You’ve got the Hawks. They’re going to make the playoffs like they always do–with a decent but unspectacular record. They’ve bid farewells to Joe Johnson and then, this off-season, Josh Smith. Coaches like Mike Woodson and Larry Drew come to Atlanta and then float away. But it doesn’t seem to matter much in ATL. They’re always just good enough, though they’ve produced nary a legitimate contender. This year’s team is no different.
The Chicago Bulls looked like contenders, until their title hopes were dashed by another deflating injury to Derick Rose. They still have the talent to make the playoffs, although plenty of folks are calling for the Bulls to tank.
The super team in Brooklyn? They’ve stunk and struggled with injuries. Deron Williams has barely seen the court. Brook Lopez has played sparingly due to injuries. Paul Pierce broke his hand. Kevin Garnett is shooting 36% from the field. Joe Johnson has been good, but he hasn’t been good enough to stop the Nets, who’ve played porous defense , from stumbling out to a 5-12 start. Until the Nets get healthy and start playing well, there’s no reason at all to consider them contenders.
The only good news for Nets fans is that they’ve not been the cross-town Knicks. Mike Woodson’s team has been just about as bad as any, despite nightly herculean efforts from star Carmelo Anthony. Melo’s not getting much help. Iman Shumpert has yet to take the step forward people were hoping for. J.R. Smith stopped making shots. Like, literally stopped. He’s hitting on less than a third of his field goals. And the Knicks’ once formidable defense has struggled without center Tyson Chandler. The surprisingly steady production the Knicks are getting from Andrea Bargnani hasn’t been enough, and the Knickerbockers are digging themselves quite a hole.
Then there’s Toronto. They’ve been objectively bad this year, despite the scoring prowess of one Rudy Gay and his running mate, Demar Derozan. Still, the Raptors sit atop the pitiful Atlantic Division and will need a lot to go wrong to miss the playoffs. Let’s be honest though, there’s no real reason to get excited about the NBA’s only Canadian franchise and their 6-10 record.
The Wizards are certainly better than they’ve been the past few years. But they still hold a sub-.500 record (the fourth best in the East…somehow) and play shoddy defense. They’re not contenders by any means. The Pistons are in a similar spot to the Wiz.
Beyond those teams stands a bunch of franchises with marginal talent. Charlotte might be playoff bound, only because the East is so weak. Orlando, Philly, Boston–bad, tankworthy teams. The Cavaliers have serious chemistry issues and might simply not be very good. Then there’s the crew in Milwaukee, which has done a delightful job tanking early on.
As it stands right now, two teams in the Eastern Conference have winning records! TWO! With so many teams fielding rosters that scream we’re tanking, it’s at a point where a lot of Eastern Conference teams will only need to try to make the playoffs. And it’s unclear if any team is going to challenge the Pacers and Heat come playoff team. The Nets would seem the most likely candidate, but they’ve won less than 30% of their games so far.
If you want to watch good, competitive teams, I might direct you to the Western Conference. But there is something amusing and alluring about the state of the Eastern Conference, where the race to the bottom is more competitive than the race to the top.