Coming off an embarrassing 24-58 season for the most storied franchise in NBA history, Boston Celtics executive director of basketball operations Danny Ainge felt it was time for a major shake-up in personnel.
So Ainge, in a sense, mortgaged the future in order to make the Celtics an immediate contender with a pair of blockbuster trades.
First, Ainge landed pure-shooting guard Ray Allen from Seattle in a draft-day swap and then got former teammate Kevin McHale, now a Timberwolves exec, to give up former league MVP and perennial All-Star Kevin Garnett. Sure, it cost the Celtics almost all of the rest of their roster including up-and-coming forward-center Al Jefferson, veteran shooter Wally Szczerbiak and the No. 5 pick in the draft but it made the Celtics relevant once again.
One player the Celtics didn't have to give up was All-Star forward Paul Pierce. That means the Celtics have a trio of stars on their team unlike any on a single NBA roster since Houston boasted Charles Barkley, Hakeem Olajuwon and Clyde Drexler more than a decade ago. But while Boston now has the star power, its depth is suspect.The Celtics will no doubt be better this season which makes them a major threat to win the division. Last season Toronto, at 47-35, was the only team in the Atlantic to finish with a winning record. Toronto's success wasn't a fluke, either. The Raptors have a solid foundation and should battle the Celtics and Nets for the division crown this season.
1. TORONTO RAPTORS
2006-07 RECORD: 47-35
DIVISION FINISH: first, lost to New Jersey 4-2 in the first round
COACH: Sam Mitchell, fourth season
TOP ROOKIE: None
KEY ADDITIONS: F Jason Kapono, G Carlos Delfino
KEY LOSSES: F Morris Peterson
STRENGTHS: F Chris Bosh is one of the top young players in the league. He averaged 22.6 points and 10.7 rebounds per game. PG T.J. Ford (14.0 ppg, 7.9 apg) is lightning quick and getting better. F Andrea Bargnani, the overall pick two years ago from Italy, had a solid rookie season and should be even better the second time around. F Jason Kapono is a great outside shooter who made 51.4 percent of his 3-point attempts as a member of the Heat last season.
CONCERNS: The Raptors won't sneak up on anyone this season. Bosh needs to stay healthy if they want to repeat at division champs. He was hobbled in the offseason by a sore foot.
2. BOSTON CELTICS
2006-07 RECORD: 24-58
DIVISION FINISH: last, failed to make the playoffs
COACH: Doc Rivers, fourth season with Celtics
TOP ROOKIES: F Glen Davis, G Gabe Pruitt
KEY ADDITIONS: PF Kevin Garnett, G Ray Allen, G Eddie House, F James Posey
KEY LOSSES: C-F Al Jefferson, F Ryan Gomes, F Wally Szczerbiak, G Delonte West, G Gerald Green, G Sebastian Telfair
STRENGTHS: The Celtics now have three of the league's best scorers on one team. Allen averaged 26.4 points last season, F Paul Pierce averaged 25 points and Garnett scored at a 22.4 ppg clip. If all three are healthy and able to coexist, this is going to be one team that is difficult to defend.
CONCERNS: The Celtics lack depth and a proven point guard to get their stars the ball where they need it. Second-year PG Rajon Rondo will try to fill the void at the point. Also, will the three stars be able to keep their egos in check if one or more is no longer able to average 20-plus points per game?
3. NEW JERSEY NETS
2006-07 RECORD: 41-41
DIVISION FINISH: second, lost to Cleveland 4-2 in the second round of the playoffs
COACH: Lawrence Frank, fourth season
TOP ROOKIE: F-C Sean Williams
KEY ADDITIONS: F Malik Allen, G Darrell Armstrong, C Jamaal Magloire
KEY LOSSES: F Mikki Moore, F Clifford Robinson
STRENGTHS: Backcourt of Jason Kidd (13 ppg, 8.2 rpg, 9.2 apg) and Vince Carter (25.5 ppg, 6.0 rpg, 4.8 apg) is one of the best in the league. F Richard Jefferson (16.3 ppg) and C Nenad Krstic (16.4 ppg) give them two additional offensive options when they are healthy. The team also has plenty of playoff experience and should contend for the division title once again.
CONCERNS: Kidd has had some recent off-court problems and isn't getting any younger. Jefferson's stats have been decreasing the past couple of seasons, and he missed 27 regular season games due to injury last year. Krstic is young, but the 7-footer missed all but 26 games a year ago. Will he be able to stay healthy this season?
4. PHILADELPHIA 76ERS
2006-07 RECORD: 35-47
DIVISION FINISH: third, missed playoffs
COACH: Maurice Cheeks
TOP ROOKIES: F Thaddeus Young, F Jason Smith
KEY ADDITION: F Reggie Evans
KEY LOSSES: F Joe Smith, F Steven Hunter
STRENGTHS: Team actually played better after trading star guard Allen Iverson to the Nuggets for ex-Ute PG Andre Miller (13.6 ppg, 7.3 apg). Shooting guard Andre Iguodala (18.7 ppg, 5.7 ppg, 5.7 apg) is becoming a star. Samuel Dalembert (10.7 ppg, 8.9 rpg) is a solid center in a league without many dominant big men.
CONCERNS: Simply not as talented, on paper anyway, as the other teams in the division. They will have to overachieve to even earn one of the East's final playoff spots.
5. NEW YORK KNICKS
2006-07 RECORD: 33-49
DIVISION FINISH: fourth, missed playoffs
COACH: Isiah Thomas, second season with Knicks
TOP ROOKIE: F Wilson Chandler
KEY ADDITIONS: F Zach Randolph, F Fred Jones,
KEY LOSSES: G Steve Francis, F Channing Frye
STRENGTHS: Addition of Randolph (23.7 ppg, 10.1 rpg last season for Blazers) could be what the Knicks needed to get back into the playoffs. Guards Stephon Marbury (16.4 ppg, 5.5 apg) and Jamal Crawford (17.6 ppg, 4.4 apg) give team a potent scoring backcourt. F Quentin Richardson is a good outside shooter and defender.
CONCERNS: Offseason woes included a sexual harassment ruling against Isiah Thomas. He has to be on the hot seat especially if the Knicks don't get off to a fast start. Not a very good defensive team. Knicks are still the most grossly overpaid team in the NBA.