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Offseason Needs: Atlantic Division

by Raphielle Johnson
Updated On: October 12, 2020, 1:41 pm ET

Now that the 2019-20 NBA season, the longest in league history, has come to an end it is time to start looking ahead to next year. While it remains unknown exactly when the 2020-21 campaign will begin, with January appearing to be the earliest possible starting point, the NBA Draft is just over a month away (November 18) and free agency will come shortly thereafter. Of course that all depends on the collective bargaining agreement negotiations between the league and the NBPA, as in those talks the salary cap and luxury tax numbers for next season will be determined.

Uncertainty remains but that doesn’t prohibit us from taking a look at each team and an area that they’ll need to address during the offseason. Over the next three weeks each division will be discussed, beginning with the Atlantic today. Boston, Brooklyn and Toronto are all poised to be factors in the East next season, while Philadelphia will look to join that class under Doc Rivers and New York embarks on a rebuild led by Leon Rose and Tom Thibodeau. Below will be one area of need for each team, starting with the Celtics.

Boston Celtics

2019-20 Record: 48-24 (2nd, Atlantic)

2020 NBA Draft Picks: 14 (from Memphis), 26, 30 (from Milwaukee via Phoenix), 47 (from Brooklyn via Charlotte, Orlando and Philadelphia)

Free Agents: Brad Wanamaker (unrestricted); Gordon Hayward, Enes Kanter (player options); Semi Ojeleye (team option)

Area to Address: Bench scoring

The Celtics enter the offseason in an interesting position. Danny Ainge’s ability to stockpile draft picks over the years means that the team has three first-round picks in this year’s draft, but with ten players under guaranteed deals for next season and two others (Hayward and Kanter) with player options there won’t be a lot of room for roster additions. Hayward is expected by many to opt into the final year of his deal, and why wouldn’t he with a salary of more than $34 million? Kanter will make just over $5 million should he decide to opt in.

Given how full this rotation is, where can Boston get better? Bench scoring. During the regular season the Celtics reserves ranked 29th in the NBA in scoring, averaging just 28.5 points per game. When you have scorers like Hayward, Kemba Walker, Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown in the starting lineup the lack of bench scoring can be accounted for on most nights, but if one of those players isn’t available (as Hayward was for most of the postseason) there’s a need for increased contributions from the bench. Marcus Smart certainly stepped forward, but there’s a need for more if the Celtics are to make a run at the franchise’s 18th title.

The question for Boston heading into the draft: can they package some of those picks in exchange for a proven bench scorer? If not, it’s likely that a couple of those firsts will be used on draft-and-stash candidates.

Brooklyn Nets

2019-20 Record: 35-37 (4th, Atlantic)

2020 NBA Draft Picks: 19 (from Philadelphia via LA Clippers), 55 (from Denver)

Free Agents: Joe Harris, Tyler Johnson, Justin Anderson, Wilson Chandler, Lance Thomas, Donta Hall (unrestricted); Garrett Temple (team option)

Area to Address: 3-Point shooting (bring back Joe Harris)

The Nets are the one team in the NBA that can say without a doubt right now that they will have a far different look next season. First and foremost Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving will be healthy, and there’s also Steve Nash taking over as head coach. Brooklyn was hit hard by injuries and opt-outs (due to COVID-19) heading into the bubble, but Caris LeVert emerged as a potential star and the team (led by now top assistant Jacque Vaughn) was more competitive than many envisioned.

Getting back to full strength is one offseason need for Brooklyn, and the other is to bring back Harris. Given his perimeter shooting ability, as he made 42.4 percent of his attempts from distance with an average of 2.5 3-pointers per game, Harris will be a hot commodity on the open market this offseason. And keep in mind that, despite ranking ninth in the NBA in 3-point makes and fifth in attempts, the Nets ranked 26th in the league in 3-point percentage. 

Adding Durant and Irving to the mix will certainly help, but those two (and LeVert) will need capable catch-and-shoot options to work with. If Harris doesn’t return, Brooklyn will need to find a suitable replacement.

New York Knicks

2019-20 Record: 21-45 (5th, Atlantic)

2020 NBA Draft Picks: 8, 27 (from LA Clippers), 38 (from Charlotte)

Free Agents: Moe Harkless (unrestricted); Damyean Dotson (restricted); Bobby Portis, Theo Pinson (team option)

Area to Address: Point guard

A new era began in New York while most of the NBA was in the bubble, as Leon Rose was hired as team president and he eventually tabbed Tom Thibodeau to be the new head coach. It goes without saying that the Knicks haven’t been consistently good for a long time, and at first glance next season doesn’t look too promising either. Harkless arrived in New York via the Marcus Morris trade, a deal that also netted the Knicks an extra first round pick. The futures of Harkless and Portis, who has a team option worth $15.75 million, will be determined in free agency.

As for the area that Rose and Thibodeau will need to address during the offseason, it is the point guard position. Which of the three options currently on the roster do the Knicks believe in to lead the way in this rebuild? Or will the front office look to address this issue via free agency or the draft? Two of the three point guards, Dennis Smith Jr. and Frank Ntilikina, are still on their rookie deals and the latter has spent the majority of his time with the franchise playing off the ball. Elfrid Payton was the most productive of the three last season, averaging a team-high 7.2 assists per game, but is he the long-term answer?

Having two firsts gives New York some flexibility from a trade standpoint. But if the Knicks were to consider drafting a point guard, doing so with the 27th overall pick would likely be the course of action. Outside of LaMelo Ball it’s tough to see another point guard going in the top ten, with wings appearing likely to dominate that portion of the draft.

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Philadelphia 76ers

2019-20 Record: 43-30 (3rd, Atlantic)

2020 NBA Draft Picks: 21 (from Oklahoma City via Orlando and Philadelphia), 34 (from Atlanta), 36 (from New York), 49, 58 (from Los Angeles Lakers via Orlando)

Free Agents: Raul Neto, Alec Burks, Glenn Robinson III, Kyle O'Quinn (unrestricted); Norvel Pelle (restricted)

Area to Address: Point guard

“The Process” came to an end long before the 2019-20 season, and now the 76ers franchise is in a spot where it needs to figure out how to make the move from playoff team to title contender. With that in mind, Doc Rivers was hired as the team’s new head coach just days after he hit the market. Now that the head coaching question has been answered, Philadelphia needs to figure out what it will do with the front office (will someone be hired to serve under Elton Brand?) and the point guard position.

Ben Simmons filled that role for much of his first three seasons in the league, but the decision was made ahead of Philadelphia’s time in the bubble to move him to the four. Of course Simmons suffered a season-ending knee injury during the placement games, and his absence was felt as Philadelphia was swept by Boston. Does Rivers move Simmons back to the point? Or will he keep him at the four? Either way the lead guard position needs to be addressed this offseason if the 76ers are to be the contender that many expect them to be.

While there’s the potential to select one in the draft, with Duke’s Tre Jones being one who may fit the mold, finding a point guard capable of making an immediate difference will likely mean a foray into either the free agency or trade markets. Also, much has been made about the contracts that Tobias Harris and Al Horford were signed to last offseason, but it’s worth noting that Harris played the best basketball of his career while partnered with Rivers in Los Angeles.

Toronto Raptors

2019-20 Record: 53-19 (1st, Atlantic)

2020 NBA Draft Picks: 29, 59

Free Agents: Fred VanVleet, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, Serge Ibaka, Marc Gasol (unrestricted); Malcolm Miller, Chris Boucher (restricted)

Area to Address: Interior depth

Toronto’s run as NBA champions officially came to an end Sunday night, and the team performed better than many expected them to this season. Despite losing Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green via free agency the Raptors still won the Atlantic Division before falling to Boston in seven games in the second round. Now team president Masai Ujiri heads into an offseason in which the statuses of Fred VanVleet and Serge Ibaka will need to be addressed, as both are due to be unrestricted free agents.

VanVleet stands to be one of the most sought-after players in this class, and with Kyle Lowry heading into the final season of his deal (he’ll be 35 next offseason) it’s vital that the Raptors hang onto FVV when considering both the immediate future of the franchise and the long-term. Assuming that VanVleet will be back, interior depth is the area that Toronto truly needs to address this offseason. With Marc Gasol appearing likely to head back to Spain to finish out his career, even if the Raptors re-sign Ibaka they’ll still have holes to fill.

Is Chris Boucher, who will be a restricted free agent, ready to take the next step and be a consistent rotation contributor? Even if he is ready, the Raptors still have a need for additional depth especially if Gasol does move on. At pick No. 29 Toronto shouldn’t lack for options if they’re looking to pick a big man in the first round, and they can obviously address this area in free agency as well.

Raphielle Johnson
Raphielle has been writing about college sports for more than a decade for multiple outlets, including NBC Sports. Focuses have included game recaps, columns, features and recruiting stories. A native of the Northeast, he now calls Pac-12 country home. Raphielle can be followed on Twitter @raphiellej.