The NBA completely reshaped itself in a little over a week's time, shifting the balance of power in dramatic ways for years to come.
Gone are the days of the unbeatable Golden State Warriors, ditto for the Russell Westbrook-led Oklahoma City Thunder and fledgling Los Angeles Clippers. The Knicks have seen similar changes in their own neighborhood, as the splash the Brooklyn Nets made in free agency has made the Atlantic Division no walk in Central Park.
Here are the starting lineups each team in the revamped Atlantic Division could roll out come October, ranked, and how the Nets stack up:
1. Philadelphia 76ers
The Sixers have retooled and cemented themselves atop the Atlantic Division with their new-look lineup ousting Jimmy Butler and bringing in Al Horford. They also gave up J.J. Redick to the New Orleans and Pelicans, but got back Josh Richardson in the Butler deal with Miami. This lineup will likely be the toughest to score on in the NBA, and maybe the toughest to survive in a full playoffs series.
Horford and Joel Embiid sharing the frontcourt is not an image basketball observers expected. The two will spend much of their time with the other on the bench, backing each other up and ensuring a constant physical presence in the paint. Come winning time they'll likely share the floor, which may take some time to get right. Both have three-point distance and can step out and guard smaller forwards, it's just a matter of how much of both they can bring, simultaneously, for however many minutes at a time.
If this is the biggest hiccup on this team, they'll be tough to stop. There are still some questions about Ben Simmons, but they aren't regular season questions. This is a 50+ win team, easily.
2. Boston Celtics
The Celtics are another playoff team returning with a noticeably weaker on-paper roster. Kyrie Irving left town to be replaced by Kemba Walker, a similarly scintillating, but short a tier of stardom point guard. Al Horford also skipped out, bringing in former Knick Enes Kanter to man the center position.
It's hard to tell how the Celtics respond in the win column. Last year featured a great deal of distractions: Irving's outburst and comments to the media, Gordon Hayward rehabbing and constant lineup changes to name a few. Things could be considered simpler this season, though making up for Horford's defense in the frontcourt is going to be a serious challenge. Then there's Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown - Boston's two top prospects who stole the stage in the 2018 playoffs before losing chances with Irving in town. Give them more opportunities and what do they make of themselves in year three?
3. Brooklyn Nets
So, the Nets had a solid summer. In case you somehow missed it, Irving is now a Net, along with Kevin Durant, who will likely join the lineup in 2020-2021 following the rehab of his Achilles' tear. Brooklyn did not have to get rid of much talent to make these moves happen, leaving a formidable postseason team ready for this season.
Perhaps the easiest method for gauging how the Nets will do is to look at last year after the initial losses - replacing D'Angelo Russell with Irving, then adding plus-one offseason's worth of improvement to guys like Joe Harris, Caris LeVert and Jarrett Allen. They'll have depth off the bench from Spencer Dinwiddie, Taurean Prince and Rodions Kurucs among others. There are concerns about Irving potentially hurting the culture and chemistry the Nets have built and reinforced over the last few years, but if that doesn't cause real fissures -- or happen at all -- the Nets should have no problem holding the title of best basketball team in New York for at least the next year.
4. Toronto Raptors
Suffering potentially the biggest loss of the offseason, the defending champion Raptors head into this season without NBA Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard, who jumped ship to join the Clippers. Returning for the squad is just about everybody else sans Danny Green, the sharpshooting wing who recently signed with the Lakers. Lacking any major additions, this Toronto team will look awfully similar to last year's, just with one huge piece missing.
Losing Leonard all but knocks the Raptors out of title contention. In the East, they'll still be a scrappy postseason out barring any mid-season Masai Ujiri maneuvers. A rebuild is due, but they may run things back with this squad as they have the talent to pull an upset or two. Pascal Siakam is only 25 years old and coming off a stellar Most Improved Player campaign and postseason. In the Finals, he averaged just short of 20 points per night on over 50 percent shooting from the field, while providing his usual energy on defense and under the glass. The strides he makes from there can define how good the Raptors perform this season, and while he can very well be an All-Star, it is hard to imagine him improving enough to pick up the load Leonard left.
5. New York Knicks
Dennis Smith Jr.
The Knicks are planning to sign Marcus Morris to a one-year deal, so the above lineup may not be what the coaching staff runs with, but even if it is, they're likely to switch it up multiple times. Even with Morris, the Knicks aren't built to compete with any of the above teams. Fans can be hopeful for an upset or two, with their best chance against the Raptors or Nets, so long as Durant isn't back anytime soon. With the mini-beef New York cooked up with Embiid and the general NY-Philly sports rivalry, the bad news is the 76ers should sweep the Knicks with relative ease.
Perhaps their biggest weakness is there just isn't enough defense in the lineup. The Knicks can use more of Elfrid Payton and Damyean Dotson, but they would only be sacrificing too much on the other end. The Knicks also have one of the youngest teams in the league. Half of their rotation is at Vegas Summer League right now, going 0-3 against G-League and overseas talents. The bright side? The Knicks will probably be in position to land another lottery pick and as this past year showed, you don't have to necessarily tank to get a high pick.