack, lacks the size to play alongside Williams, as Livingston did.
The wild card for the Nets is Lopez, who has undergone three foot surgeries in the last two years. Hollins ran a post-heavy offense in Memphis and will undoubtedly attempt to utilize Lopez’s offensive strengths. But if Lopez goes down again and Williams continues to regress, it could be an ugly season.
Best Move: Drafting center Joel Embiid.
Worst Move: Doing nothing to improve short term.
Analysis: There’s no denying that GM Sam Hinkie has a plan. Philadelphia has a franchise point guard in Michael Carter-Williams, a potential defensive stopper in power forward Nerlens Noel and a pair of high draft picks (Embiid, Dario Saric) with tremendous potential. Long term, Philadelphia could -- repeat, could -- turn into an Oklahoma City type team with an abundance of top young talent. The price: What will likely be a second straight disastrous season.
Besides drafting Embiid (who will likely miss most, if not all of next season with a foot injury) and Saric (who will play overseas this season, and possibly the one after) the Sixers did, well, nothing. They didn’t sign a single free agent and appear content to populate the roster with cheap veterans and second-round picks. The team projects to have more than $30 million in available cap space but has shown little interest in using it. Instead, Hinkie has made it clear to teams that Philadelphia will take on a bad contract if it is sweetened by a draft pick.
The Sixers will get a boost from Noel, an AAU teammate of Carter-Williams who should bolster a defense that ranked 26th in efficiency last season. But Noel’s offensive game is limited and he will need to bulk up to be effective as a post defender. Like last year, Philadelphia seems content to supplement Carter-Williams and Noel with second-round picks (K.J. McDaniels and Jerami Grant could get time) and cheap free agents. Thaddeus Young is the most accomplished player on the roster, but Young was trade bait last season and could be on the block again this season. Add it all up and it will be tough to avoid another 20-ish win season.
Best Move: Acquiring G Jose Calderon.
Worst Move: None.
Analysis: It goes without saying -- or at least it should -- that the Knicks scored big just by luring back Carmelo Anthony with a five-year, $124 million deal. Franchise players don’t grow on trees and Melo makes the Knicks a playoff competitor now and will increase the appeal of the franchise to free agents next summer. Anthony will be coached by Derek Fisher, who wasn’t the Knicks' first choice but may end up being the best fit. Fisher has been lavished with praise by people inside the organization for his work ethic and leadership in the short time he has been on the job and is well equipped to run Phil Jackson’s triangle offense.
New York also landed a strong point guard to run the offense in Calderon, a polished shooter who will stabilize a weakness for the Knicks last season. The price -- Tyson Chandler -- was steep but Calderon’s steady hand (career-low 1.3 turnovers per game last season) and three-point shooting (44.9 percent) is a significant upgrade from the uneven Raymond Felton. Shane Larkin is an interesting change of pace point guard prospect while Samuel Dalembert is still a decent defender in the middle.
Despite not having a first-round pick the Knicks grabbed a first round talent in Wichita State’s Cleanthony Early, who slipped to No. 34. Early is an athletic, defensive minded forward who thrives in the open floor and could provide minutes to the second unit next season.
Best Move: Re-signing Kyle Lowry.
Worst Move: None.
Analysis: Don’t look now, but Toronto may be the most stable franchise in the conference. The Raptors took care of coach Dwane Casey early, signing the coach to a new three-year contract. Casey’s defensive minded philosophy helped Toronto become a top-ten defense last season and he has been instrumental in the development of young players like Lowry, Demar DeRozan and Jonas Valancunias.
The Raps scored big by locking Lowry up to a reasonable four-year, $48 million contract and followed it up by bringing back reserves Greivis Vasquez and Patrick Patterson and acquiring scoring guard Lou Williams to bolster the second unit. Floor spacing forward Steve Novak was traded to Utah in the offseason, but Novak averaged just ten minutes per game last season and had two years and $7.2 million left on his contract.
No question, drafting Bruno Caboclo was a risk. Toronto G.M. Masai Ujiri left more NBA-ready players on the board (Rodney Hood, Shabazz Napier) that could come back to haunt him if Caboclo turns out to be a bust. But with a strong starting lineup and quality depth the Raptors could afford to take a chance at the lanky Brazilian with enormous upside. Indeed, just by bringing the team with the third best record in the conference back together, Toronto will have an edge in a wide open field of contenders.