The Central division is the final division in the Eastern Conference. The Central division includes: the Boston Celtics, Brooklyn Nets, New York Knicks, Philadelphia 76ers and the Toronto Raptors.
Let's do this...
For Boston: The Celtics had a bit of a youth infusion, while saying goodbye to one of their former "Big Three". Gone is Ray Allen...to the rival Miami Heat. I'm sure he'll receive the warmest of receptions when he visits the Garden. The Celtics still have a "Big Three": Rajon Rondo, Paul Pierce and the recently resigned Kevin Garnett. There was some scuttlebutt that KG was debating retirement, but he'll continue his playing career with the Celtics--likely as the starting center. With Ray Allen gone, Boston signed two free agent shooting guards. They had a sign-and-trade with the Houston Rockets. They received Courtney Lee, while sending JaJuan Johnson, E'Twaun Moore (later waived and signed with Orlando) and Sean Williams (later waived) to the Houston Rockets. While also sending Sasha Pavlovic, two second-round picks and cash to the Portland Trailblazers. The other free agent guard? Former sixth man of the year Jason Terry. JET is taking his talents to the East Coast, even though he said early in the offseason that he wanted to remain with the Dallas Mavericks, ultimately for his career. That didn't work out and now he'll join the reloaded Boston Celtics. If you haven't seen his newest tattoo, I'd go ahead and look that up on Google. Lee will likely begin the season as the starting shooting guard along with Rondo in the backcourt, because Avery Bradley is currently on the IR after offseason shoulder surgery. Keyon Dooling seemed like he was going to be back for another season, but a couple of weeks ago he announced his retirement. As such the backup point guard duties will likely be manned by Jason Terry, Avery Bradley and Dionte Christmas (assuming he makes the final roster). The Celtics drafted Jared Sullinger 21st overall, Fab Melo 22nd overall and Kris Joseph in the second round. After a year away, Jeff Green is back in the NBA with the Boston Celtics. Of course there will be concerns about his health, but hopefully following the heart surgery he can return to what made him a versatile forward that can contribute. The Celtics also signed Jason Collins and Darko Milicic, those two, along with rookie Fab Melo; will battle for that backup center position. The Celtics likely starting lineup: Rajon Rondo, Courtney Lee, Paul Pierce, Brandon Bass and Kevin Garnett; with a second-unit of: Avery Bradley, Jason Terry, Jeff Green, Jared Sullinger and Darko Milicic. They're certainly a Top 4 or 5 team in the Eastern Conference, though I have serious doubts that they're championship contenders this season.
For Brooklyn: The Nets got a brand new arena, a better starting five and for the first time in a long time the Nets will be competitive in the East. The Nets got a scare early in free agency when it looked as though Deron Williams was seriously considering signing with his hometown Dallas Mavericks. Shortly before his meeting with Mark Cuban & Co. the Nets pulled off a blockbuster deal with the Atlanta Hawks. The Hawks basically got that 2011-12 Nets bench, while the Nets received Joe Johnson. Williams quickly came back on board, to form one of the NBA's best backcourts. The Nets also resigned Gerald Wallace, Kris Humphries and Brook Lopez. Not only were they able to secure a fairly good starting lineup, they also grabbed former Bull C.J. Watson on a one-year veteran's minimum deal. They also signed veteran shooting guards Jerry Stackhouse and Keith Bogans. The Nets also grabbed Mirza Teletovic, a Bosnian professional basketball player that they felt confident in giving a 3-year $9million contract (it was first reported that the deal was 3-years for $15.6million--it was adjusted to give the Nets more flexibility in filling out their roster). They did so with Reggie Evans (in a sign-and-trade with the Clippers), Andray Blatche (on a one-year veteran's minimum deal) and former King Donte Greene & former Sun Josh Childress will likely battle for the final spot on the roster and the backup small forward role. The Nets also drafted point guard Tyshawn Taylor (41st overall) and forward Tornike Shengalia (54th overall). Their starting lineup (Williams, Johnson, Wallace, Humphries, Lopez) will be strong (considering Lopez can stay healthy), however their depth is a bit questionable. Their second unit of Watson, MarShon Brooks, Greene or Childress, Blatche and Evans, doesn't sound like a reliable bench unit. I still think they can be a Top 5 seed in the East, however those calling the Nets "CONTENDERS" will soon find out why they're not. In conclusion--I also hate their new jerseys, I don't care who created them (Jay-Z) they're plain and boring to me. I like the black-and-white, but the logo and the jerseys are too simple. I seem to be a minority on the subject, but that's just how I feel. Back to the playoffs the Nets go, but I don't see them getting past the second round (if that far).
For New York: Are you 35-40 years old? Are you interested in a role player position, with mind-boggling years of guaranteed money? The Knicks got older, the consensus seems to be they may be a bit wiser...though there's certainly some serious doubts. The Knicks had a busy offseason. They signed veteran point guard Pablo Prigioni, though that wasn't the only change made to the Knicks' point guard position. Gone is Jeremy Lin, despite the Knicks management saying they'd match any offer he received...he's now a Houston Rocket and things go on for New York. To fill the void, the Knicks welcome Jason Kidd (initially brought in to mentor Lin...before he signed that BIG offer sheet with Houston). The Knicks also brought back Raymond Felton. Ray was previously a Knick (and had a pretty good season, until he was traded). New York included Felton in that Carmelo Anthony deal. Felton ended up with Denver. Following the end of that season Ray signed on with the Portland Trailblazers. I can tell you without a shred of doubt--Blazers fans aren't to fond of Mr. Felton. Overweight and unmotivated, Portland was more than fine to see him go. Felton has reportedly slimmed back down and is happy to be back in New York. Head Coach Mike Woodson has said that he'll start Felton at point guard, to begin the season. J.R. Smith returned and will be instrumental at shooting guard, especially until Iman Shumpert returns from that torn ACL. New York also signed Ronnie Brewer to a veteran's minimum deal. The Knicks also grabbed Chris Smith (J.R.'s brother) who (if he makes the team) will provide depth behind Brewer & Smith (until Shumpert returns--at which time he'll likely be released). The Knicks resigned their three-point specialist Steve Novak. NYK didn't have much frontcourt depth behind their starters: Amar'e & Tyson. Apparently those chose a few senior citizens. The Knicks pulled Rasheed Wallace out of retirement and also acquired Marcus Camby in a sign-and-trade...and then gave him three years of guaranteed money! He's a good center, but he's also 38! And they're paying him roughly $13.2million over the next three years! I had him pegged (without a doubt in my mind) to end up with Miami...I think we know why he chose New York. The Knicks also grabbed the oldest player in the NBA: Kurt Thomas, who at the age of 40 will be providing depth at both frontcourt positions. Despite having three VERY good players at the 3, 4, 5 (Melo, Amar'e & Chandler), the Knicks are championship contenders. We've all heard that Melo & Amar'e can thrive together. If the Knicks start the season on the 'wrong foot' I wouldn't be surprised to hear Stoudemire's name come up in the trade rumors...though I wouldn't expect much to come of it. New York will still be a Top 5 seed in the East, they may fight their way out of the first round, but an advance to the Eastern Conference Finals, still looks out of reach, for the Knicks (from my perspective).
For Philadelphia: The 76ers turned a player they've been trying to trade for the past two years into the NBA's #2 center. Gone is Andre Iguodala (fancy that they've traded another AI to the Denver Nuggets) and center Andrew Bynum. They also did quite a bit more 'reloading'. Along with Bynum, the Sixers acquired Jason Richardson from the Orlando Magic. He'll likely start at shooting guard. Former Wizard/Clipper Nick Young also joins the Sixers, he brings shooting and scoring, but not much else...beyond being a defensive liability. The 76ers also acquired Dorell Wright in a trade with the Golden State Warriors. Wright figures to be the third-string small forward...while also seeing some time at shooting guard and power forward. Philly also welcomes Kwame Brown (who before they acquired Bynum, was pegged to start at center, now he'll be the main backup big man). The Sixers' starting lineup will likely include: Jrue Holiday (I smell a breakout season in the works!), Jason Richardson (getting up their in years, but the man can still ball), Evan Turner (consistent minutes at his natural position, could the #2 pick finally live up to that billing? Breakout season? Maybe...), Spencer Hawes (with Bynum in tow, Hawes will shift to power forward to form a pretty viable frontcourt for Philly), Andrew Bynum (some say he's the best center in the League...either way it gives Philly a BIG leg up on a powerhouse like Miami--and great competition with team's in the East like Indiana, New York, Brooklyn, Chicago, etc.--that all have some terrific big men). Philadelphia will make the playoffs and it won't be as just the 8th seed. They still have some questions at backup point guard (Royal Ivey?!) and the health of Andrew Bynum & Jrue Holiday will make or break their season.
For Toronto: After an offseason of improvement, Raptors fans are thinking they could actually make the playoffs, once again. I think they're still a year away, but they have some much better pieces North of the Border. The Raptors swung a deal with the Rockets that sent Gary Forbes and a 1st round pick to Houston and landed them Kyle Lowry. They also signed former Bull John Lucas III (likely a third-string point guard). The Raps also landed Landry Fields, that many saw as a tactic for them to land Steve Nash (that being before they traded for Lowry). Toronto offered Fields a big deal, the Knicks let him walk and, obviously neither New York or Toronto landed former two-time MVP Steve Nash (now a Laker). Toronto resigned Alan Anderson and Aaron Gray. The Raptors also got some more youth and talent in the Draft. They nabbed shooting guard Terrence Ross with the #8 overall pick as well as Quincy Acy, in the second-round, with the 37th overall pick. Those won't be their only two rookies, however. Joining the club this season will be center Jonas Valanciunas. Jonas was drafted by the Raptors in 2011, but spent an additional year overseas. He'll join Toronto this year and (at some point--maybe not right away) will be the team's starting center. Their likely starting lineup: Kyle Lowry, Terrence Ross, DeMar DeRozan, Andrea Bargnani and Jonas Valanciunas. Landry Fields could start at shooting guard until Ross is ready, same goes for Aaron Gray at center, until Valanciunas is ready. I'd venture to bet that former starting point guard Jose Calderon won't be a Raptor at season's end. It's likely they move him as it's all but certain that Lowry is the team's new point-man. Maybe the Darren Collison trade for the Mavericks doesn't work and Mark Cuban will come calling, maybe some team will lose their star point guard in a season-ending injury and phone up the Raptors, regardless, if he stays with the team through this season, it will be his last. I'm uncertain whether this team can be a playoff squad. They certainly have the talent. They'll need great years from Lowry & Bargnani and for the rookies (Ross & Valanciunas) to come in and be able to contribute from the get-go. If so, we could see them sneak into that 7th or 8th seed in the East, if not, it'll be another lottery-bound summer.
Well, that's a wrap! So concludes our division-by-division season previews. Opening night is still a few weeks away, however for many teams in the NBA the preseason has begun. For your Minnesota Timberwolves, the preseason begins tomorrow night at the FARGODOME vs. the Indiana Pacers, visit our "Gameday" section for a full gameday preview of that one!
That's all for now, as per usual, thanks for reading HOWL and GO WOLVES!