By Joe DeAndrea
The 2013-2014 NBA season is officially underway. The main storylines coming into this year is led by the return of Chicago Bulls point guard Derrick Rose, but the Houston Rockets’ acquisition of Dwight Howard and the Miami Heat’s road to their third straight championship are certainly up there with what will be filling SportsCenter’s headlines. However, underneath it all, there are 27 other teams ready to make an impact this season — but just how big of an impact will they make? Will each team make the adjustments needed in order to reach the next level? Whatever this season has in store, we’re going to be in for a wild next six months.
The Nets made all the right moves after relocating to Brooklyn from New Jersey back in 2012, but the inaugural first season at their new location didn’t go as great as they probably expected. A new $1 billion arena and marketing schemes that made Brooklyn known worldwide all seemed nice on paper, but the Nets struggled last season with coaching issues and bench depth, which ultimately led to their demise when they lost in the playoffs against a depleted Bulls team. Granted, the Nets did finish with 49 wins — their most since 2006 — but they lacked the fire that was needed to push them to the next level. As a result, Nets personnel knew changes had to be made, and what appeared to be just another off-season ended up changing the face of the franchise forever.
On Jun. 12, the Nets made a controversial decision to hire Jason Kidd as their new head coach, replacing their former interim coach P.J. Carlesimo. Kidd, who had retired from the NBA only a week before taking the coaching job, previously played for the Nets for seven seasons and led the squad to appearances in two NBA Finals.
General manager Billy King wasn’t done making moves just yet. On Jun. 27, the Nets agreed in principle to a blockbuster trade with the Boston Celtics that would send Jason Terry and sure-fire Hall of Famers Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett to Brooklyn. Additional acquisitions included former All-Star Andrei Kirilenko, Alan Anderson and Shaun Livingston, rounding out a roster that filled all of the gaps that previous Nets line-ups were missing.
With Garnett and Pierce’s leadership paving the way for point guard Deron Williams and center Brook Lopez to run the show this year in Brooklyn, the question is raised about just how far this team can go into the playoffs. Garnett and Pierce are at the ages of 37 and 36, respectively, so their minutes are going to have to be managed strictly in order to keep their play in tact for all 82 games. This means that the Nets’ bench will have to keep the pace going when starters are resting if they want any chance for success this year.
On the coaching side, Kidd must use the strategies and knowledge from his illustrious 21 season career as a player to take control of the court from the sidelines — but just how well can the skills with a ball in his hand translate to a clipboard? While all of this will be answered throughout the year, it’s no question that the Brooklyn Nets have the potential to emerge as one of the top teams in not only the East, but the entire league as a whole.
Prediction: 56-26, 3rd in the Eastern Conference
New York Knicks
The New York Knicks notched their first Atlantic division title since the 1993 season last year, and also went on to win their first playoff series since 1999. Their leading man Carmelo Anthony dominated the NBA in points and won the league’s scoring title, his first of his career. All seemed right in Knick land until they were knocked out in the second round of the playoffs by the Indiana Pacers, sending a promising season back to square one and the Knicks back to the drawing board.
In the following off-season, the Knicks used their first round draft pick to draft Tim Hardaway Jr., shooting guard out of the University of Michigan. Hardaway Jr. saw plenty of minutes during the pre-season and capitalized on them, averaging 13 points per game while shooting a cool 40 percent from three-point range.
Additionally, the Knicks also traded for Toronto Raptors center Andrea Bargnani and managed to sign free agents like their own J.R. Smith and Pablo Prigioni, as well as former Laker Metta World Peace. However, what the off-season didn’t fix was the Knicks’ roster and its injury-prone players. Power forward Amar’e Stoudemire is dealing with his chronic knee issues, while guards Iman Shumpert and Raymond Felton are nursing injuries of their own in their knee and hamstring, respectively.
Though there are bright spots with this New York franchise, their success will all boil down to whether or not the squad can stay healthy, and Anthony’s decision to stay with the team past this season will absolutely ride on how the Knicks fair against the rest of the Eastern Conference. If things take a turn for the worst, the Knicks will have bigger things to worry about than injuries when they’re chasing their star player in free agency.
Prediction: 43-39, 5th in the Eastern Conference
Last year marked the end of an era in Boston, where a franchise that were favorites for deep runs in the playoffs became a team on the brink of rebuilding. For this season, the Celtics’ rebuilding mode is in full swing.
After losing Rajon Rondo to an ACL injury in Jan. 2013, the Celtics found themselves without their star point guard for the rest of the second half of the season. Though Boston barely snatched a seventh spot in the playoffs, they were knocked out of the running when the Knicks defeated them in six games.
Boston underwent an entire overhaul during the following off-season, starting with the departure of head coach Doc Rivers. Rivers, who was previously with the Celtics for nine years, left to coach the Los Angeles Clippers and was subsequently replaced by former Butler University coach Brad Stevens. In the summer’s massive trade with the Brooklyn Nets, Boston acquired Kris Humphries, Gerald Wallace, MarShon Brooks and Keith Bogans, while they had to cut ties with their centerpieces of their franchise in Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett.
Starting the season, Boston will be running with a lineup that is widely inexperienced. Brooks, in his third season of his career, shows promise but struggles with shot selection and turnovers. 22-year-old Avery Bradley, who will be taking over starting point guard duties in place of Rondo, will have to improve his assist rate to set his shooters up with better shots. On the bright side, Boston has been praised for their selection of center Kelly Olynyk, who has been widely regarded as the biggest steal of the 2013 draft.
While Boston does have their fair share of veterans, such as ex-Nets Wallace, Humphries and Bogans, they are on the latter half of a productive playing career; their input on the court will be miniscule at best. Though their leadership qualities will be valuable to the younger players, it doesn’t hold a candle to the influence that Garnett and Pierce had when they were running things in Boston themselves.
Rondo is expected back from injury before Christmas, but there’s no telling what impact he’ll have on the floor, and whether or not the four-time All-Star will want to seek a trade to another team upon his return.
Additionally, coach Stevens will be tasked with the duties of translating his college coaching to a professional level, and the rest of the roster will just have to do what they can in order to string together as many wins as possible. Though the Celtics’ championship window is now closed tight, it’ll surely open again in the future, but definitely not any time soon.
Prediction: 29-53, 12th in the Eastern Conference