ATLANTIC

December 05, 2011

BOSTON CELTICS(56--26 in 2010--11)

What they've got

The Big Four (Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, Ray Allen, Rajon Rondo) returns intact, as does steady coach Doc Rivers.

What they need

Depth is an issue; the Celtics have just six players under contract—and they are due $66 million. (The salary cap is expected to be about $59.5 million.) Free-agent forwards Jeff Green and Glen Davis will likely be brought back, and 2011 draft picks JaJuan Johnson and E'Twaun Moore, Purdue teammates, will fill out the roster. A cheap, defense-first center such as Jason Collins or Joel Przybilla would be a natural fit.

Bottom line

Both Garnett and Allen have expiring contracts, so the clock is ticking. Injuries and upheaval (the midseason trade of center Kendrick Perkins) caused the Celtics to spiral in the second half, but G.M. Danny Ainge wants to give this group one more shot. A shorter (if more compressed) schedule will benefit an aging roster, which, if healthy come May, has the talent to make another run at a title.

NEW YORK KNICKS(42--40)

What they've got

Offense, and lots of it. Up front Carmelo Anthony and Amar'e Stoudemire combined to average 50.9 points, making them the league's No. 2 scoring duo. They also have Chauncey Billups, who averaged 17.5 points in 21 games after being acquired from the Nuggets.

What they need

The Knicks were defenseless last season, finishing 27th in points allowed (105.7). Enter Mike Woodson, a defensive-minded assistant brought in by Mike D'Antoni in the off-season. Stoudemire's lingering back problems make finding help in the pivot a priority, with Samuel Dalembert (Kings) and Kurt Thomas (Bulls) lurking as possible targets.

Bottom line

With two A-list stars, the era of excuses is over. New York will make a hard push to acquire Hornets point guard Chris Paul before the trade deadline—dangling Billups's expiring $14.2 million contract as bait—but with or without him, a top five conference finish will be expected.

PHILADELPHIA 76ERS(41--41)

What they've got

The core of the team is under contract, and re-signing supersub Thaddeus Young is at the top of G.M. Rod Thorn's to-do list. Jrue Holiday (6.5 apg) quietly developed into a solid playmaker in his second season, while two guard Evan Turner spent the summer honing his jumper with Hall of Fame shot doctor Herb Magee.

What they need

The Sixers will surely consider exercising the amnesty clause on 32-year-old power forward Elton Brand, who averaged 15.0 points and 8.3 rebounds but is owed $35 million over the next two seasons. That would free up cap space but leave a void in the low post, which would put pressure on Spencer Hawes (7.2 ppg) to become more of a factor.

Bottom line

Philadelphia showed significant improvement under first-year coach Doug Collins, overcoming a 3--13 start to make the playoffs. Collins's simplified, up-tempo system fits the roster and should lead to even more success in his second season.

NEW JERSEY NETS(24--58)

What they've got

All-NBA point guard Deron Williams and center Brook Lopez give the Nets a formidable inside-out tandem. Free-agent power forward Kris Humphries emerged as a consistent double-double threat last season, while Anthony Morrow is one of the league's most dangerous three-point shooters.

What they need

New Jersey gutted the roster to pry Williams from the Jazz, leaving plenty of holes. Free agent Caron Butler (Mavericks) would fill the need for a scoring swingman, and if Humphries walks, the Nets could make a run at power forward David West (Hornets).

Bottom line

Keeping free-agent-to-be Williams happy is the Nets' top priority—and that will take a major infusion of talent. They have made no secret of their desire to acquire Magic center Dwight Howard and will dangle Lopez and multiple draft picks to get him. Wins and losses will take a backseat to convincing Williams that it is in his best interest to move with the team to Brooklyn next season.

TORONTO RAPTORS(22--60)

What they've got

A shift to power forward should help sharpshooting 7-footer Andrea Bargnani, and swingman DeMar DeRozan (19.9 ppg after the All-Star break) could become an elite scorer. New coach Dwane Casey, the mastermind of the Mavericks' defense last season, should upgrade a unit that finished last in the league in points allowed per possession.

What they need

With No. 1 pick Jonas Valanciunas spending the season in Lithuania, the Raptors have a hole in the middle—likely filled by Reggie Evans or Ed Davis—and little money to spend on an upgrade. Another scorer to complement DeRozan would help too.

Bottom line

It's a rebuilding year in Toronto, where Casey will try to further the development of Bargnani and DeRozan, while president Bryan Colangelo will look to add cheap, short-term pieces that won't tie up cap space beyond this season.

PHOTOHEINZ KLUETMEIER (ANTHONY)MELO RULES? Anthony forced his way to the Big Apple, and now must show he's worth his $18.5 million salary by leading the Knicks to a top five finish in the East. PHOTOHEINZ KLUETMEIER (HOLIDAY) PHOTOGREG NELSON (GARNETT) PHOTOBILL FRAKES (BILLUPS) PHOTOBOB MARTIN (WILLIAMS) PHOTOBOB MARTIN (DEROZAN)

How the 30 NBA teams stand headed into what promises to be an eventful training camp

SCOUT'S TAKE

"The Celtics are Rajon Rondo's team now. The Big Three can carry them in spurts, but he has to dominate for Boston to keep pace with Miami."

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)