by user Cpchrist

With the final playoff spots in each conference sewn up, and the remaining games being rendered pretty meaningless, it seems like a great time to look back at the season that was, reflecting on what we have learned about each team and their respective personnel, while also looking ahead at what we may expect in the coming year for those teams that did not make the playoffs. Today we’ll start with the Atlantic Division.

Boston Celtics

What We’ve Learned: Paul Pierce is a helluva player. For about 2-3 weeks in February, Pierce was the best player in the league, and it seemed like he was going to carry the Celtics into the playoffs. Unfortunately, GM Danny Ainge has surrounded Pierce with a squad that’s too young to contend right now, even in the laughable East. But Pierce definitely showed that he’s a keeper and hopefully silenced all of the trade rumors that have surrounded him for two years. Also, Brian Scalebrine was paid $2.5 million this season to set picks and, uh, that’s about it. Great signing.

What Lies Ahead: With another year’s experience and a full training camp to fully acclimate to having Wally Szczerbiak on the squad, the Celtics should compete for a playoff spot. Delonte West is one of the better young point guards in the league, and Al Jefferson has already shown than he can be a force on offense. The next step for Jefferson is learning how to rotate on D and stay out of foul trouble so he can be on the floor for more than 18 minutes a game. Ryan Gomes will level out, if not decline a little, but will still be a solid player, while Gerald Green will be given more of an opportunity to live up to the hype surrounding him leading up to last year’s draft. Finally, Scalebrine will get a raise to $2.7 million, which he’ll hopefully earn by developing innovative new ways to set picks in the off-season.

New Jersey Nets

What We’ve Learned: Much like the last of the Lakers recent championship teams and the second Houston Rockets championship team, the Nets have a switch that they can flip on at will. On March 7, the Nets were 32-28 and had lost 5 of their last 6. Starting on March 12, the Nets decided not to lose again until April 8, a 14 game winning streak that included wins at Detroit and over Phoenix and Miami at home. And when they finally did lose again, it just so happened to be the game after they had already clinched the division title. Switch off. I am fully confident that the Nets will be able to flip the switch back on and cruise past whoever they play out of the Wizards/Bulls/Bucks/Pacers mess and then give the Heat a scare, if not outright beat them. That’s where the ride will end, however, because a team that revolves around a big softie like Vince Carter will never, ever beat a team like Detroit. (If you don’t believe how soft Vince Carter is, watch game tape—wherever you can get that from—of the Nets’ loss to the Cavs that ended New Jersey’s win streak. All game long, Carter was driving at will, getting to the hole whenever he wanted. With a minute left and the Nets up by two, Carter drove again. This time, Eric Snow slapped the ball out of his hands, leading to the play of the season by LeBron James on the other end. On the Nets’ last two possessions, Carter again had Snow isolated with an opportunity to get to the hole. Instead, Vince threw up two fade away jumpers, the last an air-balled three that essentially ended the game. If you cough on the man when he drives the lane, he will never enter it again for the rest of the game, or, when it comes playoff time, the rest of the series.)

New York Knicks

What We’ve Learned: Building a team around Stephon Marbury is a terrible idea. Adding Jalen Rose to the mix is a worse idea. Bringing Steve Francis into the fold is so bad it makes you pine for the glory days of Larry Johnson, Glen Rice, and Luc Longley. Honestly, I don’t even have to write anything for them. You’ve heard it all. You’ve thought it all. None of it is good. Early on, Channing Frye was a bright spot, but I haven’t heard his name in 3 months. Nate Robinson won the dunk contest, but the only thing anyone will remember about that is his winning dunk took 45 minutes to do. Larry Brown is old, overrated, or both, but either way his legacy is tarnished forever. And even if Portland ends up with the worse record, this Knicks team will be remembered as one of the all-time worst, joining the likes of the 72-73 76ers, the 81-82 Cavs, the 97-98 Nuggets, and the 2000-2001 Bulls.

What Lies Ahead: More of the same, I’m afraid. Marbury has to be moved, even if you only get Brian Scalebrine in return. Same for Jamal Crawford. His little string of game-winning shots at the end of the season has his trade stock high, so this is probably the best chance Isaiah will have to move him. Then build the team around Rose and Francis, and hope Frye, Robinson, and David Lee develop into something more than New York hype. That should be good for 30-35 wins, which just may get you the eight spot in the exciting new East.

Philadelphia 76ers

What We’ve Learned: Billy King doesn’t know what he’s doing. Larry Brown or Pat Croce (I don’t really know who had control over personnel between the two of them) already had provided a template for how to build a winner around Allen Iverson: surround him with rugged defenders and rebounders who’s only two jobs on offense are to not turn it over and to stay out of AI’s way. Instead, King decided to add Chris Webber, who is an extremely talented player even with one leg but who unfortunately does none of the things needed to be on a successful AI-led team. He then fell in love with his young players, none of whom fit the tough defender (Aaron McKie, Dikembe Mutumbo)/rugged rebounder (Tyrone Hill, Mutumbo)/place-holder on offense (Eric Snow, Mutumbo) mold of AI’s best teammates, and who actually show little promise in other areas, either. The exception to this, of course, is Andre Iguodala, who has shown he can play D and has the perfect offensive game to fit in with Iverson. Besides the other AI, though, the Sixers are left with a peg-legged Webber, an ungodly post combo of Steven Hunter and Stephen Dalembert, and Ashton Kutcher wasting the prime of one of the 20 greatest players ever. Also, Jamal Mashburn made over $10 million this season, and I don’t even know if he’s still alive, let alone playing basketball.

What Lies Ahead: I know everybody wants them to trade AI, but to who? What team that actually has anything to offer in return can integrate him into their current scheme? I doubt teams trying to build around young nuclei want AI hoisting the ball 31 times a game while their young stud on the block is relegated to put backs and fast-break dunks. I know Iverson’s a warrior and the ultimate competitor, but adjusting to his unique game would take his new team at least two seasons, and by that time his game would undoubtedly be fading. The only answer, if he must be traded, would be the Knicks, simply because they don’t have a system to begin with. That way, AI can shoot 45 times a game while being reunited with Coach Brown, who by this point would be completely cationic on the sidelines, until he comes to as Isaiah Thomas is about to win Executive of the Year for stealing AI from Philly, much like Richard Dreyfus’s character in What About Bob? when Bill Murray is about to marry Dreyfus’s sister. As for the Sixers, they will again pay Mashburn over $10 million in 2006-07.

Toronto Raptors

What We’ve Learned: Chris Bosh is a few nationally televised games away from joining LeBron, Dwayne, and Carmelo on the first-tier of the amazing 2003 draft class. Toronto had better offer him a penthouse on top of the CN Tower to make sure he stays. Also, Rob Babcock may not have been that bad of a GM after all. He drafted Bosh, traded Rafer Alston for Mike James (but to be fair, he did sign Alston in the first place), and drafted Charlie Villanueva, this year’s second best rookie. Still, the choice of Bryan Colangelo over Babcock is an easy one, and I have no doubt that Toronto knew Colangelo was coming before firing Babcock. Also, the Raptors gave up 81 points in a game on January 22—to one player! Ouch.

What Lies Ahead: Really, the Raptors are only a point guard and a center away from being legitimate playoff contenders. Unfortunately, those are the two hardest positions to fill. One will probably be filled through the draft, and I could really see Joakim Noah fitting in if he declares and if the Raptors are in position to draft him. Also, Morris Peterson seems to me to be perfect sixth man material, much in the mold of Mike Miller, if the Raptors could add a more dynamic scorer to start in his place. Finally, I just have a feeling that Villanueva’s going to have a sophomore slump with all of the positive press he’s gotten from this season. Even if he doesn’t slump, I can’t see him staying at the three long-term for the obvious defensive problems it causes.

I’ll be back later with a season review of the Central.


Mon 04/17/06, 10:09 pm EST

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