To kick off our 2023-2024 NBA season coverage, Back Sports Page will preview all 30 NBA teams for the upcoming year. Different from years past, however, our previews will be put out according to their respective divisions. In our first edition, our staff looked at the Southeast division and broke down each of the five teams.
Once again, the Atlantic division features a litany of playoff teams. Last season, four out of the five made playoffs, with three advancing to the second round. While some things have changed, the landscapes are similar to years past.
Follow along over the next two weeks to see an analysis of the outlooks for teams as they head into the new season.
Boston Celtics Preview
Last Season Record: 57-25, 2nd place in Eastern Conference (Lost in the Eastern Conference Finals to Miami Heat 4-3)
For the fifth time in seven years, the Boston Celtics failed to make it to the NBA Finals and have lost in the Eastern Conference Finals. This past season, they lost to the Miami Heat after almost completing the 3-0 comeback. At home, the Celtics were embarrassed 103-84 in large part due to an awful game from Jaylen Brown. Brown went 8-23 from the field and also had eight turnovers. It is embarrassing to have as many field goals as turnovers, especially for an elite player like Brown.
Everyone was having a field day on social media clowning Brown for his turnovers and his ability, or inability, for that matter, to dribble with his left hand as it happened in the previous playoffs, and he was targeted by the Heat. Also, he just signed an extension, making him the highest-paid basketball player of all time. However, to the Celtics’ credit, they battled through a lot of adversity.
Head coach Joe Mazzulla was elevated abruptly in his first season. Mazzulla, his whole coaching tenure, has always been an assistant, starting out at the Division II level and working his way up to assistant coach of the Celtics since 2019. He showed flashes of being a rookie coach, but with the situation he had to step into, he did fine. The biggest knock on Mazzulla was the lack of playing time Robert Williams got throughout the playoffs. Williams would have helped tremendously on the defensive end as well as rebounds as the Heat were running with a smaller lineup. However, for some reason, Al Horford was the go-to guy, playing 20 more minutes than Williams in Game 7.
The Celtics had one of the more interesting off-seasons in the NBA. They traded for power forward Kristaps Porzingis. In addition to the recently extended Porzingis, they received a 2023 and 2024-first round pick. Adding Porzingis is a fine move. He is a solid two-way player who can be the third scoring option behind Brown and Jayson Tatum. However, the two negatives of getting Porzingis are having to deal with his injury history and, more importantly, trading their defensive anchor, who is one of the best defensive players in the league and the leader of the locker room, Marcus Smart.
The Celtics look to replace Smart with White and Brogdon, as both were double-digit scorers who were also solid defenders. However, seeing how Brogdon will handle almost being traded will be interesting. The Boston Celtics will once again crumble and fail to make it to the NBA Finals.
Brooklyn Nets Preview
Record Last Season: 45-37, 6th place in Eastern Conference (Lost in the first round to Philadelphia 76ers 4-0)
The budding star averaged 26 points a game with the Nets last season while shooting efficiently. The future of the Nets also relies on Ben Simmons. The 27-year-old former All-Star has struggled with his health and shooting. He has the ability to shine with a change of scenery and hopefully return to form as an All-NBA level defender. The Nets hope to return to the playoffs this year while developing their youth and establishing roles. Whether Bridges takes a true step into superstardom will determine how far the Nets can go.
Older talent such as Dorian Finney-Smith and Spencer Dinwiddie have playoff experience. Their leadership is needed for an inexperienced team that does not have defined leaders currently. Defining roles within the offense will be huge for the Nets, as Bridges and Simmons are defining their costar roles within the team. The younger talent is also trying to see how their skill sets best fit the team as well. Cam Thomas has shined in games; whether his role is as a starter or bench spark plug will also be defined this season.
Head coach Jacque Vaughn was great after taking over for Steve Nash early in the season. His ability to identify the best possible lineups and getting the most defensively from his team is a future recipe for success in Brooklyn. The Nets should make the playoffs as a lower seed. However, don’t be surprised if they knock out a favorite in the playoffs.
New York Knicks Preview
Last Season Record: 47-35, 5th place in Eastern Conference (Lost in the second round to Miami Heat 2-4)
Players Added: Donte DiVincenzo
After missing the playoffs in 2022, the Knicks responded by adding fuel to their roster with the signing of point guard Jalen Brunson. Even though he was snubbed of an All-Star and All-NBA appearance, Brunson had a career year averaging 24 points, 6.2 assists, and almost a steal per game. Another Knick, Julius Randle, was an All-NBA member after averaging 25.1 points and 10 rebounds. This Knicks team was going to make the playoffs, but the big question was, would they be a play-in team, or would they be top-six?
The Knicks’ main weaknesses in the playoffs were perimeter defense and three-point shooting. Therefore, a target for them in free agency was a player like Donte DiVincenzo, who averaged over a steal and shot 39.7% from three this past season. DiVincenzo, who is also a former Villanova Wildcat, joins college teammates Brunson and Hart. The Knicks, despite not having a star player, have a balanced and talented enough roster to make it back to the playoffs. Their biggest questions are: can they hang with some of the top teams in the Eastern Conference defensively? Lastly, can their shooters make threes?
Now that the Knicks have three Villanova Wildcats, will the Knicks pursue another one in Mikal Bridges? Back to the task at hand, the Knicks need to figure out who will be the backup power forward after shipping off Obi Toppin to the Indiana Pacers. As of now, Hart is the leading candidate, but his size will be a limiting factor in the post. A player the Knicks could have pursued during free agency was Christian Wood. However, on a more positive note, expect wing Quentin Grimes to have a breakout season for the Knicks. This past season, Grimes had career-highs in points (11.3) and field-goal percentage (46.8), as well as assists and rebounds.
The Knicks will not drastically improve as they are right around the fifth or sixth-best team in the Eastern Conference, but should still make it out of the first round, depending on their matchup. One thing that remains a possibility for the Knicks is acquiring a superstar player to add to their core. The options are increasing by the day as speculation around Donovan Mitchell, Giannis Antetokounmpo, and Joel Embiid have been rumored to be the next ones on the market.
Philadelphia 76ers Preview
Record Last Season: 54-28, 3rd place in Eastern Conference ( Lost in the Second Round vs. the Boston Celtics 3-4)
As presently constructed, the 76ers look like a contender in the Eastern Conference. They appear to have all the ingredients of a championship-caliber roster based on their star power and their supporting cast on paper. Along with that, they hired former Toronto Raptors head coach Nick Nurse. As a coach, he won an NBA Championship in 2019 and Coach of the Year in 2020. He also brings a reputation of player development with him to the City of Brotherly Love.
However, James Harden, before this preview, publicly made comments about general manager Daryl Morey. The All-Star suggested Morey was a “liar” and never wanted to be a part of the same organization he’s a part of. With that in mind, the 76ers are essentially in the same position they were in two seasons ago in terms of one of the team’s top players requesting a trade. In this situation, Harden doesn’t seem to have much leverage for a trade.
They’re still a playoff-caliber team, but reigning MVP Joel Embiid will need to continue to play at an MVP level if they want to avoid the play-in tournament. There will also be more responsibility placed on Tyrese Maxey to become more of a facilitator while also giving them the same scoring production. Without Harden, the 76ers should finish as a top-six seed at worst. However, their finish could also depend on the return they receive in a Harden trade. Nonetheless, time is ticking on Embiid’s championship window in Philadelphia, and could ask to move on if they don’t get the job done this season.
Toronto Raptors Preview
Record Last Season: 41-41 Record, 9th place in Eastern Conference (Lost in the Play-In Tournament vs. the Chicago Bulls)
The Toronto Raptors have appeared to be in a state of limbo in terms of the direction of their organization since the end 2020-2021 season. They’ve made one playoff appearance within the last three seasons. However, fans should expect them to remain competitive and compete for a spot in the third annual Play-In Tournament.
The Raptors have an abundance of wings on their roster and could look to trade two-time All-Star Pascal Siakam along with OG Anunoby and build for the future. Gary Trent Jr. and Jakob Poeltl could also be expendable for contenders trying to add depth to their roster. However, they added 30-year-old veteran Dennis Schroder to replace Fred VanVleet. The latter signed a three-year, $130 million deal with the Houston Rockets. Schroder recently led Germany to a gold medal during the FIBA World Cup. The 11th-year veteran adds playmaking, speed, and aggressive scoring to this young Raptors roster.
As of the writing of this preview, the Raptors are reportedly in the mix to trade for Damian Lillard. A Lillard addition world brings shades of the swing the organization took with Kawhi Leonard a few seasons ago. Toronto would have to part ways with one of their core pieces (plus draft capital). Ultimately, it could be the kind of swing that propels them into the mix of contenders this season.
In terms of the future, the development of third-year forward Scottie Barnes is a situation to monitor, as well as recent draft picks like Christian Koloko and Gradey Dick. The Raptors also hired rookie head coach Darko Rajakovic. Rajakovic spent nine seasons as an assistant coach for the Oklahoma City Thunder, Phoenix Suns, and Memphis Grizzlies. Whether the Raptors decide to remain competitive or rebuild, they aren’t a team to underestimate.
Brian Ramos is a contributor on Back Sports Page. Along with receiving his B.A. in Sports Communications, he has over four years of experience in the sports industry and has interviewed a variety of people in the sports industry, such as Mac McClung, Julius Randle, Bobby Portis, Don La Greca, Adam Schefter, and others. In addition, to writing, Ramos has called women’s lacrosse and baseball on ESPN+. Ramos has a podcast on YouTube called Cut The Nets, along with his co-host Jeremy Gretzer. You can find Brian on Instagram at @Brian.ramos0219 and Twitter at @brianramos0219.
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