The NBA is entering a season where there are numerous teams in contention for a championship and even more poised to push for a long playoff run. With the Knicks being perhaps the only team in the division out of contention, the Atlantic Division features some heavy hitters.
In a league built on stars, the Atlantic has All-Stars in Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons. There’s also players on the rise and poised to eventually make an all-star team in Pascal Siakam and Jayson Tatum.
Player movement is at an all-time high, so don’t expect any of these teams to look exactly the same five years from now. All five teams in the division feature interesting rosters with numerous questions about how they look currently, as well as where they will be in the next five years.
1. Philadelphia 76ers
Philadelphia doesn’t have a multitude of proven young players, but they do have two of the brightest young stars in the NBA in Joel Embiid (25) and Ben Simmons (23). Embiid and Simmons are the new age version of Shaquille O’Neal and Penny Hardaway.
One of the big questions surrounding Philadelphia is what this new team will look like after adding veteran Al Horford and Josh Richardson in the offseason. There has always been questions about the fit of Embiid and Simmons because of Simmons’ lack of perimeter shooting clashing with Embiid’s post game. After Simmons (11.6 points and 4.9 assists) struggled in the second round playoff loss to the Toronto Raptors, the noise surrounding Embiid and Simmons’ fit only grew louder.
Still, Embiid and Simmons are top-20 level talents, and-barring injury-will keep the 76ers in the title discussion for years to come. It’s easy to forget that they were a miraculous Kawhi Leonard jump shot away from the Conference Finals. With Embiid and Simmons signed through 2023 and 2025 respectively, the Sixers will have a significant amount of time to figure out if the two stars are an ideal fit and what players best complement the duo.
2. Boston Celtics
After the Boston Celtics lost Kyrie Irving and Horford in free agency, the team rebounded quickly, acquiring Kemba Walker. At 21 years of age, Tatum is the crown jewel of Boston’s future plans. He had an impressive rookie year, but didn’t make the superstar leap that many expected in his sophomore year. Jaylen Brown (22) and Marcus Smart (25) are crucial to Boston’s team staying in the playoff hunt this season.
Boston has three impressive rookies in Romeo Langford, Grant Williams and Carsen Edwards. Boston will need one or two of these players to contribute to a Celtics squad lacking depth compared to previous seasons.
In terms of assets, the Celtics still own all their first round picks plus the rights to two future first rounders from the Memphis Grizzlies and Milwaukee Bucks. The Grizzlies pick could become important for Boston as a trade chip down the road.
3. New York Knicks
The Knicks are in an interesting spot. They have the most players under 25 (11) of any Atlantic Division team, but don’t have a proven young talent capable of carrying the team to wins. Still, this is an interesting roster composed of young veterans under 25 like Julius Randle and Elfrid Payton. Mixed in with homegrown talent including R.J. Barrett (19), Kevin Knox (20) and Mitchell Robinson (21), the Knicks have a talented young core. Add in the fact that the Knicks have all of their own first round picks, and there is cause for celebration.
New York’s outlook in five years is positive if they continue to build through the draft and make shrewd free agent signings. That is a realistic outlook, but have the Knicks ever been realistic? New York has been consumed with the pursuit of superstar free agents, and that should carry on forever until they actually land that big fish. After seeing the Los Angeles Lakers demolish a young core that featured Randle among others to pursue LeBron James and Anthony Davis, can we say that any of the Knicks’ young core is truly safe in five years?
4. Toronto Raptors
The Raptors are in a unique position heading into the 2019-20 season. The team lost superstar Leonard in free agency, but will still be “defending” a championship. Expected to be in contention for homecourt advantage in the first round, the Raptors have a peculiar team with veterans Marc Gasol, Kyle Lowry and Serge Ibaka mixed into a relatively young roster.
At 25 years old, Siakam will bridge the gap between Toronto’s past and future. Though he is an extension candidate and a possible future restricted free agent next summer, Siakam is likely to stay. Siakam is the reigning Most Improved Player and has a chance to cement himself as Toronto’s cornerstone of the future. Also in the mix are key cogs Fred Van Vleet (25) and OG Anunoby (22). Besides that group, the Raptors have several young players including former first round picks turned reclamation projects Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and Stanley Johnson.
5. Brooklyn Nets
The Nets were one of the winners of the 2019 offseason. Signing Kevin Durant and Irving in free agency solidified Brooklyn as a prime free agent destination. Durant’s on the mend from a torn Achilles tendon, so the Nets carry measured expectations coming into the 2019-20 season.
Though you can’t blame the Nets for signing Durant, Irving and DeAndre Jordan, they have a shaky foundation for their future. In five years, Durant will be approaching 36 and Irving will be 32. Caris LeVert (25) was Brooklyn’s best player up until his gruesome ankle injury suffered in November. When he returned from injury in February, LeVert struggled, but he came alive in the playoffs with 21 points, 4.6 rebounds and 3.0 assists in Brooklyn’s first round series against the 76ers.
After signing a three-year, $52 million extension with Brooklyn, LeVert is expected to play a major role in helping Brooklyn progress to contender status. Jarrett Allen (21) has developed into an important player in Brooklyn’s future, as well. Allen is likely to have the edge on starting for the team this year over Jordan and is the team’s center of the future.