by Lang Whitaker

A few years ago, I came up with the idea of running individual NBA team previews on The Links, and having each team’s preview written by a fan of that team. Nowadays, all the fans have their own blogs, and every NBA site (including ours, thank you) has been having fans/bloggers review their team’s chances for the upcoming year.

So in order to flip the script a little, I’m going to do quick NBA previews for each division. I wrote a gargantuan NBA preview in SLAM 103 (on newstands now!), and I’m using the illustrations from that issue here (drawn by the terrific Mike T).

If you want to read my full predictions and thoughts you’ve gotta go buy the magazine. But here’s how I ranked them and why.

Today, the Atlantic Division…

How I picked it in the magazine:
1) New Jersey Nets
2) Boston Celtics
3) Toronto Raptors
4) New York Knicks
5) Philadephia 76ers

Why I picked them that way:
To be honest, I’m still not convinced of the Nets’ depth, but they’ve obviously got the best starting five in the division. I also really like Li’l Lawrence Frank, and I don’t think anyone else in this division will outcoach or outprepare him.

With the Celts, they’ve got so much young talent, and Paul Pierce really came into his own last year…I just think this is the year it finally clicks for them and they figure out what kind of team they are. I don’t know what to make of Linkstigator Doc Rivers, though — has a coach ever gone from Coach of the Year to butt of jokes so quickly? I’m giving Doc the benefit of the doubt here, strictly based on his performance in the Atlanta’s Air Force video.

I like what the Raptors are doing, assembling a team that can really get up and down the floor, almost trying to replicate the Suns. Two things jump out at me though: 1) They don’t have Steve Nash; 2) They don’t have Mike D’Antoni. Can Sam Mitchell go from running the same play over and over every game to having a diverse, multi-faceted attack?

We commissioned this picture of Isiah Thomas to illustrate what the Knicks seemed to be doing the last few years — seemingly assembling players at random — although I point out in the mag that we’re not sure how much of that was Larry Brown’s doing, either. Either way, there’s a lot of talent on that roster, and I don’t see how they can’t be better than they were a year ago.

Finally, the Sixers. Khalid wasn’t happy with this, but they’re an aging team, they’re up for sale, and they didn’t really do anything major in the offseason. If Iverson and Webber both stay healthy all year, they might hit 40 wins. But really, what are the odds of that happening?