In Part 1 we looked at some of the teams that might be good competitive matches with the Boston Celtics if Rajon Rondo gets healthy.
Today, let’s look at the last few teams that are in the Middle Tier of the Eastern Conference.
First up is the Atlanta Hawks, who have majored in mediocrity for the past decade. This team is exactly what Danny Ainge wants to avoid becoming. They make the playoffs every year, however they have never made a deep run. With Josh Smith gone, it might create an opportunity for the Hawks to change their identity. Al Horford, Jeff Teague, and Lou Williams will be the players that are the focal points.
This Hawks team is going to be pretty good, and could potentially be at the top of this middle tier, earning a 5th seed if the top four teams stay healthy.
Their balance, Horford’s opportunity to lead, along with Teague’s continued development will make this a team that is better than the Celtics.
The Milwaukee Bucks have some new pieces. O.J. Mayo and Caron Butler will add some scoring and hopefully they will not be fighting for the ball like Monta Ellis and Brandon Jennings did last year. Ersan Ilyasova continues to be an enigma, but could finally burst onto the scene considering he has a point guard that will share the ball in Brandon Knight.
This team will be better than the Celtics. They have some stars, a good young point guard and some veterans like Carlos Delfino and Luke Ridnour that can help immediately.
The Toronto Raptors are another team that could be good on paper and then never put it together. Rudy Gay is a polarizing player, failing in a lot of advanced stat, but passing the eyeball test.
Gay is surrounded by some good players. Steve Novak and Landry Fields, along with Kyle Lowery. Lowery was horrible last year, resulting in a bad season for the Raptors. However, they finished much stronger following the Gay trade.
Lowery, Gay, Amir Johnson, and Demar DeRozan are all good players. Factor in Jonas Valanciunas and Fields and Tyler Hansbrough and this team could be a contender for that last playoff spot. This team is pretty evenly matched with the Celtics. But the Raptors seem to have some depth, some defensive strength, and more talent than this Celtics team. The Raptors will probably be just a bit better than the Celtics.
Finally, we have the New York Knicks. Knicks fans might think they belong in the top tier with the Miami Heat, Brooklyn Nets, Chicago Bulls, and Indiana Pacers. They finished second in the East last year, dispatched the Celtics in 6 games in the playoffs then lost to Indiana.
This team lost Jason Kidd, traded away Steve Novak for Andrea Bargnani, and welcomes back a healthy Amar’e Stoudemire (who seems to make the team worse when he’s playing.) Metta World Peace will try to match J.R. Smith in the land of crazy.
That combination could be actually very toxic. That locker room could get ugly if the team hits a tough spell. Metta is coming back home, which he is very excited about, but maybe it adds distractions?
Anyway we slice it, this team will be better than the Celtics. They were better last year, and while Rajon Rondo was deeply missed in the playoffs when Raymond Felton had no equal foe in green, it doesn’t seem likely that the return of Rondo, paired with the loss of Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett means the Celtics will be looking up at the Knicks in the standings.
So let’s break this down to wrap up.
Teams better than the Celtics:
Miami, Brooklyn, Chicago, Indiana, Atlanta, Milwaukee, Toronto, Detroit, New York, Cleveland, and (probably) Washington.
Teams worse than the Celtics:
Charlotte, Orlando, Philadelphia.
After this long process it seems that right now we agree with ESPN that the Celtics will finish 12th. Maybe a good camp will change our minds.
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