The Atlantic Division will be one of the most talked about divisions this season. The Boston Celtics are looking to return to the NBA finals after a tremendous second half last season. The Philadelphia 76ers are looking to make a deep playoff push with Joel Embiid and a healthy James Harden. The same can be said for the young Toronto Raptors who surprised everyone with their fifth-seed finish last season. And then there are the New York teams. The Brooklyn Nets had a rough 2021-22 season followed by a worse 2022 off-season but managed to come out on the other side without losing Kevin Durant or Kyrie Irving. The Knicks had a rough season followed by an offseason that fell below expectations but are looking to bounce back this season. With the East improving in the offseason, these are the most important questions for Atlantic Division teams for the 2022-23 season.
Boston Celtics: Can they win it all?
The Boston Celtics had an NBA season unlike any other. The team struggled early on, looking like they could break up the core of Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown. They not only turned it around and finished as the second seed in the East but went to the NBA Finals for the first time in 12 years. Boston swept the Brooklyn Nets in the first round and eliminated the Milwaukee Bucks in a hard-fought seven-game series before eliminating the first-seed Miami Heat in another grueling seven-game series. Boston would lose in six games to the Golden State Warriors but showed they can compete with the very best.
Can they return to the Finals though? Boston had a strong offseason, adding pieces including Malcolm Brogdon, and Danilo Gallinari. While Gallinari will miss most of the season due to an injury, Boston still has one of the best teams in the league and is rumored to be interested in several veterans. Boston will have tougher competition this season than they did last season. Milwaukee should have a healthy Khris Middleton back, Philadelphia will have a healthier Harden alongside Joel Embiid, Brooklyn has decided to run it back, and Miami looks to be strong again. That’s just four teams in the East that can give Boston tough competition. If Boston can have a healthy season and Jayson Tatum can have an MVP-like season, the chances of them returning to the NBA Finals are high. If a 2022 NBA Finals rematch happens, will the Celtics have the answers to bring a championship back to Boston?
Brooklyn Nets: How will this season go?
Last season was a mess for Brooklyn. Kyrie’s decision not to play, trading Harden for Simmons and getting swept in the playoffs. The offseason looked like it was going to be a complete disaster with Kyrie wanting out of Brooklyn, Kevin Durant requesting a trade, and giving ownership the ultimatum of him or head coach Steve Nash and GM Sean Marks. Both players surprised everyone by choosing to stay with the team, but many believe things won’t be all rosy for Brooklyn. The team should have a healthy Ben Simmons after missing an entire season. Brooklyn made several small moves in the offseason, retaining key bench players and adding new players. Patty Mills and Nic Claxton returned on short-term deals, while veterans TJ Warren and Markieff Morris signed one-year deals. What can fans expect from Brooklyn though? It’s likely Kyrie will be gone after this season and Kevin Durant may request a trade again during the season. There is no telling what the Nets will get out of Simmons or the bench this season. With the coaching staff, Steve Nash could be gone depending on how the season starts. Many still see the Nets as a contender, but others see the Nets imploding once again. Only time will tell what kind of season the Nets have.
Philadelphia 76ers: Can James Harden return to form?
The last couple of seasons has not been the best for James Harden. The Houston Rockets fell apart in Harden’s last season, although he had his best seasons there. Being traded to Brooklyn, Harden shared the scoring load with Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving, but injuries in the playoffs would end their NBA championship hopes. Last season, Harden would be traded to the Philadelphia 76ers after frustrations in Brooklyn. In the 21 games he played in Philadelphia last season, Harden averaged 21.0 PPG, 10.5 APG, and 7.1 RPG, the lowest he’s averaged in scoring since the 2011-12 season.
In the offseason, Harden has shown signs of getting healthier while also taking less money in free agency to help improve the team. Improving the bench does help the Sixers, but James Harden is the key for Philly to go all the way. Joel Embiid is in the prime of his career, but with a history of injuries, there is no telling how much longer that prime could be. If Harden can play at a level like his MVP season where he averaged 30.4 PPG, 8.8 APG, and 5.4 RPG, the Sixers would not only be a scary team but a serious contender for the championship. With the East only getting stronger, a return to form for Harden will be key for Philly’s success.
Toronto Raptors: Will next season be a step forward or a step back?
Even though they lost several members of the 2019 championship team, including Kyle Lowry prior to the 2021-22 NBA season, the Toronto Raptors surpassed the expectations the team was given. The team finished with a 48-34 record, fifth in the Eastern Conference. Fred VanVleet had one of his best seasons, averaging 20.3 PPG, 6.7 APG, and 4.4 RPG and making his first All-Star appearance. Pascal showed why he is one of the most underrated forwards in the game, putting up 22.8 PPG, 8.5 RPG, and 5.3 APG. Gary Trent Jr. and OG Anunoby both had solid seasons as well. Toronto had one of the more reliable benches in the league as well.
One of the biggest surprises and factors to Toronto’s success was rookie Scottie Barnes. Barnes would end up winning Rookie of the Year after a tremendous first season averaging 15.3 PPG, 7.5 RPG, and 3.5 APG while going head-to-head with some of the best forwards in the game. The Raptors would lose to the Philadelphia 76ers in six games, but the season was a success overall. But what will this season look like? The Raptors had a busy offseason re-signing several role players and signing new players including Otto Porter Jr. and Josh Jackson. While they did improve, a lot of teams in the East improved. While that should be a concern for the Raptors, the team had a good record against the rest of the Eastern Conference. In 52 games against the East last season, the Raptors went 30-22. There is no telling how the Raptors’ season will go, but Toronto has shown they can prove the doubters wrong.
New York Knicks: Is another disappointing season inevitable?
In the shortened 2020-21 NBA season, the New York Knicks finished with a 41-31 record, fourth in the Eastern Conference. Last season, the Knicks took a step back finishing with a 37-45 record, 11th in the East. 2021 Most Improved Player of the Year Julius Randle took a step back, with many pointing at him for the Knicks’ step back. RJ Barrett had a great season, averaging over 20 PPG while playing 70 games. Veteran Evan Fournier had a solid season with the Knicks depending on him at times. At the point guard position, the team struggled. Derrick Rose played only 26 games, missing most of the season with an ankle injury. Kemba Walker had issues with how he was being used and only ended up playing 37 games.
The offseason has not been much better for the Knicks and Knicks fans. The team missed out on several superstars including Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving, Zion Williamson, and Donovan Mitchell. The Knicks did sign Jalen Brunson who has connections with the team, as well as signing RJ Barrett to an extension. With the team looking to build around Jalen Brunson and RJ Barrett, there could be many more moves on the way for the Knicks. Julius Randle has been rumored to be in several trade talks as well as Evan Fournier. Another person on the hot seat could be Knicks head coach Tom Thibodeau. Focusing more on players he’s coached in the past, Thibs and Knicks management have not gotten along at times. Now in his third season, a disappointing season for New York could mean Thibs’ exit. With many teams in the East improving and many seeing the conference’s playoff spots already filled, the Knicks will have another uphill battle this season.
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