Offseason Checkup: Atlantic Division

Offseason Checkup: Atlantic Division

This article is part of our Offseason Checkup series.

BOSTON CELTICS (40-42)

Free agents: Brandon Bass, Jae Crowder (restricted), Luigi Datome (restricted), Jonas Jerebko
2015 draft picks: 16, 28 (via LAC), 33 (via MIA from PHI), 45

OFFSEASON NEEDS
Rim protection is the glaring need for a team that probably overachieved on both sides of the ball in Year 2 under Brad Stevens. Jared Sullinger, Tyler Zeller and Kelly Olynyk are building blocks, but of the three only Zeller has shown flashes of above-average interior defense. Boston blocked fewer shots than any team in the league and allowed the fifth-most points in the paint last season, which makes their adjusted defensive rating of 105.58 (13th) all the more impressive.

With a wealth of cap room and Brandon Bass likely moving on, the Celtics will have the resources and available minutes to make an addition this summer. The question is who that addition might be. Kevin Love will be the highest-profile target, but he doesn't fit the mold of what they're looking for defensively (not that that will be much of a deterrent). DeAndre Jordan and Marc Gasol are the biggest prizes from a defensive standpoint, but it's hard to imagine Gasol leaving Memphis, and the Clippers have already made clear that they'll throw Jordan the five-year max. Assuming Gasol and Jordan aren't realistic options, GM Danny Ainge may have to dip into the next tier of available centers and consider names like Omer Asik and Robin Lopez. Both players will be unrestricted free agents come July and both would come at a much cheaper cost than Jordan or Gasol.

DRAFT OUTLOOK
With three of the first 33 picks in the draft, Boston will have an opportunity to grab an impact player, even if all three of those picks fall outside the top 15. In a top-heavy class, it will be difficult to snag an impact center at No. 16, so the Celtics will likely look elsewhere. Outside shooting is another need – the Celtics ranked 27th in 3-point percentage – as is slashing ability on the wing (27th in free throw attempts). Kelly Oubre (Kansas) would fill both of those needs, but he's a similar player to last year's 17th overall pick, James Young, who is expected to step into a bigger role after playing only 31 games as a rookie. Devin Booker is an even better shooter than Oubre, but it's a crapshoot as to whether he'll be available at 16. With multiple picks, the Celtics could look to move up, and they'll likely be busy making and taking calls on draft night. A report last month suggested Willie Cauley-Stein is the apple of Danny Ainge's eye, so if a trade does occur, the versatile Kentucky big man may be the target.

BROOKLYN NETS (38-44)

Free agents:Alan Anderson (player option), Jerome Jordan (restricted), Brook Lopez (player option), Mirza Teletovic (restricted), Thaddeus Young (early termination option)
Draft picks: 29 (via ATL), 41

OFFSEASON NEEDS
ESPN's Marc Stein summed up the Nets' predicament entering this offseason perfectly: "What's clear is Brooklyn somehow needs to get younger, even as we concede there is no clear-cut path to achieving that goal."

Reckless spending and aggressive, shortsighted moves over the past few seasons have finally caught up to the franchise, and the Nets, fresh off of a third straight playoff berth, find themselves in a wholly undesirable situation entering the summer. An aging roster is in desperate need of upgrades at almost every position, but the Nets simply don't have the immediate cap flexibility to make those upgrades.

Deron Williams' deal with the devil doesn't come off the books until the summer of 2017, making the remaining $43.4 million he's owed as close to untradeable as it gets. As Stein noted, GM Billy King could channel his inner Stan Van Gundy and use the stretch provision to waive the final two years of Williams' deal (King has since said the Nets will not waive Williams). While that would reduce his year-to-year cap hit, the Nets would still be paying Williams close to $9 million per year not to play for them for the next five seasons. And it's worth noting that Williams still holds some value for this team. Is he worth anywhere close to the money he'll receive? No. But his mediocre play also isn't killing the Nets, and they really don't have other options outside of waiving him. It's a bad situation, to be sure, but it could be worse.

Assuming Williams and expiring-to-be Joe Johnson return next season, Brooklyn's ability to make moves will come down to the futures of Brook Lopez and Thaddeus Young. Both hold options for next season, and as of early-June it remains unclear whether each player will be back. Lopez can opt in for a hearty $16.7 million next season, but some believe he'll decline the lucrative option in hopes of parlaying a strong second half into a longer-term deal. Young, who can opt in for around $10 million, could do the same, though he doesn't stand to gain quite as much as Lopez. Regardless, if both players return, the Nets will essentially be relegated to making only ancillary moves. Considering this is very much a playoff-caliber roster in the East, that might be for the best in the short-term considering the Nets would prefer to avoid handing a high lottery pick to a division foe in 2016.

DRAFT OUTLOOK
Brooklyn has been reluctant as any team to build through the draft since moving across town, and for better or for worse that won't change anytime soon. The Nets' immediate draft future is, to put it lightly, bleak.

The 60-win Hawks have the right to swap first-rounders on June 25, so that will move the Nets from the 15th pick all the way down to No. 29. In 2016, Brooklyn sends its first-round pick (unprotected) to Boston. The following year, Boston holds the right to swap first-rounders. And in 2018, the Nets send another unprotected first-rounder to the Celtics. In retrospect, trading for a past-his-prime Paul Pierce and a come-on-what-are-you-doing-he's-way-past-his-prime Kevin Garnett may not have been the right moves after all.

Of course, there's always the possibility that moves could be made to acquire picks, but as things currently stand the Nets are not in position to bring in high-end talent via the draft. Brooklyn will have to do something with that 29th pick, though, and given its position at the back end of the first round, they'll likely look to grab the best player available.

NEW YORK KNICKS (17-65)

Free agents:Quincy Acy (restricted), Cole Aldrich, Lou Amundson, Andrea Bargnani, Shane Larkin, Alexey Shved (restricted), Jason Smith, Lance Thomas, Travis Wear (restricted)
Draft picks: 4

OFFSEASON NEEDS
Take a quick glance at the list above, and it's obvious that the Knicks' roster could look quite a bit different by the time October rolls around. With several middling players set to come off the books, New York will have room to play with, but it remains to be seen just how drastic of an overhaul Phil Jackson will be able to pull off after bottoming out with 17 wins in 2014-15.

Carmelo Anthony is the obvious franchise building block, and the arrival of a No. 4 overall pick will add intrigue, but where do the Knicks turn to fill the rest of their many remaining needs? Ideally, that No. 4 pick would have fallen in the top two, like it was supposed to, bringing with it the chance to select a potential franchise center in Karl Towns or Jahlil Okafor. Both players, for different reasons, are appealing fits for Jackson's Triangle, but they'll likely be off the board before the Knicks are on the clock. So if New York is to make a major frontcourt upgrade, it will have to come via free agency.

Marc Gasol and DeAndre Jordan will be the two biggest names on the market, but outside of the allure of New York City itself, the Knicks don't have a whole lot to offer. Gasol will be difficult to pry away from his adopted hometown, and Jordan, given his limited offensive repertoire and so-so passing, isn't an ideal fit for the Triangle. The Knicks have been linked to Pistons free-agent-to-be Greg Monroe for nearly two months now, and he still seems like the most likely candidate to sign this offseason. Monroe won't come cheap, but he's a proven commodity who fits the system.

If Monroe signs, the Knicks would still have some cap room to play with to fill in the remaining role player spots. The targets are not yet clear, but adding wing and backcourt depth will be priorities following the mid-season trade of Iman Shumpert and J.R. Smith. The Knicks attempted the second-fewest free throws in the league last season. Getting Anthony back at full strength will help there, as will adding a more creative slasher or two to the mix.

DRAFT FITS
Had the Knicks' pick landed in the top two, either Towns or Okafor would almost certainly be the pick. But it's the Knicks, so nothing can be that simple. Lottery-night Twitter might have led you to believe otherwise, but New York landing the fourth pick doesn't mean it won't be able to draft a potential franchise building block.

The two coveted big men may be off the board for a team that averaged the fewest points in the paint per game last season, but there have been worse consolations than D'Angelo Russell, Emmanuel Mudiay or Justice Winslow. Russell, the self-proclaimed "best player in the draft," is a fearless floor general and tough shot maker with prototypical size, while Mudiay fared well overseas after a standout, albeit embattled, prep career. And then there's Winslow, perhaps the most polished two-way player in the draft after spending a year winning a title alongside Okafor at Duke. Unless they're truly enamored with Willie Cauley-Stein or Trey Lyles, it's tough to see the Knicks venturing outside of those three prospects at No. 4, especially given the relative unknowns – international prospects Kristaps Porzingis and Mario Hezonia – who sit next up in most draft projections.

PHILADELPHIA 76ERS (18-64)
Free agents:Luc Richard Mbah a Moute, Jason Richardson, Thomas Robinson, Glenn Robinson III (restricted), Henry Sims (restricted), Ish Smith
Draft picks: 3, 35 (via ORL), 37 (via HOU, POR, MIN from DEN), 47 (via WAS, LAC from NO), 58 (via HOU), 60 (via IND from GS)

OFFSEASON NEEDS
No one is quite sure how long the Sam Hinkie rebuilding experiment will last, but the 76ers remain firmly in the middle of it after an 18-win 2014-15 campaign. The scale of Philadelphia's rebuild is unprecedented, and it's not immediately clear that the team has made major strides in a year's time. It may be a while before we know if the Michael Carter-Williams trade was the right move, but at least in immediate hindsight it left the 76ers with one fewer future asset. Of course, Philadelphia returned a first-round pick (via the Lakers) in the deal, but that pick has since deferred to 2016, and the Lakers should field something that more closely resembles an NBA team next season when the pick is top-3 protected.

So the future now rests in the (very large) hands of Nerlens Noel and Joel Embiid. A possible twin towers lineup is a tantalizing possibility, but Noel remains limited offensively and Embiid is yet to log an NBA minute after missing all of what would have been his rookie year with a foot injury. The arrival of high-upside swingman Dario Saric is on the horizon as well, but at this point it seems unlikely he's with the team before the summer of 2016.

Despite having loads of cap room, the Sixers aren't usually among the teams mentioned in free agency discussions. Perhaps that's because ponying up for a veteran would seem to go against Hinkie's grassroots principles, but could this be the summer Philly makes a splash? It's a complicated question. The Sixers will have less than $27 million in guaranteed money on the books come July 1. With that kind of flexibility, they could throw big offers at multiple free agents. They're unlikely to chase the big names but could make a run at some Tier 2 and 3 players. Philly is desperate for a talent influx on the wing after ranking second-last in three-point percentage and dead last in shooting percentage at the rim last season. Luc Richard Mbah a Moute and the corpse of Jason Richardson combining to start 76 games may have been a factor, but frankly the other options weren't much more appealing.

Restricted free agents Khris Middleton and Tobias Harris could be options once free agency opens. Both players are young considering their experience – Harris is 22, Middleton is 23 – and neither would eat up coveted max cap space. Middleton is the better defender and three-point shooter of the two, but Harris looks to have a higher ceiling as an all-around player after averaging 17.1 points and 6.3 rebounds while hitting 36.4 percent of his threes in 2014-15.

DRAFT FITS
Picking third for the second year in a row, the Sixers could very well have their choice of the top backcourt and wing prospects in the draft. And with the talent at the top, it will be difficult for Philly to mess this up. D'Angelo Russell has been the hot name since posting a photo with Noel on Instagram last month, and the Ohio State product's probing style would fit well alongside the two young big men. Emmanuel Mudiay and Justice Winslow have also been mentioned, and it wouldn't be surprising if Willie Cauley-Stein's defensive potential forces his name into the conversation.

The scenario in which things get most interesting is if Okafor or Towns were to fall past the Lakers at No. 2. With Noel and Embiid in the mix, would Philadelphia even entertain the possibility of adding another talented center, or moving one of Embiid/Noel to do so?

TORONTO RAPTORS (49-33)
Free agents:Landry Fields, Tyler Hansbrough, Chuck Hayes, Amir Johnson, Greg Stiemsma, Lou Williams
Draft picks: 20

OFFSEASON NEEDS
Toronto is an at albatross this offseason after being ousted in the first round of the playoffs as a home favorite for the second straight season. After racing out to 36 wins by the All-Star break, the Raptors finished the season 13-20 (including playoffs) as Kyle Lowry's body began to break down. But Toronto's troubles extend far beyond Lowry's health. After ranking 10th in defensive efficiency last season, the Raptors tumbled to 25h in 2014-15. Rediscovering a defensive identity must be a priority this offseason, and coach Dwane Casey said as much in his exit interview last month. DeMar DeRozan took a step back after an All-Star campaign in 2013-14, shooting just 41.3 percent from the floor and a dreadful 28.4 percent from three. Jonas Valanciunas was a steady presence inside, but he couldn't be trusted late in games, exposing a severe lack of depth in the frontcourt.

GM Masai Ujiri will have some choices to make this season as he decides which direction to steer one of the league's suddenly up-and-coming, marketable franchises. After signing Lowry to an extension last summer, the 29-year-old point guard, and All-Star starter, is the franchise cornerstone. DeRozan, under contract for a very palatable $19 million over the next two seasons, isn't a bad second option, but his inability to shoot from the outside is a space-killer, especially when paired with the erratic Terrence Ross. Six players from this season's team will be free agents on July 1, with Amir Johnson and Lou Williams being the two big names. Williams, the 2014-15 Sixth Man of the Year, will have no shortage of suitors this summer. He's made it clear he'd like to remain with the Raptors, but it's unclear whether Ujiri will be willing to hand out an offer juicy enough to keep him.

Whether or not Johnson, a fan favorite, will be back is an even more complicated question. The 28-year-old has been a staple of the Raptors' post-Bosh ascent, but he's seemingly peaked as a player as he enters his 11th (!!!) NBA season. Johnson does a lot of things well, but he doesn't have any elite skills. Plus, he's coming off a season in which he posted his lowest per-game blocks (0.8) and rebounds (6.1) numbers since 2010-11. Johnson will likely seek one last big-money deal, and it's hard to make a case that Toronto ponying up the cash to keep him is the right move for the future.

If the Raptors were to move on from both Johnson and Williams, they would have near-max cap space, which could be extended into max territory with a minor move or two (you can find a nice breakdown courtesy of Raptors Republic here). That would put Toronto in play for several Tier 1 and 2 free agents, though it's unclear who Ujiri might have his eye on. If both Johnson and Williams re-up on new deals, the Raptors will be restricted to making only slighter moves to improve the bench. This was a very good team for two-thirds of last season, but would playing it safe and bringing back the same core six players be enough to avoid falling back into the bottom half of the East? The short answer would seem to be "no," but it will be up to Ujiri to decide whether a shake-up is worth the risk of setting back a team that's improved its win total in each of the last five seasons.

DRAFT FITS
At No. 20, the Raptors will probably go with the best player available, but they'll likely favor someone who can help on the glass or as an outside shooter. Arkansas' Bobby Portis is an intriguing fit, as is Arizona's Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, a tenacious defender who can guard three positions. Kelly Oubre would fill the need for a shooter, but he's very similar to Ross, right down to the jaw-dropping athleticism.

The Raptors could also look for point guard to challenge defensive liability Greivis Vasquez for the backup role behind Lowry. In that scenario, both Jerian Grant (Notre Dame) and Delon Wright (Utah) should get looks as experienced college players who are among the most NBA-ready guards in the draft. Louisville Montrezl Harrell is a proven glass-cleaner, but he's slightly undersized, and it's hard to see him unseating a similar player in Patrick Patterson for minutes as a rookie. Toronto will field its own D-League team beginning next season, so going off the board and drafting a project player for a second straight year isn't out of the question, as the franchise will now have more intimate control over player development.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Nick Whalen
RotoWire's NBA Editor and host of the RotoWire NBA Podcast. Nick was awarded the FSWA Best Podcast -- All Sports award in 2017 and 2018. Many years ago, Stromile Swift gave Nick his unbelievably sweaty headband after a preseason game. Despite its failure to match his school colors, Nick went on to wear that headband for the entirety of his sixth grade basketball season. Catch Nick on Twitter @wha1en.
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