Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Off Season Needs: Atlantic Division

     During this condensed season, the Atlantic Division produced three playoff teams: the Boston Celtics, New York Knicks, and Philadelphia 76ers. The other two teams, the now known as Brooklyn Nets and Toronto Raptors, did not qualify for the playoffs. As expected, most of these teams were hampered by injuries during the season, which led to their eventual downfalls. There were some positive signs for these teams, but each team has crucial decisions to make in the off season which can affect their outcomes for next season and beyond. Let's take a look at each team and their off season needs...

A quick key of acronyms used in the entry: RFA = restricted free agent. PO = player option. TO = team option. ETO = early termination option.

1. Boston Celtics

Players under contract for next season: Rajon Rondo, Paul Pierce, Avery Bradley, JaJuan Johnson, E'Twaun Moore, Sean Williams

Free Agents: Greg Stiemsma (RFA), Ray Allen, Brandon Bass (PO), Kevin Garnett, Marquis Daniels, Keyon Dooling, Jeff Green, Ryan Hollins, Mickael Pietrus, Sasha Pavlovic

What they need: Boston ideally needs to get younger players on the roster. They've been scrambling for players to try to fill the void left inside when they dealt Kendrick Perkins to the Oklahoma City Thunder. Boston might draft a center, possibly Fab Melo from Syracuse, or resort to free agency for a center like New Orleans' Chris Kaman or Philadelphia's Spencer Hawes. They also will need to address their bench, which was not very productive. They need back up players who can score or create, like Memphis' O.J. Mayo, Golden State's Brandon Rush, or Charlotte's D.J. Augustin.

Garnett is one of the biggest names on this
year's market, but expect him to stay put in Boston.

What to expect: Kevin Garnett truly loves Boston and is the anchor of the defense, so expect him to return. Avery Bradley has proven his worth and is ready to start every day, so I don't believe Ray Allen will re-sign with the team, especially after his recent surgery. If Brandon Bass does not pick up his player option, I don't expect Boston to go after him. They will likely give Jeff Green a chance, and he could become a great comeback story if he returns healthy and majorly productive after heart surgery last year. In the draft, they will most likely pick up front court players, possibly Iowa State's Royce White or as stated before, Fab Melo. In free agency, they will make mostly small deals, but the right ones in that. This team will look a lot different come October.

2. Brooklyn Nets

Players under contract for next season: MarShon Brooks, Anthony Morrow, Jordan Williams, Johan Petro.

Free Agents: Brook Lopez (RFA), Sundiata Gaines (RFA), Armon Johnson (RFA), Deron Williams (PO), Kris Humphries, Gerald Wallace (PO), Jordan Farmar (PO), Gerald Green, Damion James, DeShawn Stevenson, Shelden Williams

The future of the franchise rests on the
shoulders of Deron Williams.

What they need: A whole lot of everything. This is one of the biggest summers the franchise will encounter, and it can determine the future of GM Billy King and head coach Avery Johnson. Moving into a new city with a grand state-of-the-art arena and a flexible cap room, the Nets have to respond this off season. Everything truly hinges on the decision superstar point guard Deron Williams makes, and every player this team acquires will be determined by the Deron factor, on if he stays or leaves. The team needs to get more bodies down low that can rebound. The only set position on this team right now is shooting guard with MarShon Brooks and Anthony Morrow. Gerald Wallace has to decide by tonight if he will pick up his player option for next season.

What to expect: As a Nets fan, I'd like to say I'm a little biased and that Deron Williams will re-sign with the team, they'll successfully trade for Dwight Howard, and be a Finals contender for the next five years. However, I'm unsure what will happen. Williams has stated he has no idea what he wants, so I can't say anything for sure about him. I think Billy King will work some magic and get the Nets a first round pick in the draft, which will get a talented young player to Brooklyn. In free agency, the Nets are expected to retain Brook Lopez. But after that, it's Deron Williams or bust. If the team can bring Williams back, a great ripple effect will take place, and the team can become first options for targeted players like Milwaukee's Ersan Ilyasova and New Orleans' Carl Landry. However, if he doesn't re-sign, expect King to overpay for role players and push for a trade for Dwight Howard. If King can't get Williams and Howard in Nets uniforms by next summer, he'll be out of a job.

3. New York Knicks

Players under contract for next season: Carmelo Anthony, Amare Stoudemire, Tyson Chandler, Iman Shumpert, Toney Douglas, Josh Harellson, Jerome Jordan, Dan Gadzuric

Free Agents: Landry Fields (RFA), Jeremy Lin (RFA), J.R. Smith (PO), Steve Novak, Mike Bibby, Jared Jeffries, Baron Davis

Jeremy Lin is the biggest question for
the Knicks this off season.
What they need: The Knicks have pressing questions in the back court. Fan favorite Jeremy Lin is expected to return, but a desperate team could overpay for him and snatch him away. Landry Fields was a starter for most of his tenure on the Knicks, but last year his statistics dropped drastically from his rookie season, and the team might let him go. Mike Bibby and Baron Davis did not really pan out, and Iman Shumpert will be out most of next season due to a torn ACL injury against the Heat in this year's playoffs. The team needs legitimate starters at each guard position to seriously contend for a championship next season.

What to expect: I believe Jeremy Lin will re-sign, and they will take a chance on the Harvard graduate to be their full time starter. I think they can retain Fields, but a team might sneak in and hand him an offer sheet the Knicks won't want to match, so I think he will depart from New York. J.R. Smith likes the area and system, so he will probably stay put and pick up his option. The Knicks will go after guards who can be bench players or starters, like Memphis' O.J Mayo, Denver's Andre Miller, or Philadelphia's Lou Williams. I expect them to sign some players around their caliber.

4. Philadelphia 76ers

What plans will Philadelphia be conducting
this off season?
Players under contract for next season: Jrue Holiday, Andre Iguodala, Evan Turner, Nikola Vucevic, Thaddeus Young

Free Agents: Lavoy Allen (RFA), Jodie Meeks (RFA), Sam Young (RFA), Xavier Silas (RFA), Tony Battie, Craig Brackins, Elton Brand (ETO), Lou Williams (ETO), Spencer Hawes.

What they need: Scorers. Lou Williams came off the bench and led the 76ers in scoring, it was that bad. They can go after players like New Orleans' Eric Gordon, Indiana's Leandro Barbosa, or Phoenix's Shannon Brown. There aren't any great scorers in free agency, so they might resort to the draft. The 76ers can draft Washington's Terrence Ross or Duke's Austin Rivers. However, some analysts suggest they might go for a big man like Mississippi State's Arnett Moultrie.

What to expect: I think Elton Brand will stay, and Evan Turner will become a full-time starter. Lou Williams has said publicly he will become a free agent, and I think Philadelphia will lose him, but keep sharpshooter Jodie Meeks. I think a team will come around and offer Spencer Hawes big money, so I don't believe he'll be in a 76ers uniform either next season. The team will try to acquire a young big man with a lot of potential, but they might also have to get some wing players. I think the team will be like they were this year, but might not make the playoffs. They'll be around the 8-10 spot in the Eastern Conference next year; I just don't really see them getting much better or worse. They will probably be making bigger moves next summer.

5. Toronto Raptors

Players under contract for next season: Andrea Bargnani, Jose Calderon, Ed Davis, DeMar DeRozan, Gary Forbes, Amir Johnson, James Johnson, Linas Kleiza

Free Agents: Solomon Alabi (TO) (RFA), Alan Anderson (RFA), Jerryd Bayless (RFA), Ben Uzoh (RFA), Aaron Gray, Jamaal Magloire

What they need: Veteran All-Star caliber wing player and a point guard for the future. The Raptors have a tough choice to make with the #8 pick. They can put it in a package with Ed Davis and another player or two and trade for an athletic wing like Philadelphia's Andre Iguodala, Indiana's Danny Granger, Atlanta's Josh Smith, or Memphis' Rudy Gay. They also have the option of using the #8 pick to draft a point guard, most likely Weber State's Damian Lillard or UNC's Kendall Marshall.

Will Valanciunas be playing for
the Raptors next season?.

What to expect: I can't believe I'm saying this, but the Raptors could actually contend for the playoffs next season. However, they must make good moves to do so. If Jonas Valanciunas successfully gets through the buyout process, the Raptors can sign him to a rookie deal. If the Raptors have the chance, they should make a move for Andre Iguodala. He's a vocal leader and I think he's exactly what head coach Dwane Casey wants. They should package the #8 pick with Ed Davis, Aaron Gray (sign-and-trade) and James Johnson, and I believe it will be enough to convince the 76ers to trade Iguodala. I don't expect the team to retain any of their free agents unless they would take a low salary. The team will look to trade Jose Calderon, who has an expiring contract. If they trade the #8 pick, they'll go after a point guard in free agency. They have multiple options, like Canadian-born Phoenix guard Steve Nash, Dallas' Jason Kidd, Houston's Goran Dragic, and Portland's Raymond Felton. The Raptors could even try to swing a trade for Houston's Kyle Lowry, who has stated he wants to be traded. Lowry is an athletic, young, versatile point guard who can be solid for the Raptors long-term.

     Each team in this division has a lot of questions and buzz surrounding them, and so their respective general managers will be put to the test this summer. All of these teams have the potential to make the playoffs next year if they make the right moves, so it will be interesting to see how everything plays out. Will Boston stay as the cream of the crop? Will the Knicks be consistent enough to be true contenders? Will Brooklyn live up to all the hype? Can the 76ers get back to the playoffs, and go farther than they did this year? And can the Raptors make deals that can get them back to the playoffs? It will definitely be an intriguing off season for the Atlantic Division.

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