If you've watched the NBA at all over the past few seasons, you'd know that the Eastern Conference has seen better days.
The Magic no longer have "Superman" leading them to glory, the Pacers lost all their big superstar, the Hawks lost their four All-Stars, and the Bulls have fallen into the tanker after making a series of questionable decisions.The Conference's best stars moved West, leaving a lot of previously competitive teams competing for the lottery.
This past summer made things so bad, the NBA is considering changing the playoff format altogether.
Even with all that being true, however, there is still one glimmer of hope in the East that could finally change things around for the league: the Atlantic division. Within that group contains some of the East's most promising young teams, and they could come to shock the world pretty soon. Unlike the rest of the conference, the Atlantic division appears to be getting stronger as their young studs grow into more experienced stars.
But with all that hope, also comes a lot of questions. Do the Celtics have enough to overcome Cleveland? Will "the process" show their worth? Can D'Angelo Russell blossom into the star so many have suspected him to be?
This season alone may not answer all those questions, but it should give us a picture as to how good some of these young teams really are.
New York Knicks
Position: 13th in East
Biggest Concern: Can they get their act together?
You know the Knicks had a bad summer when the best part about it was firing their Head of Basketball Operations.
With Phil Jackson gone, the Knicks were supposed to start fresh. While they did kind of start over, it's not the way anyone envisioned. The team got nothing in return after trading away their biggest star (Carmelo Anthony), gave away ridiculously overpriced contracts (Tim Hardaway Jr.), and still has a front-office that has no idea what they are doing (Steve Mills, JAMES DOLAN).
With Kristaps Porzingis, though, the Knicks aren't completely hopeless. The Unicorn should have a break-out year, as the offense will revolve completely around him. As a result, his improved game should help attract some good vibes (maybe even other stars) to a franchise that would otherwise be unwatchable.
Position: 11th in East
Biggest Concern: Is D'Angelo Russell a star?
Sean Marks should seriously be considered for executive of the year. As GM of the Nets, he's transformed an impossible situation into an exciting one built for the future. While the Nets still have plenty of work to do, Marks has worked a miracle in Brooklyn.
That Brook Lopez trade seemed like a no-factor at first. But it provided the Nets a potential building block for a young nucleus. Going into the season, the Nets have names like DeMarre Carrol, Timofey Mozgov, Tyler Zeller, and Allen Crabbe. This is obviously no playoff team, but they certainly won't be the worst in the East.
The fans in Brooklyn now have a future they can look forward to. And as they wait for D'Angelo Russell to develop, Sean marks can continue to climb the team out of the abyss.
Position: 9th in East
Biggest Concern: Will they stay healthy?
The Sixers have come a long way since their tanking days. In just a few years, the team has gone from woeful chumps to one of the most exciting young squads in the league. Instead of competing for a lottery slot, the Sixers could very well find themselves competing for a playoff spot. In other words, "The Process" is working in Philly.
Fans are rallying behind this stacked young roster like never before, and the roster is finally starting to take shape.
Joel Embiid, being one of the team's main centerpieces, just agreed to stay long-term with a five year, $148 million contract extension. Ben Simmons, a promising talent, and former #1 pick will take the court for the first time. And, 2017 first round draft pick, Markelle Fultz, will get a chance to show the world he's the point guard of the future.
If everyone stays healthy, the sky is the limit for this resurrected franchise.
Position: 3rd in East
Biggest Concern: Will their stars become reliable?
Is this the year the Raptors finally break through?
Since 2013, Toronto has been on the cusp of a Finals berth. But since 2013, they've fallen short every time. Whether its losing heart-breaking upsets against the Wizards and Nets, or getting knocked out by LeBron James, the Raptors seemingly collapse in the post-season.
But this year, things look a little different. With the Wizards and Celtics getting most of the hype in regards to Cleveland's biggest threats, the Raptors are somewhat of an afterthought heading into the new season. They quietly re-signed Serge Ibaka and Kyle Lowry, while having time to develop Norman Powell, a young guard who could turn some heads this year.
For the Raptors though, it ultimately falls on DeMar DeRozan to determine how far this team will go. Their peak goes only as high as his does and if he does not work on his three-point shooting, the team could suffer the same fate they've had the last couple of seasons.
Position: 1st in East
Future: Locked -Up
Biggest Concern: Do they have enough?
The Celtics are back.
Then again, they weren't gone for very long anyway.
When Boston traded their Big Three to Brooklyn a few years ago, it signaled the start of a rebuild for the Celtics.
But thanks to the assets from that trade, the C's were able to skip through the tough times of rebuilding a decimated roster. And now, four years later, you'd be hard pressed to find a team in a better situation.
With Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown, and Marcus Smart, the Celtics have a young core to fit along their newly acquired All-Stars in Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward. While nobody knows exactly how the team will fare, they can, at the very least, give the Cavs a little sweat.
Kyrie brings about a whole new world of possibilities for Boston, giving them something they haven't had since the Big Three days: a superstar. If they play how their roster looks, the Celtics should be the best team in the East... and could even be good enough to give the Warriors a serious challenge.
Atlantic Division Overview
When talking about the Eastern Conference, the Atlantic Division is the future. In a conference abandoned by it's biggest stars, the only hope in restoring balance to the league rests in the hands of these teams. The Sixers, Nets, and Knicks all have at least one young stud that keeps the franchise relevant. And for the Raptors and Celtics, while their dominance is in question, they will swim among the highest rung of the Eastern Conference elite.
Best Team: Boston Celtics
Worst Team: New York Knicks
MVP: Kyrie Irving
Hot Seat: Dwane Casey