Among the smartest NBA bets you can wager, alongside Portland winning fewer games from a year ago and Kobe Bryant publicly dissing
a teammate his teammates, is betting against any Atlantic Division teams accomplishing anything of note. Last year Atlantic teams combined to finish 86 games below .500; even if you remove the Knicks' worst-season-ever, the division was 38 games in the red, second-worst in the NBA.
The last time two teams from the division won 50+ games? 2001. In that 15-year span, there were eight years when no teams won 50. Your last Atlantic NBA champions? The 2008 Celtics. Before that? Gotta go back to when "Live To Tell" topped the charts. Last non-Celtic Atlantic champs? Even Eighties-ier. Over the years the names, faces, and configurations have changed, but one constant remains: it stinks.
While the division's usually no good, its media coverage is! Let's learn our NBA neighbors' prognoses from Tim MacLean of Celtics Blog, Daniel Reynolds of Raptors HQ, Liberty Ballers' Sean O'Connor, and Tom Lorenzo of Nets Daily.
How would Celtic fans define success in 2015-16?
MacLean: "The ultimate goal for Celtics fans heading into the 2015-16 season is, of course, to make another trip to the playoffs. Last year's team was able to sneak in as a 7th seed in the weaker Eastern Conference with just 40 wins, and with the pieces they added in the offseason, as well as the improvement of the incumbents, there's no reason why Boston can't improve on that number. Returning to the playoffs is a desire shared by both the front office and the players. Members of management have already indicated that this season is about winning — a sentiment Avery Bradley echoed on a few occasions this summer."
Is the front office more focused on wins in the short term or ping-pong balls in the long term?
Maclean: "Boston is in such a unique situation as far as their rebuilding project is concerned. Unlike teams that are forced to tank in order to increase their chances at a high pick, the Celtics are able to compete as hard as they can while the front office keeps one eye on Brooklyn Nets box scores throughout the season.
"Thanks to the assets he received in exchange for Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett just a few years ago, president of basketball operations Danny Ainge has the Nets' unprotected first-round pick for next summer's draft (Boston also has the right to swap picks with Brooklyn in 2017 and will own the Nets' unprotected first-rounder in 2018 as well). Brooklyn doesn't project to be very good this year, meaning the Celtics have the rare opportunity to push for the playoffs while still receiving a pick in the early lottery."
What kind of roster move is needed for Boston to take the next step?
MacLean: "Ainge would do well to bring in a go-to scorer, preferably one who plays out on the wings. The Celtics don't have a guy they can ask to go get them a bucket with the game on the line and I think that's something that every team needs. I'm not saying we need someone who we can give the ball and have everyone else get out of the way; that would go against Brad Stevens' system. But someone who can play within a scheme and score in the mid-20 points per game range would definitely be helpful.
"Celtics fans trust Danny to get this team back into championship contention and the team is already a lot further along than originally anticipated when Ainge blew the team up on draft night a few years ago. He's done it before, and he can do it again."
How would Raptor fans define success in 2015-16?
Daniel Reynolds: "At this point, the only outcome that will satisfy Raptors fans is a second-round playoff appearance. That's the absolute minimum, though you could add the qualifier 'tough' to that statement. The Raptors have made the playoffs four times in the past nine seasons and have never quite been an overwhelming favourite to win a series in that time. They've usually been tagged with the 'just happy to be there' distinction and after last year's Wizards sweep, the fans are clamouring for something more. Expect heads to roll if the Raptors fall again in the first round."
Is the roster in place capable of achieving that, or are changes needed?
Reynolds: "I think for the most part people are underrating this year's version of the Raptors. The offense looks to have some fire power (Kyle Lowry looks great and DeMarre Carroll is a great addition), the bench is sound (thanks to Cory Joseph and Luis Scola), and the defense has been shored way up (the Raps jettisoned their worst defenders and added guys like Bismack Biyombo). This roster is definitely capable of beating, say, the Wizards or Bucks in a tightly-fought series. (I wouldn't pick them over the Hawks, Bulls or maybe even the Heat, though.)
"For a change, the Raptors should probably consider some kind of upgrade at the power forward position long term. The jury remains out on whether or not Patrick Patterson can be the full-time starter. And while Scola is a nice veteran presence, he's more a stopgap measure. Ironically, the player this team could really use is Amir Johnson circa 2012. It remains as the biggest hole in the Raptors' lineup."
What's the ceiling for Jonas Valanciuas?
Reynolds: "That's the $64 million question isn't it? At this point, Valanciunas tracks to be a very efficient post player who can get you two points from the block or from the line when needed. Everything else in his skill toolbox -- rim protection, pick-and-roll defense, rebounding -- falls more in the 'merely good' category. I think with increased usage/minutes (not a guaranteed thing on this team) Valanciunas could easily up his averages to 18 points and 10 rebounds, but it remains to be seen if the Raptors can win at a high level if they have to rely on Jonas that much. Still, now we recite the Raptors fan refrain: 'He's still only 23 years old, though!'"
How would Sixer fans define success in 2015-16?
Sean O'Connor: "1. Getting all four draft picks owed to the team, in relatively good spots in the draft. 2. Nerlens Noel and Jahlil Okafor playing well together, well enough to make the duo a fixture of the team going forward. 3. One of Nik Stauskas, Tony Wroten, or Robert Covington making a significant improvement and becoming a 'centerpiece' despite being acquired for virtually nothing. 4. Not being a historically terrible offense, just in general. The Sixers were the worst offense in a decade last season. An improvement from 'dreadful' to 'just really bad' would be welcomed. 5. Keeping up the team's defensive improvement from last season. The Sixers ranked 13th in defensive efficiency last season -- adding Okafor, Kendall Marshall, and Stauskas will make that difficult. In all, what that would result in is this being the final year of the team's tanking effort."
How does the team and front office define success? Does it differ from the fans' perspective?
O'Connor: "The Sixers organization thinks differently than even an ardent supporter of 'The Process' like me does. Very few Sixers fans felt happy after drafting Jahlil Okafor - because he wasn't D'Angelo Russell, who was not available to the team at number 3, and whose trade rights were deemed too costly. 'The Process' is just a buzz-phrase for fans that's gotten us to unify behind the team's direction, but a strict adherence to guiding principles is what got Sam Hinkie his job in the first place. Which is to say, the Sixers organization will not dwell on anything out of its control, like getting each draft pick owed to them or having lottery luck. The team will make the best odds they can and then roll the dice on the probabilities.
"The coaches and organization will, however, prioritize player development, as always. I think Jahlil Okafor is the lynchpin for the rebuild now, so the team's goals are to help him develop into a star as quickly as they can manage it. Doing that alone and having a bonafide offensive star, to go along defensive star Nerlens Noel, would be a successful season."
Are you confident either measure of success will be met?
O'Connor: "I think it'll take most of the season to get Okafor where he needs to get to. He's playing alongside lots of crap teammates and is only 19 years old. The Sixers around him need to learn how to play with a post-up specialist. Nerlens Noel needs to play out of position. It won't be easy, and I think there will be growing pains, but I also think Okafor was the second best prospect available and might surprise me with how well he adapts to a game where lots of people are his size. I think, with all the owed picks and the talent on the roster, I'm confident they'll be successful in shedding the tanking label after this year."
How do Net fans define success for 2015-16?
Tom Lorenzo: "Just survive! But, more so, get a full 82 (or even 75) games out of Brook Lopez, see some improvements from guys like Bojan Bogdanovic and growth from Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and trade Joe Johnson for a few draft picks. That would be success. If you can get into the playoffs -- great! They don't own their pick this year, the Celtics do, so there's no benefit in tanking. They just need to prove to major free agents next summer that they are a destination, and having a healthy Brook Lopez, Thaddeus Young and some promising young players should help -- or at least do more good than harm."
Does ownership's definition of success sync up with the fan base's?
Lorenzo: "At this point, ownership is looking beyond the short-term and into the future, for the first time since they've moved to Brooklyn. This will be the first season that the team had no expectations for winning a title while in Brooklyn, so they are at the very least taking a more foundational approach to building a team. And that's a good thing."
Do the fans trust Prokhorov/King/Hollins?
Lorenzo: "No, I think for the most part they don't. In their defense, it's hard to trust management and ownership. They've been served up a narrative about how they'll win a championship within five years -- five years ago -- and they've struggled to get much more than a few playoff wins in the meantime. I don't think Prokhorov and King had bad intentions; I just think they struck out in a few, big key moments. Now, some of that isn't their fault. Lopez being hurt during their run in 2013-14 wasn't their fault, and neither was Deron Williams being mediocre in his time in Brooklyn. That said, failure and lack of success falls on management, so naturally the fans aren't too happy with Prokhorov and King at the moment."
What players are Net fans most looking forward to seeing this season?
Lorenzo: "Rookie Rondae Hollis-Jefferson is intriguing and a big part of the team's future. Bojan Bogdanovic is another player they're looking forward to seeing, if mostly because this is "his time." He has a chance to prove that he belongs, and now it's just a matter of whether or not he can put it all together. And of course Brook Lopez, who is a fan favorite."
Last but not least...early opinions on Andrea Bargnani?