In the Eastern Conference, both the Southeast and Central division should be fun to watch. The Atlantic division? Not so much.
Everyone is waiting for the big 2010 free agency class, especially the teams in the Atlantic. Boston will be a great team, no doubt about it, but the other clubs have been waiting for their Christmas for two years now.
The New York Knicks have done a spectacular job of keeping themselves mediocre for the last two seasons as they cross their fingers and hope for LeBron James or Chris Bosh at the least. The New Jersey Nets have done the same thing in a more subtle way. Instead of announcing to the world they are waiting for 2010 like the Knicks did, the Nets have stockpiled plenty of young talent and kept their salary cap low as they have sold the idea of a "rebuilding process."
Don't be fooled, they want those big names just as much as New York. And poor Philadelphia and Toronto have been stuck in the middle. They have rebuilt and unloaded at the same time, resulting in a good, but not great team. So until 2010, here is what to expect from this division.
1. Boston Celtics
This team definitely does not want 2010 to come. Paul Pierce, Ray Allen and Rajon Rondo will all be pursued heavily come June, so the Celtics know their time is now if they want another championship. Rasheed Wallace will hopefully be able to lighten the load on Kevin Garnett so they can keep their defensive leader healthy for the whole season.
The only weak spot the Celtics have had is on the bench, but they took big steps to solve that with the acquisition of Marquis Daniels. Glen Davis started to come into his own in the playoffs and I still think Bill Walker will bust out at some point this season. Celtics cruise to a division championship.
2. Toronto Raptors
The 76ers may look like the teams of their glory days with their throwback jerseys this season, but Toronto is better. The Raptors had huge additions with Hedo Turkoglu, Jarrett Jack, Amir Johnson and DeMar DeRozan. This is the best the team has looked on paper in a while and there is depth. Chris Bosh will play his hardest as he wants a big payday this summer and Jose Calderon with super-scorer Turkoglu on the floor.
Defense has been a problem in the past, but I think Jack and Johnson both bring tenacity on that end of the floor. And your darkhorse for Rookie of the Year: DeMar DeRozan. He has looked good in preseason. Let's not forget Andrea Bargnani, he has improved each year.
3. Philadelphia 76ers
The biggest question on this team: Can Elton Brand stay healthy, and if so, does he remember how to play basketball? The team has plenty of young talent including Marreese Speights, Thaddeus Young and rookies Jrue Holiday and Dionte Christmas, but Brand is the key. In a division with Chris Bosh, Kevin Garnett and Brook Lopez, a solid front court player is a must.
Andre Igoudala is the man, but this team will struggle this season because it doesn't have an NBA-ready point guard. Louis Williams fills in OK, but he is much better as a shooting guard. Holiday has potential, but it is rare to see a rookie point guard have a significant amount of success in their first year. Royal Ivey will provide much needed defense at the point.
4. New Jersey Nets
The Nets have received plenty of criticism and I'm not sure why. I think Courtney Lee is a great addition as he is a solid, consistent defender as well as a good scorer. Devin Harris and Brook Lopez are nearing all-star status and Chris Douglas Roberts continues to improve as a scorer. The team doesn't have much of a bench, but it did add some veteran leadership.
The additions of Rafer Alston, Tony Battie and Keyon Dooling will provide guidance to a young team susceptible to outside influences. This core group of veterans should keep the young players focused on the game, but they are still too unseasoned to be seen as a true threat yet.
5. New York Knicks
They just want LeBron James in 2010 and I'm sure they wouldn't mind adding another top-five draft pick to the mix next season either, so don't expect much from the Knicks. David Lee will continue to record empty double-doubles, Larry Hughes will continue to take too many shots, Eddy Curry will continue to be too overweight, Nate Robinson will continue to be too short, Al Harrington will continue to take ill-advised threes and Wilson Chandler will wonder why he is in New York.
I like Chandler, and I think Chris Duhon is capable of good games for the most part. Jordan Hill and Toney Douglas will try to fit in, but this team has got next to nothing.
2010 is almost here, hang in there.