LeBron’s presence, or lack thereof, changes everything.
The Atlantic Division has been graced with an opportunity to thrive upon a shift in the power-balance, and this season Philly, Boston and Toronto look to be some of the most powerful and diverse franchises in the East.
Boston and Toronto may even have the depth, diversity and talent to become two of the best teams in the NBA.
Last season, the Celtics hit numerous speed-bumps straight off the bat. Gordon Hayward suffered a horrific season-ending ankle injury within the very first five-minutes of his Celtics debut. Kyrie Irving then missed the playoffs due to a knee injury.
Despite this, magic began to happen in Boston as Jayson Taytum, Terry Rozier and Jaylen Brown seemed to take the helm and lead the Celtics to 55 victories. They came within one game of the NBA Finals, even without Kyrie.
This season, with Hayward and Irving back in action, Boston have one of the deepest teams in the NBA. Head coach Brad Stevens is one of the NBA’s elite, and will know exactly where to put players and how to develop them further.
The re-signing of Marcus Smart on a four-year, $52 million contract further adds to an almost overloaded wing, but it sets Boston up for any eventuality with the health of Irving and Hayward remaining a priority as the season begins.
The rising stars in the East.
Last season, the Sixers went on a killer 17-game win streak to get to the Number 3 seed with a record of 52-30. That figure is tremendous for a team that is still budding and one in which was rebuilding from nothing but ashes.
Markelle Fultz has been given the go ahead to play in the first-half. Alongside Simmons, Embiid and JJ Redick, the Sixers may provide some competitive prowess upon further development.
The Sixers starting line-up in that of Embiid, Redick, Simmons, Robert Covington and Dario Saric also outscored their opponents by 21.4 points per 100 possessions last season, making it the best among 29 line-ups that played 300 games together – as reported by NBA.com.
Philly, however, fell to Boston last season even without Hayward and Irving, therefore it will be interesting to see how much they have developed and what they may be able to put up against them when they start on October 16.
The Knicks are not looking too healthy ahead of the regular season, with 7 feet 3 inch Kristaps Porzingis out with a torn ACL and no scheduled return.
However, there has been some excitement within New York upon the signing of rookie Kevin Knox. His 6 foot 11 wingspan and 213 pound frame make him a tremendously built player for the wing. Knox is also a potential candidate for Rookie of the Year.
Frank Ntilkina, alongside Knox and Mitchell Robinson, may allow the Knicks to stay relevant enough until next year, where another successful draft and full-health of Porzingis may lead them forward to become ever-more competitive.
Brooklyn now has a solid managerial and organisational status. General Manager Sean Marks has remained vigilant and has opened up the space to sign two max free agents next year.
This was done by trading Timofey Mozgov for Dwight Howard, who was then waived. Injury-laden Jeremy Lin was traded to Atlanta and Joe Harris was signed on for a two-year contract. Among other things, this helped keep the cap space for 2019.
Right now, they may not have enough prowess to make any moves this year, but D’Angelo Russell, 15.5 ppg, 5.2 apg and Allen Crabbe, who is an efficient sniper from downtown with a 40 percent shot, may provide some good offensive foundation.
The Raptors will likely be playing at a level that will compete with the Celtics.
They finished 57-33 last season and took a deep stab at the Cavaliers before the Cavs swept them under the mat for another year.
This season Toronto have a superb and progressive coach in that of Nick Nurse, who will continue to push Kawhi Leonard after his turbulent time with San Antonio.
The Raptors also look as if they might bring back a lost art in the NBA, that of defence.
Leonard, Danny Green and OG Anunoby weigh an average of 220 lbs and all three players have a 7 foot (plus) wingspan. With Leonard, Danny Green and OG Anunoby in the frontcourt, the Raptors line-up may surprise those teams who commit to winning games by outscoring their opponents.
The trade of Leonard for DeMar DeRozan, who went to San Antonio, may prove to be one of the best decisions the franchise has made in a long time. Only time will tell.