The NBA's realignment into six five-team divisions was bound to leave at least one division with a less-than-glamorous lineup, and the Eastern Conference has two worthy candidates: the Atlantic and Southeast.
But at least the Southeast has Shaquille O'Neal.
What the Atlantic has is the stripped-down Nets, two teams — Boston and New York — in the midst of dubious rebuilding programs, Allen Iverson and his supporting cast in Philly, and that no-defense squad in Toronto.
New Jersey was the only one of these teams to finish over .500 last season, and that was when it had Kenyon Martin and a happy Jason Kidd. Every team in the division has a different coach than it had at the start of training camp last year.
Give New Jersey the edge now, but if the Knicks put it together, they could be the division's best.
1. New Jersey
2004-05 RECORD: 47-35
DIVISION FINISH: First, lost to Detroit in second round
COACH: Lawrence Frank, second season
TOP ROOKIES: C Nenad Krstic (2002 draft)
KEY ADDITIONS: G/F Ron Mercer, F Eric Williams, G Jacque Vaughn, G Travis Best
KEY LOSSES: F Kenyon Martin, G Kerry Kittles, F Rodney Rogers, G Lucious Harris
STRENGTHS: Jason Kidd is still a terrific floor leader and makes his teammates better. Jefferson is a budding star. Bench isn't spectacular but should be better than the others in this division.
CONCERNS: Kidd needs to come back in a hurry from offseason knee surgery. Jefferson must continue to improve. Alonzo Mourning is attempting yet another comeback. They lost four of their top six scorers from last season.
2. New York
2004-05 RECORD: 39-43
DIVISION FINISH: Third, lost to Nets in first round
COACH: Lenny Wilkens, second season with Knicks
TOP ROOKIES: None
KEY ADDITIONS: G Jamal Crawford, F Jerome Williams
KEY LOSSES: C Dikembe Mutombo, F Othella Harrington
STRENGTHS: Knicks were 23-19 after Wilkens took over at midseason. Probably the deepest roster in the division. Stephon Marbury puts up good numbers.
CONCERNS: Injuries limited 33-year-old marksman Allan Houston to 50 games last season, which is one reason Crawford — a career 39-percent shooter — was brought in. With Isiah Thomas at the personnel trigger, and being in New York, there will ALWAYS be trade rumors involving this team. May have a tendency to get perimeter-shot happy. Vin Baker and Shandon Anderson could prove distracting.
2004-05 RECORD: 33-49
DIVISION FINISH: Fifth
COACH: Jim O'Brien, second season in Philly
TOP ROOKIES: F Andre Iguodala
KEY ADDITIONS: F Brian Skinner, F Corliss Williamson, G Kevin Ollie
KEY LOSSES: G Eric Snow, F/C Derrick Coleman,
STRENGTHS: They have lots of legitimate NBA players on the roster. Allen Iverson and Glenn Robinson can score, Kenny Thomas rebounds and Samuel Dalembert blocks shots.
CONCERNS: With Snow gone, they're planning to put Iverson at point guard, and his career assist-to-turnover ratio is less than 2-to-1. That's not good. Robinson played just 42 games last season, due to injury, and he hasn't looked great in the preseason. Lots of role players who will have to put up with Iverson's streaks of selfishness.
2004-05 RECORD: 36-46
DIVISION FINISH: Fourth, lost to Indiana in first round
COACH: Doc Rivers, first season in Boston
TOP ROOKIES: F Al Jefferson, G Delonte West, G Tony Allen
KEY ADDITIONS: G Gary Payton, F Tom Gugliotta
KEY LOSSES: G Chucky Atkins, F Jumaine Jones, C Chris Mihm
STRENGTHS: Paul Pierce is a talented scorer, Payton has lots of experience, C Mark Blount showed improvement late last season.
CONCERNS: Team is counting on Raef LaFrentz to stay healthy and be productive, and Gary Payton to bounce back from poor season with Lakers. Ricky Davis is the only known commodity on the bench, and he's mostly known for being wacky. Jury's still out on Rivers' coaching ability. GM Danny Ainge could get the personnel door revolving again if they start slowly.
2004-05 RECORD: 33-49
DIVISION FINISH: Fifth
COACH: Sam Mitchell, first season
TOP ROOKIES: C Rafael Araujo
KEY ADDITIONS: G Rafer Alston
KEY LOSSES: None
STRENGTHS: Carter can light it up with the best of them, when he feels like it. Jalen Rose is also a bona fide scorer.
CONCERNS: Is it a good thing that a team that won 33 games returned all its "key" players? Carter's trade-demand situation won't be a plus. Carter and Rose had a hard time co-existing on the offensive end. They have perimeter scoring but lack an inside game, unless Araujo can contribute something. Lots of scorers, little defense.