NBA Atlantic Division Off-Season Grades
By Andy Roth
Where Politically Correct Opinions Get Rejected
New York, NY (Sports Network) - The Atlantic Division had only one team finish with a winning record last season (Celtics), and although some members have improved since then, it looks like it will be pretty weak once again. Let's take a look at how each has fared in the attempt to upgrade their rosters.
|The off-season re-signing of Paul Pierce ensures he will retire a Celtic.
Boston kept its "Big Four" intact by re-signing free agents Paul Pierce and Ray Allen. The Celtics did lose a valuable bench player to free agency with Tony Allen signing with the Grizzlies. Another key sub may not return, as the C's await Rasheed Wallace's decision on whether he'll remain retired. Boston signed free agent Jermaine O'Neal to bolster its front line, which will help with Kendrick Perkins being sidelined to at least December as he recovers from major knee surgery. O'Neal is more of an offensive threat than Perkins, but the Celts will miss his physical presence. In the draft, the Boston picked up guard Avery Bradley and power forward Luke Harangody. Even though Harangody was a second round pick, he may be more ready to step in and contribute this season following a very impressive showing in the summer league.
NEW YORK KNICKS
Team president Donnie Walsh stripped his roster down to almost nothing over the last two years to get under the salary cap, in hopes of striking free agent gold this summer. What he ended up with was some nice bronze and two straight horrible seasons. Free agent Amar'e Stoudemire was glad to come to New York for a guaranteed $100 million dollars. The only problem was none of his fellow big-ticket free agents wanted to do the same. Point guard Raymond Felton, also a free agent, did opt to join Stoudemire in the Big Apple, signing a three-year contract. Walsh did manage to get some useful pieces for free agent David Lee, as he sent him to the Warriors in a sign-and-trade for Anthony Randolph, Kelenna Azubuike, and Ronny Turiaf. The Knicks had two second-round draft picks, and came away with small forward Landry Fields and guard Andy Rautins. Fields showed some promise in the summer league, while Rautins may be even a worse pick than Jordan Hill was last season. The end result for the Knicks was they got rid of eventual All-Star Zach Randolph and sixth-man-of- the-year winner Jamal Crawford for Stoudemire and Felton. Not much of a trade- off for two horrible seasons, if you ask me.
NEW JERSEY NETS
New Jersey had the third overall pick in the draft and selected power forward Derrick Favors. He has a wealth of potential and tremendous athleticism, but it's unlikely he'll have a big impact in his first season. The Nets selected Damion James with the second of their two first-round picks. James played very well in the summer league and may be more polished at this point than Favors. The Nets also picked up some serviceable pieces in the free agent market, signing point guard Jordan Farmar, small forward Travis Outlaw, and shooting guard Anthony Morrow. Farmar gives the Nets a solid backup for Devin Harris, while Outlaw and Morrow can both fill it up from the outside.
The big addition was Evan Turner, the second overall pick in the draft. He struggled in the summer league by his own admission, and you wonder how effective he'll be having to play off the ball in the NBA. The Sixers made one trade of note, sending the highly outsized contract of center Samuel Dalembert to the Kings for center Spencer Hawes and small forward Andres Nocioni. Aside from dumping a bad contract, Philly gets a big man in Hawes that is seven years younger than Dalembert. However, the overall effect of the trade as far as improving the team is likely to be minimal at best.
Even though Toronto lost its All-Star power forward Chris Bosh to the Heat via free agency, it actually wasn't a disastrous off-season for the Raptors. Toronto got another lefty power forward in the draft's first round, North Carolina's Ed Davis. He's still very raw and will take time to develop, but the Raptors potentially got themselves a good replacement for Bosh with the 13th overall pick. The Raptors made two free agent signings of their own, inking small forward Linas Kleiza to a very reasonable four-year, $18.4 million dollar deal, and a somewhat unreasonable five-year, $34 million dollar contract to power forward Amir Johnson Kleiza played overseas last year, but was very productive previously backing up Carmelo Anthony in Denver. Johnson earned his hefty payday by averaging 6.2 ppg in nearly 18 minutes per game last season for the Raptors. He does do some good work off the boards and provide a shot- blocking presence, but has always had trouble staying on the floor due to foul problems. Toronto also traded the disgruntled and disappointing Hedo Turkoglu to the Suns for Leandro Barbosa. The Raptors had to be thrilled getting a quality player like Barbosa in exchange for a player who didn't want to be there and is four years older.
Andy Roth covered the Knicks for NBC Radio and AP Radio for eleven years and was an NBA Columnist for Celtics Pride Magazine for two years. He's covered many of the major sporting events, including the Super Bowl, World Series, NBA Finals, U.S. Open Tennis and Golf.