Atlantic Division Offseason Review
By: Devin Zanskas
The Atlantic Division as a whole is the class of the Eastern Conference. The Philadelphia 76ers and the Brooklyn Nets are the top two seeds in the East. The New York Knicks made as huge of a leap as any team, moving up from the twelfth last season to the fourth seed this year. New York’s new regime took Julius Randle’s request to have a coach that will hold him accountable to heart. Tom Thibodeau has proven to be the right man for the job and maybe the leading coach of the year candidate. Ironically, the teams with the most success in the previous season, the Boston Celtics and Toronto Raptors, now find themselves being the most unlucky. Entering the play-in tournament, the Celtics are slated in at the seventh seed, and the Raptors unpredictably stumbled all the way outside of the play-in picture. Many fans may have been more distracted by Gordon Hayward’s large contract to focus on how losing him would impact the Celtics, and although the departures the Raptors endured didn’t seem that extreme, it’s impossible to say how much the team was affected by playing in Tampa instead of Toronto.
The 76ers made a much larger splash in the summer of 2019 versus the 2020 offseason. However, the accomplished names in Al Horford and Tobias Harris couldn’t quite overcome the clunky fit next to Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons, who thrive near the basket. Josh Richardson also understandably wasn’t able to completely fill the shoes of Jimmy Butler as another offense initiator next to Simmons. Following that failed experiment, the 76ers ended up in the bottom third of ESPN’s continuity rankings. Unlike last offseason, the 76ers made their changes via trade instead of free agency. They moved Josh Richardson for Seth Curry and Al Horford for Danny Green. Who would’ve thought that adding veteran shooters next to Embiid and Simmons would’ve replicated an improvement similar to their Ersan Ilyasova and Marco Belinelli acquisitions years ago? The Knicks also didn’t make the same headlines as they did last offseason. Besides making Tom Thibodeau the head coach, Alec Burks has been a tremendous punch off the bench. Immanuel Quickley also provides plenty of scoring on the perimeter, and is maybe the steal of the draft. Last but not least, Nerlens Noel has filled in nicely since Mitchell Robinson broke his foot.
The Nets, Celtics, and Raptors fall into the eleventh, tenth, and ninth spots in the continuity rankings. Just like their counterpart at the top of the eastern conference standings, the 76ers, the Nets made their most notable changes by way of trade. Excluding James Harden, Bruce Brown and Landry Shamet were acquired in a three-team deal with the Clippers and Pistons for Saddiq Bey, Reggie Perry, and Dzanan Musa. Despite the potential of Bey, the Nets’ return is incredible for the short term, allowing shooting and ball-movers around the Big 3. Both of the Celtics and Raptors’ more noteworthy additions didn’t work out the way they would’ve liked. Jeff Teague was traded with Boston’s trade exception in the trade for Evan Fournier. After losing both Marc Gasol and Serge Ibaka to the LA teams, the Raptors brought in Aron Baynes to start in the middle and maintain a five-out offense. However, he has been relegated to mostly an off-the-bench role after starting his first 24 games. Each of these teams have also had rookies impress for them in Payton Pritchard and Malachi Flynn, but those two may still not have huge roles moving forward as the teams will look to bounce back to contention next season.