The 2010-11 NBA Season kicks off this Tuesday with 6 teams in action including the Knicks' Atlantic Division rival, Boston Celtics facing off against the Miami Heat.
I've invited representatives from blogs that cover each team in the Atlantic Division, to help take the pulse of the team and fans' expectations going into this highly anticipated season.
I will begin with the Knicks who have plenty of fresh faces on the roster. No one is more crucial to their success than Amar'e Stoudemire. Many have questioned whether or not he has what it takes to carry a team without his old running mate Steve Nash. He's proven to be a prolific scorer but the Knicks' progression depends on contributions from his supporting cast. Stoudemire has made an effort to manage expectations recently, saying, "The Knicks haven't made the playoffs in nine, 10 years. Anything better than we did last year is a success. Last year wasn't that good. Anything better than that would be a step in the right direction. But playoffs is something we're looking forward to and we're trying to get to that point."
This quote touches on a variety of expectations that the Knicks fans have for this season. For the first time in a long time the Knicks have a group of players that can build for the future and grow together, instead of simply playing for their next contract. The change in culture and attitude should not be overlooked.
However, after watching them in action during the pre-season you see an unseasoned team that is still trying to figure out who they are and how good they can be. There have been flashes of brilliance where you can imagine the Knicks operating as cohesive unit. Defense looks to be much improved which I attribute to an emphasis on team chemistry and greater length. Landry Fields appears ready to contribute right away. Timofey Mozgov has claimed the starting center position by showing great versatility in a 7 foot frame. Toney Douglas' upgraded game has been a pleasant surprise through the preseason. These are just a few bright spots but certainly not the only ones.
There is much greater depth this year, essentially forcing Coach Mike D'Antoni to expand his rotation and get more players involved then he typically has throughout his career. Finding a consistent rotation could prove to be his greatest challenge.
If you believe that impossible is plausible than they have a legitimate shot at challenging for the NBA Title this year, especially if the much anticipated trade for Anthony actually happens. Winning 38-45 games and challenging for a playoff spot are more realistic expectations.
"To me the biggest issue for the Knicks will be when will the other shoe drop when it comes to the Carmelo situation. We've reported since April that Melo has been the Knicks plan B and that he wants to be a Knick. He's a star in his prime who wants rings and the Knicks give him that chance with Amar'e in the mix.
But that causes more distractions for a coach who has had plenty over two years. And it's impossible to ask young players early in development to stay focused.
That said having Amar'e in the East should allow them to compete for the 8th seed. That is if the young players can keep it together and support him.
With this roster they are a 41-42 win team and will survive early struggles from a rugged schedule."
From the Knicks we move onto the unquestionable front runner in the Atlantic Division, the Boston Celtics.
"After falling one quarter short of winning their 18th NBA Title, it's pretty clear what the expectations are for the Boston Celtics going into this season... win the damn thing! They addressed their rebounding problem by bringing in the O'Neal brothers (Shaq and Jermaine) and they added a shooter (no pun intended) in Delonte West. Add in a much, MUCH healthier Kevin Garnett, a happy Paul Pierce and Ray Allen, a wiser Rajon Rondo, a full year of Shrek and Donkey (Nate Robinson and Glen Davis for those who missed the NBA Finals), and a team that is driven and hungry for another Banner, and you've got the 2010-11 Boston Celtics.
They sleepwalked through the regular season and still managed 50 wins, so I'm saying they end up 57-25 as the 2nd seed in the East behind the Heat. They've got enough depth to go hard during the regular season but not wear out their guys for the playoffs... expect big things from the C's this season."
From Boston we move along to the cross river rivals, the New Jersey Nets. Ryan Jones from ScorchingNets.com brought us up to speed.
New Jersey Nets
"Following a year in which they served as a punch line for every other team in the NBA, the theme for the New Jersey Nets this season can be found in their name: New. New owner, new coach, new players, new arena and (hopefully) new culture.
Believe it or not, there is enough talent on the roster right now to put the Nets in line with Mikhail Prokhorov's first year expectations of a playoff berth.
Carmelo Anthony's name will hang over the Nets and every other team mentioned as a possible destination until he is finally sent somewhere. Until then it's important for New Jersey to focus on developing and featuring the young talent they have collected."
Projected record: 41-41
Let's venture over to the city of brotherly love to check in with Carey Smith from Philadunkia.com . What can we expect from the Philadelphia 76ers this year?
"My expectations for the 76ers are pretty high this season and many others may believe that to be unreasonable. However if you really think about it, last year was an absolute train wreck -- a twelve game losing streak, major injury problems (Louis, Thad, Brand, Speights all missed significant time), horrific defense, infighting and a cocky, stubborn, knucklehead of a head coach. Yet despite all of those obstacles, this group somehow managed to win 27 games in 2009-10. Don't get me wrong, 27 up and 55 down is not a good record, in fact it's awful, but believe it or not it could have been worse.
So with everyone healthy now and in better shape, the emergence of Jrue Holiday, the locker room cancer removed (Dalembert) and a new head coach (Doug Collins) that actually can spell defense and discipline, I expect that the Sixers will have a much better season in 2010-11. I certainly don't think that we are ready to challenge Boston, Miami and Orlando in the East, but I don't see any reason this team can not win 40 games and challenge for the 8th playoff spot.
The overall theme of this season for the 76ers is a famous line stolen from Al Davis, "Just Win Baby". The 7-6 have fallen off the sports landscape in this town and the only way they'll become relevant again is to start winning. Given the recent success of the Phillies, Eagles and Flyers it will be a tough haul for the Sixers to get back on the map in this town, but winning and especially winning early this season is the only thing that will put butts in the stands and get people talking about this team again. So don't give me any excuses or moral Ws or "building for the future" tag lines, "Just Win Baby"."
Carey is hoping that 76ers can entice Philly residents to attend games so that their home games don't resemble a regular season game at the Izod Center circa 2009.
"The fan base is torn on exactly how good this team is with talk ranging from 2nd in the Atlantic and fighting for a playoff spot, to dead last in the East (and some saying dead last in the league). The things we know for sure are that this is a young athletic team that likes to get up and down the court. They are more committed to playing defense than in years past, but staying focused for a full 48 minutes will be a challenge. The team, as currently constructed, is looking at about 22-28 wins this season. If they can move some of the expiring contracts and that massive TPE ($16mil) for some talent, then they could really make a run towards the end of the year."
The Atlantic Division is sure to be a tougher collection of teams this year. The Nets can't do much worse after their 12 win season of a year ago. New Coach Avery Johnson will certainly rally the troops and instill a sense of pride in his young squad. The 76ers, if they remain healthy could be a difficult team to beat on any given night. The Raptors will certainly struggle with their post Chris Bosh roster and will likely win less games than last year. The Celtics are a veteran team that will find a way to win and go deep into the playoffs. As for the Knicks, with everything that we think we know about this team they still remain a mystery. Only time will tell the true story but you can bet they'll at least earn a few more W's than last year's total.