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Toronto Raptors

Divisional Rankings: Without Kawhi Leonard, will the Toronto Raptors fall to the bottom of the division?

#Atlantic

A lot has changed in the Atlantic Division since the Toronto Raptors hoisted the Larry O'Brien trophy to end the season.

It's a division that has seen its best player leave the best team. It's a division that saw a key contributor head over to a division rival and another disgruntled star find a new home with last year's most surprising team. All in all, the Atlantic Division remains one of the most competitive divisions in all of basketball.

Here's how the rankings shake out heading into 2019-20.

1. Philadelphia 76ers

The 76ers may have had the most interesting offseason in the division, and that's saying a lot. Gone are Jimmy Butler and J.J. Reddick, but incoming are Al Horford and Josh Richardson.

Elton Brand and the team were able to retain the services of Tobias Harris and they made a long term commitment to Ben Simmons.

The task is simple now in Philly - it's championship or bust. The 76ers fully believe they were a rim bounce away from making the Finals, but now it's time to prove it. They have the most talent in the division on paper and present the most unique combination of size and length, which will be a problem in the regular season on a nightly basis.

OFFSEASON GRADES: Have the Sixers improved this offseason?

Consistency is where the 76ers struggled last season. A team with all the tools to be great defensively only showed up come playoff time. Philadelphia ranked middle of the pack last year in terms of defensive rating; they picked it up in the postseason but still had lapses along the way. The addition of Horford should add another strong voice in the locker room to go alongside Brett Brown's to ensure the 76ers build good habits.

The Atlantic division is Philadelphia's to lose - but the same was said about Boston this time last year. The 76ers will still have to go out and prove it.

Projected Record: 55-27

2. Toronto Raptors

The Raptors won 58 games last season. They were 7.0 games ahead of the second-place 76ers and pretty much cruised to their sixth division title. Without Kawhi Leonard, everyone expects the team to take a step back, but should they? Leonard missed 22 games last season and the team didn't miss a beat.

If you want to talk about the team not being able to go deep into the playoffs without Leonard that makes sense, but this is about the regular season the team should still be fine.

OFFSEASON GRADES: How did the Raptors do in replacing Kawhi?

Defensively they'll be solid night in night out and that should keep them at or around .500 on the road. Toronto has always had a great home-court advantage and if they can come close to the 32 wins they had last season at Scotiabank arena than they'll be right in the thick of things in the division.

They'll struggle to score most nights, but you can trust that their defence will be sustained through the season regardless of who they have on the court. Boston and Brooklyn will have growing pains which Toronto won't have and that may be enough to keep them right behind Philly.

All this of course changes if Masai Ujiri decides to blow it up in December.

Projected Record: 52-30

3. Boston Celtics

The Celtics will have to deal with the losses of Kyrie Irving, Al Horford, Marcus Morris and Terry Rozier; while that's a lot of talent to lose in one offseason, it's not what will keep them from finishing at the top of the Atlantic division.

Signing Kemba Walker should help to deal with the loss of Kyrie and while the team will certainly miss Horford's defence and leadership, the biggest problem facing the Celtics is at the wing position. Gordon Hayward, Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown all thrive in the same role - they all do the same things and want to score and get the ball in the same ways on offence.

If Brad Stevens can figure out how to get those three in roles where they can all contribute on a nightly basis then Boston should finish higher than third in this division. Otherwise, it may be time for Danny Ainge to execute a trade to free up the log jam on the wing.

Projected Record: 51-31

4. Brooklyn Nets

The additions of Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving and DeAndre Jordan make the Nets a better and more talented team on paper. However, Durant is expected to miss the entire season and we still need to wait to see if Irving can be the leader Brooklyn will need to get to a higher place than they were at last year with D'Angelo Russell leading the way.

OFFSEASON GRADES: Are the Nets primed to take over the East?

Even if Kyrie is a model citizen, the team is playing is one of the toughest division in basketball. Toronto and Boston are better suited to have success over the course of an 82-game season.

Next year, however, with Durant in the lineup, the Nets should shoot right up to the top of the division as the team to beat.

Projected Record: 48-34

5. New York Knicks

It's going to be a long season for the Knicks. They've added rookie RJ Barrett to the young core of Mitchell Robinson, Kevin Knox and Allonzo Trier, so there are steps being taken in the right direction to succeed.

However, this isn't the division that will reward potential. To steal a line from Fran Fraschilla, the Knicks are two years away from being two years away.

After striking out on the big names in free agency, they'll have to depend on that young core to develop into stars. By the time their ready, they may very well have seen another team from the Atlantic celebrate a championship as they continue to rebuild.

Projected Record: 25-57

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