The 2021-22 NBA season begins this week with a normal schedule following last year’s pandemic-shortened campaign.
Here is a rundown of the division’s five teams, their moves this offseason, and what to expect from them come playoff time...
Coming off a disappointing postseason exit, New York added reliable offensive options in hopes they could punch up their scoring without sacrificing too much of its stellar defense. The Knicks still have much to prove after last year’s surprise run, but whether they finish second or fourth in their division, it’s the playoffs that really matter.
The rest of the roster is mostly the same, a nice measure of continuity and depth.
The Knicks seem to struggle against Philadelphia and don’t come close to Brooklyn’s star power, but play every team tough.
How their defense holds up and how their pieces develop over the season will determine just how tough they can be.
The league’s most threatening title contender since trading for James Harden last season isn’t quite the juggernaut we expected coming into this year. With Kyrie Irving, one of their three core stars, out indefinitely due to his vaccination status and the city’s mandate, Brooklyn can no longer claim to be in a league of its own.
Still, the Nets are poised to finish atop the East behind Kevin Durant and Harden, along with a myriad of new additions. Patty Mills, Cam Thomas, and Jevon Carter bring options to the backcourt, while their beefed up frontcourt includes the newly signed Paul Millsap, James Johnson, and LaMarcus Aldridge.
The defining questions of Brooklyn’s season will continue to be how the Irving situation unfolds and how their health holds up. Even if the former isn’t resolved, Durant and Harden are a championship duo should they stay healthy through the playoffs. This team isn’t invincible, but they’re well ahead of the rest of their division, and maybe the league.
Similarly to the Nets, the 76ers find themselves in a predicament with their star point guard. Ben Simmons requested a trade over the offseason and didn’t report to the team until last week, leaving his role unclear entering the season.
However that clash resolves itself, the Sixers should continue to be dominant behind essentially the same roster from last season. Led by Joel Embiid, who finished second in MVP voting, and Doc Rivers, one of the league’s top coaches, this is a strong roster from top to bottom.
With Simmons or an equally talented trade package, the Sixers have the best chance to finish second in the division behind Brooklyn or upend them entirely if things break a certain way. Not having him in the mix would put a ton on Embiid and second-year guard Tyrese Maxey. Still, expect them to be a force in this division.
The more things change, the more they stay the same. An appropriate motto for the Celtics, coming into this season with an upended roster and front office, but ultimately relying on Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown, and Marcus Smart to lead them to the promised land.
Leading them from the sidelines is new head coach Ime Udoka, and surrounding them on the court iare a cast of faces new and old.
Al Horford makes his return to the green and white after a quietly solid season in Oklahoma City. Also joining the fray are Dennis Schroder and Josh Richardson, both looking to prove their worth after a big pay cut and rocky season, respectively.
Fans can expect Tatum and Brown to continue their ascent, but this Celtics season comes down to how their younger pieces develop, and if any of them can step up to contribute at a high level in the playoffs.
Robert Williams, Payton Pritchard , and Aaron Nesmith are great prospects, but will they be ready to win games if guys go down in the regular season, or win their minutes in the playoffs?
For the weakest team in the division, it’s a deathly mistake to fully count the Raptors out. They may be well removed from their 2019 championship roster, but boast a young, feisty roster and a coach who can get the most out of them.
Their biggest move this offseason was the loss of a franchise legend and All-Star caliber point guard in Kyle Lowry. Replacing him are Goran Dragic and Precious Achiuwa -- solid pieces.
Perhaps their best acquisition was via the draft, when they selected Scottie Barnes, an uber-dynamic forward who should contribute out of the gates.
There is a scenario where everything clicks and names like Fred VanVleet, Pascal Siakam, and OG Anunoby have career years, leading to a postseason berth. Unfortunately, it will take close to everything clicking for that to happen. Still, these guys won’t be pushovers, even against this division’s finest.