COMMENTARY | The Atlantic Division is a train wreck and exercise in futility, but the Boston Celtics have stumbled their way to the top of the division after the season's first 20 games.
Boston has played about as well as expected to date, but the rest of the division just doesn't have the gonads (right now) to take control as they should.
Jared Sullinger gave some defiantly inspirational quotes after practice earlier in the week when he testified vehemently about how the Celtics weren't buying into the tanking talk and how they were going to be in the playoff hunt this season.
"A lot of guys expect us to just tank for (Jabari) Parker or (Andrew) Wiggins," he said. "Y'all might as well throw that out the door. I don't know why people keep talking about tanking. We got competitors around here, we're not really like that. We don't care if Jeff (Green) averages 20 or I average 8, we just want to win and show everybody that they can kiss our butts about that tanking stuff."
But before everybody starts to pucker their lips, it should be noted that the New York Knicks and Brooklyn Nets should not be this horrific all season. The NBA world is waiting for the proverbial light to go on for those two currently bottom-feeding teams, and it should. No really, it should.
However, with news that Rajon Rondo is nearing a return, the tepid start the Celtics have had could force them to be "contenders" in the Atlantic Division despite Danny Ainge's best hopes. That also means the Rondo trade machine, which has temporarily downshifted, could kick back into overdrive so that Boston doesn't become … dare I say, too good.
The Celtics have found a way to survive at the point guard position without Rondo after Avery Bradley started the season as the floor general. Jordan Crawford and Phil Pressey have relieved Bradley of those duties since the fifth game of the season. The duo has combined for 15.2 points, 7.2 assists and 4.3 rebounds so far this year.
Even if you think Boston should be tanking, playing Bradley at the point guard position was an unusual cruelty to both fans and Bradley that had to stop. Giving the keys to the Boston offense to Crawford could have been a disaster, but he has matured as a basketball player and isn't nearly as erratic as he has been in previous seasons. With some stability at the position, the organization will not rush Rondo's return and there is still a lot of season left to play.
Boston won't be punting on Rondo just because it has a suddenly semi-relevant Crawford, but the possibility of a trade does lurk in the deepest shadows of the TD Garden if things for other teams don't turn around.
For now, Boston fans should rest easy and endure the ride while they await Rondo's return whenever that actually is. Ainge is saying all the right things indicating a desire to keep the All-Star guard, but he had no idea how bad the Atlantic (or the Eastern Conference, for that matter) would be after the first month of the season. The Celtics could very well back their way into a playoff spot if this keeps up, and Rondo only complicates things.
Quite simply put, the Celtics can't rebuild if they continue to make the playoffs. Maybe they should have kept Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett if they wanted to stack up losses judging by how they have looked with the Nets. Luckily, the Celtics own Brooklyn's 2014 draft pick. That, in essence, means the demise of two of their once beloved could still help them rebuild should they find themselves too mediocre to fail in the Atlantic Division.
Warren Shaw is a NBA contributor to Dime Magazine and co-host of the weekly basketball podcast "The Baseline". He has covered various NBA events live while also conducting one on one player interviews. His work can also be found at Celticslife.com and Prosportsblogging.com.
Follow him on Twitter @ShawSportsNBA.
- Sports & Recreation
- Boston Celtics