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2018-19 NBA Outlook: Atlantic Division

The NBA season is about a month away, which is the perfect time to take a look at all 30 teams before opening tip-off. There have plenty of big names on the move this off-season, and more (looking at you Jimmy Butler) may be on the move before opening night. We'll kick things off with the loaded Atlantic Division, which boasted 3 playoff teams last year as well as some of the best teams in the league this year.

Boston Celtics

Additions: SG Brad Wanamaker, PF Robert Williams

Departures: PG Shane Larkin, C Greg Monroe, SG Abdel Nader

MVP: Kyrie Irving

X-Factors: Gordon Hayward, Daniel Theis

Projected Depth Chart:

PG: Kyrie Irving, Terry Rozier

SG: Jaylen Brown, Marcus Smart, Brad Wanamaker

SF: Gordon Hayward, Semi Ojeleye

PF: Jayson Tatum, Marcus Morris, Guerschon Yabusele, Robert Williams

C: Al Horford, Aron Baynes, Daniel Theis

Coach: Brad Stevens

The Celtics have arguably the most depth on their team in the entire league while boasting a very good starting 5 as well. They didn't lose any true key pieces, they re-signed their core veterans and brought back players from injury, so chalk it up as another successful off-season for Danny Ainge. Kyrie Irving is back and healthy for the start of the season, and it seems like he might stick around in Boston for the foreseeable future. The young stars in Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum are looking to improve, especially Tatum as he has large expectations set for the year after an impressive rookie debut. Al Horford is still a top center in the league, and Gordon Hayward is finally looking to make a true Celtic debut after being injured 6 minutes into the first game last year. To watch the trio of Hayward, Brown, and Tatum on the floor together is going to be really fun for Celtics fans, and hopefully he can perform like he did in Utah before his horrific injury last year. The bench looks incredible as well, as Terry Rozier, Marcus Smart, Marcus Morris, Aron Baynes and Daniel Theis make a very solid 2nd unit that can same some pressure off of the starters. Oh, and they have one of the best coaches in the league in Brad Stevens. One name is keep an eye on is Theis; before a season-ending injury last year he was impressing when receiving increased minutes, as he achieved constant double-doubles while knocking down three-pointers and playing effective defense. If there is one thing that can hold this team back, it is injuries. Last year the injury bug really hit Boston, as Irving, Hayward, Theis, Smart and Brown all missed portions of the season, and the first three mentioned were not available during the playoffs. Even with injuries, this team will kill you on both sides of the ball. Irving is one of the most dynamic guards in the league, and the three-point shooting is there with guys like Tatum, Hayward, and Horford. The defense is one of the best in the league, as the wings can cover multiple positions, and what they lack in size they make up for in heart and grit. While they do have three-point shooting, adding another three-point threat off the bench is one area Boston could look into. Guys like Kyle Korver and Troy Daniels will be on non-playoff contenders and the Celtics could obtain one of them before the deadline. Keep an eye on Rozier as well as he enters the final year of his rookie contract and is looking to get paid in the off-season. He could be in trade talks all season long if the Celtics decide to not pay him, and plenty of teams have already inquired about him. The Celtics came a couple minutes away from advancing to the NBA Finals last season, and they did that without Irving and Hayward. Now that LeBron is gone and with both Hayward and Irving healthy again and playing in the weak Eastern Conference, the Celtics seem destined for their first Finals appearance since 2010.

New York Knicks

Additions: Mario Hezonja, Noah Vonleh, Mitchell Robinson, Kevin Knox

Departures: Kyle O'Quinn, Michael Beasley, Troy Williams

MVP: Kristaps Porzingis (injured)

X-Factor: Frank Ntilikina

Projected Depth Chart:

PG: Trey Burke, Frank Ntilikina, Emmanuel Mudiay SG: Courtney Lee, Ron Baker, Damyean Dotson SF: Tim Hardaway Jr., Kevin Knox, Lance Thomas PF: Mario Hezonja, Noah Vonleh, Kristaps Porzingis (injured) C: Enes Kanter, Mitchell Robinson, Joakim Noah Coach: David Fizdale

The Knicks had another losing season in 2018, but had a fairly successful draft, bringing in Kevin Knox and Mitchell Robinson, two players with lots of potential that performed very well during the Summer League. They have players like Tim Hardaway Jr. and Enes Kanter who are good role players to place next to budding star Kristaps Porzingis. Unfortunately, Porzingis will be out for most of the season with a torn ACL he suffered last year, so this season is basically a lost one for the Knicks. While Hardaway and Kanter will be contributors, the rest of the roster poses some questions. The point guard situation is shaky with Trey Burke, Emmanuel Mudiay and Frank Ntilikina in the mix, and there is no clear-cut favorite. Mudiay will likely be the odd man out, as Burke flashed signs of promise last year and Ntilikina still has potential, and he can also play shooting guard as well. Ntilikina's development will be important to the Knicks this year, as showed promise at times but had a unimpressive rookie year for the most part. If he can turn into the defensive stalwart New York drafted him to be, he will easily receive a bigger role on this team. The rest of the starting lineup is Courtney Lee, a vet who will probably be a mid-season trade target, and Mario Hezonja, another top-10 pick who was moved to power forward despite his size. He found some success at the four in Orlando and new coach David Fizdale plans to use that to his advantage while Porzingis is recovering from injury. Other pieces off the bench include Noah Vonleh, who was acquired in free agency, and Knox, who will probably start the season on the bench but if plays like he did in the Summer League he will be a starter in no time. But other than that, the bench is very weak and won't scare opponents. The hire of David Fizdale is intriguing, and he had a good reputation in Memphis and reached the postseason there. The rookies will be talk of the team for the season, as Knox was the main event at the Summer League. He was very inconsistent at Kentucky, but when he was on, he could hardly be stopped. Mitchell Robinson skipped college, and his athleticism, defensive prowess, and shot range intrigued the Knicks enough to take a second-round flyer on him. Even with these rookies, they won't be enough to help New York. The Eastern Conference is weak, but the Knicks still don't have the firepower to reach the playoffs this year. The core of Knox, Robinson, Porzingis and Ntilikina is intriguing for the future, but without Porzingis the Knicks won't be in contention anytime soon.

Toronto Raptors

Additions: Kawhi Leonard, Danny Green, Greg Monroe

Subtractions: DeMar DeRozan, Jakob Poeltl

MVP: Kawhi Leonard

X-Factors: Kawhi Leonard, Pascal Siakam

Projected Depth Chart:

PG: Kyle Lowry, Fred VanVleet, Delon Wright SG: Danny Green, C.J. Miles, Malachi Richardson SF: Kawhi Leonard, OG Anunoby, Norman Powell PF: Serge Ibaka, Pascal Siakam C: Jonas Valanciunas, Greg Monroe

Coach: Nick Nurse

The Raptors enjoyed a very successful regular season last year and finished with the #1 seed in the Eastern Conference. Then, they ran into a guy named LeBron James in the second round and were promptly swept in 4 games. After losing to LeBron constantly in the playoffs, they decided that enough was enough and fired Dwane Casey, who won Coach of the Year during the 2018 season, which made for an awkward award presentation. The most surprising move, however, was the trade for superstar Kawhi Leonard, and even though they traded away long-time star raptor DeMar DeRozan, this move alone cements them as a playoff contender in the East. The Raptors boast arguably the best point guard rotation, led by all-star Kyle Lowry and backups Delon Wright and Fred VanVleet. VanVleet emerged as an important piece of the rotation last year and the Raptors rewarded him with a long-term extension over the off-season. The frontcourt still has a defensive prowess that is led by Serge Ibaka and Jonas Valanciunas, and role players like Pascal Siakam and Greg Monroe will receive important minutes as well. The remaining pieces of the starting lineup are both former Spurs in Leonard and Danny Green, who perfectly complements the Raps' 3-and-D style of play. The Raptors' bench is easily one of the best in the league as well, as veterans such as C.J. Miles, Monroe and Norman Powell look to be mentors for up-and-coming players like Siakam, VanVleet and OG Anunoby. The X-factor for this team this year and moving forward is Kawhi Leonard, as when he's healthy he can be a top-5 player in the NBA and the best defensive wing as well. He's coming off a season that saw him play less than 10 games and an off-season full of drama, and he still hasn't given any indication of re-signing with Toronto. If there is one spot that the Raptors could improve on, I would say it's the shooting guard position, as Danny Green is coming off of a down year and C.J. Miles serves better as a scorer off the bench. If the Raptors can find a way to acquire Jimmy Butler, I believe they should look into it. A package consisted of one of the point guards (maybe even Lowry), Anunoby, maybe Siakam, and picks should be enough to convince Minnesota to pull the trigger. It would be risky, but if they can convince both Butler and Leonard re-sign after the season, Toronto would be a title contender for years to come in the weak Eastern Conference. It's going to be another winning season and playoff berth for the Raptors, but are all the off-season moves they made enough to get them over the postseason hump and into the Finals?

Brooklyn Nets

Additions: Ed Davis, Jared Dudley, Shabazz Napier, Treveon Graham, Kenneth Faried, Dzanan Musa, Rodions Kurucs

Subtractions: Dante Cunningham, Jeremy Lin, Nik Stauskas, Isaiah Whitehead, Jahlil Okafor (Dwight Howard and Darrell Arthur were on the team for a couple days)

MVP: D'Angelo Russell

X-Factor: Jarrett Allen

Projected Depth Chart:

PG: D'Angelo Russell, Spencer Dinwiddie, Shabazz Napier SG: Allen Crabbe, Caris LeVert, Treveon Graham SF: DeMarre Carroll, Joe Harris, Dzanan Musa, Rodions Kurucs PF: Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, Ed Davis, Jared Dudley C: Jarrett Allen, Kenneth Faried Coach: Kenny Atkinson

The Nets have been full of mediocrity since the disastrous Celtics trade of 2013, but starting this season they finally can use their own picks. And for a team that hasn't had their own first-round pick in a while, they have done a good job drafting and acquiring young talent. D'Angelo Russell may not have lived up to his expectations yet and has caught the injury bug quite a bit, but he is still the future of the franchise and will very likely lead this team this year. Spencer Dinwiddie had a breakout year last year and is back, but will be serving as a back-up to Russell. The Nets have a lot of good young players like Jarrett Allen, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and Caris LeVert, but nobody that is too special and will lead them out of mediocrity. They are filled with older players and people that are on horrible contracts like Jared Dudley, DeMarre Carroll and Kenneth Faried, which will eventually give the Nets a lot of cap room to pursue free agents in the future. However, this team still has a lot of room for improvement and will still finish in the bottom third of the conference. Some of their off-season moves puzzled me, like the Ed Davis and Treveon Graham signings. Another move I didn't understand was the Shabazz Napier signing. He had a good year in Portland last season, but Brooklyn already has Dinwiddie and Russell on the roster as point guards. Even if they switched one of those players to a shooting guard position, guys like LeVert and Allen Crabbe will still be in the mix for minutes, so I don't think Napier will be receiving much playing time. I could see him and Davis being potential trade targets at the deadline as they won't serve much purpose for the Nets. I'm excited to see Allen play this year, as he impressed me as a rookie, and the Nets cleared out the other centers on the roster (Okafor, Tyler Zeller) to give Allen more chances to progress in his second year. The Nets have a lot of promise, but it's going to be another rough season in Brooklyn.

Philadelphia 76ers

Additions: Wilson Chandler, Mike Muscala, Zhaire Smith, Landry Shamet, Shake Milton, Jonah Bolden

Subtractions: Marco Belinelli, Justin Anderson, Richaun Holmes, Ersan Ilyasova, Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot

MVP: Joel Embiid

X-Factor: Markelle Fultz

Projected Depth Chart:

PG: Ben Simmons, Markelle Fultz, T.J. McConnell, Jerryd Bayless, Landry Shamet SG: J.J. Redick, Zhaire Smith (injured) SF: Robert Covington, Wilson Chandler, Furkan Korkmaz PF: Dario Saric, Amir Johnson C: Joel Embiid, Mike Muscala

Coach: Brett Brown

The Sixers enjoyed a successful season last year that saw them take the big leap forward that everyone expected them to do, and finally made the postseason for the first time in the "Process" era. Ben Simmons had a great first year and won Rookie of the Year, Joel Embiid played almost the entire season without being hurt, and players like J.J. Redick, Robert Covington, and Dario Saric made important contributions throughout the year as well. The 76ers didn't make any big moves through the off-season, and they will certainly run with the same starting line-up of Simmons, Redick, Covington, Saric and Embiid this year. Two of the most notable moves they made was the draft-day trade with the Phoenix Suns, as they acquired #16 pick Zhaire Smith and Miami's 2021 1st-round pick for the #10 pick, Mikal Bridges. They were also able to acquire SF Wilson Chandler from the Denver Nuggets for next to nothing, and he will give Philly the 3-and-D combo they need off the bench this year. I would say the bench is looking a little weaker this year, as they lost guys like Marco Belinelli and Ersan Ilyasova who played big roles in the 2nd half and the postseason, especially Belinelli. Players like T.J. McConnell and Amir Johnson will keep the roles they had last year, but one player who returns healthy this year is Markelle Fultz, the 2017 #1 pick that missed basically the entire year in 2017 with a mysterious injury situation that has the NBA world extremely confused. Through social media, we've been able to see his shot in summer workouts, and it seems like it is getting better, so that is a good sign for Sixers fans. People forget the potential that Fultz had prior to the NBA draft, and it wouldn't be shocking to me if he has a very productive season this year. Ben Simmons has the point guard role on lock, but we could see Fultz at shooting guard a lot as well as a Simmons-Fultz backcourt. Simmons is looking to make another step forward after a great first year, and he creates a nightmare for opposing teams with his passing ability and his size, even if he doesn't have much of a jump shot. Joel Embiid is back, and with DeMarcus Cousins injured for most of the year, he could cement his status as the best center in basketball. But just like with Boston, if there is one thing that will stop this team it will definitely be injuries, as they have derailed this team throughout the past couple of seasons. We aren't even starting pre-season yet and Zhaire Smith has a broken foot, will furthermore proves the rookie injury curse that the Sixers have. If they can avoid the injury bug (and maybe if Ben Simmons could shoot a three) then this team could definitely make it to the Finals. The 76ers enter the season as one of the favorites in the Eastern Conference, and along with Boston and Toronto prove that the Atlantic Division is the toughest in the East, and one of the toughest in the NBA.

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