Is NBA's Atlantic Division a Race To the Bottom?

By Brandon Medeiros
Boston Celtics
Mark L. Baer-USA Today Sports

Though a 12-17 record may not appeal to a majority of teams in the NBA (unless you are trying to tank) it has been good enough for the Boston Celtics to be neck and neck with the 11-15 Toronto Raptors in the Atlantic Division.

After renovating their aging roster this past offseason, the Celtics cut ties with long time legend Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and head coach Doc Rivers. Many expected the Celtics to go through a rebuilding process and possibly “tank” the upcoming season in hopes of striking it big with a high draft pick. Though it hasn’t been the greatest of starts, it’s been no different from any other franchise in the imploding Atlantic Division that currently has no team above a winning percentage of .500.

Throughout the years, the Atlantic division had been known to include some of the best teams, not only in the Eastern Conference, but in the entire league. That was especially  supposed to be the case this season where expectations were at an all-time high for New York basketball regarding the Brooklyn Nets and the New York Knicks.

After a 2012 season filled with ultimate highs and lows for the Nets, Brooklyn found itself booted out of the first round of the playoffs at the hands of the Chicago Bulls. This was considered a major disappointment for a team that finished with a 49-33 record and second in the Atlantic behind the Knicks. Brooklyn obviously decided to make significant changes this past offseason in order to become a legitimate championship contender for the years to come.

Brooklyn Nets
Joe Camporeale-USA Today Sports

Though they already had stars Deron Williams, Joe Johnson and Brook Lopez on the squad, Brooklyn added to their already threatening arsenal by trading for Pierce, Garnett and Jason Terry, giving up virtually all their draft picks for the next half-decade. Not only did this blockbuster trade send shockwaves throughout the entire league, but it sent a message to the rest of the NBA stating that the Nets should be acknowledged as a championship caliber team.

Unfortunately, the Nets have looked anything but a championship contender. Under new head coach Jason Kidd, Brooklyn currently finds itself fourth in their division with a 9-19 record and have been bombarded by a number of key injuries — the most significant coming to Lopez who is out for the season with a broken right foot. So the intriguing question on everybody’s mind is can the Nets bounce back from their early season adversity? Can proven veterans Pierce and Garnett once again lead their ball clubs to the postseason? Only time will tell what will happen to Brooklyn basketball, but New York basketball is facing problems of their own.

Like the Nets, the Knicks faced high expectations centered around their 2013-14 campaign. After winning the Atlantic with a 54-28 record last season, the Knicks found themselves out of the playoffs at the hands of the Indiana Pacers in the Semifinals.

New York Knicks
Jeff Hanisch-USA Today Sports

Since that loss, New York has seen a slow spiral downward. The Knicks are currently 9-19 and are third in the Atlantic, tied with the Nets and barely ahead of the 8-20 Philadelphia 76ers. With injuries also affecting the Knicks, it seems that New York basketball as a whole just can’t catch a break. But that is music to the ears of Beantown’s finest.

With the early season struggles of the Knicks and the Nets, and the Sixers looking like they are jumping on the Tankapalooza bandwagon, the Celtics are able to take a backseat. To this point, the Raptors may be the only competition that Boston has to worry about.  Toronto may also be tanking for Canada’s own Andrew Wiggins in their apparent dump off of disgruntled star Rudy Gay to the Sacramento Kings.

If the Celtics were able to win the majority of their division games and stay decent enough against opposing teams in the league they could end up winning their division and at least get a fourth seed in the playoffs. Sounds pretty good to me.

With their next game coming against the Cleveland Cavaliers after having five days off with a much needed “holiday break,” the Celtics hopefully took this time to fix the nagging mistakes that have been seen throughout the season. Will they come back rejuvenated with a revamped squad or will they continue to falter and disappoint? It is yet to be seen, but if they continue to struggle then it may just become a race to the bottom for the entire Atlantic division.

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