The Eastern Conference, which didn’t figure to be brimming with inspiring basketball in the first place, is staggeringly bad. The Washington Wizards are in third place with a .500 record. Every team besides the Heat and Pacers has a negative point differential. If Adam Silver is looking for fresh ideas for when he assumes the commissionership in February, he could do worse than swapping Miami and Indiana for Utah and Sacramento and reconsolidating this season’s teams into a Playoff Conference and a Pray for Wiggins Conference. (With the team that wins the Wiggins Conference getting the number one pick. There, I just solved tanking.)
Because it’s genuinely fascinating that nearly an entire conference is this terrible, let’s examine the dregs (read: almost all) of the East team-by-team.
Boston Celtics (8-12): The Celtics are like bad cake in a bakery that otherwise only sells things that will kill you. Just Skittles embedded in undercooked polenta with a Carmex glaze. When I look at their box scores, I marvel that a team that plays Kelly Olynyk 23 minutes a game and allows its offense to occasionally run through Jordan Crawford has actually won an NBA game, but it’s happened eight times. Plus, they have Rajon Rondo coming back at some point. They might end up with the fourth seed in the East.
Detroit Pistons (8-10): The Pistons are playing slightly better after a horrendous start. Their offense is still like watching five drunk people play catch with a brick, but Josh Smith is shooting a little less, at least. To say I have faith they’ll figure it out is a stretch, but anyone who is enjoying Monta Ellis going all Ghostface-on-Supreme-Clientele-but-with-basketball in Dallas is also rooting for Brandon Jennings to become the incandescently ridiculous scorer we want to believe he can be.
Chicago Bulls (7-9): I mean, watch the Bulls go .500 and valiantly lose to Indiana in five games in the second round of the playoffs, but this team just makes me sad. A thing I’ve heard a handful of times from Chicagoans over the past week is something along the lines of Shoot, I’d give D-Rose my knees if I could, which is a nice thought, but it also means he would have the knees of a 33-year-old grad school dropout or a tubby copywriter, so that’s no good either.
Charlotte Bobcats (8-11): The Bobcats have been roadkill for nearly their entire existence, so it’s easy to forget they were almost OK a few years back when they had Tyson Chandler and Ray Felton. The days of not-quite-competence might be back again, if only because Kemba Walker is aesthetically courageous. I mean that in a Gaspar Noé sense. Say what you will; the guy takes risks. Stats hate him, but he’s the only thing that makes Charlotte compelling.
Philadelphia 76ers (7-12): We’ve reached our first team that started the season with a roster built to lose. I think I might be the only Tony Wroten fan not related to Tony Wroten — [looks up PER, sees it's 13.6] — yeah, he’s still not good, but he’s mediocre with style, like one of those dudes who rolls around in an ostentatiously outfitted Scion, blasting EDM on the way to their job as a paralegal. He leads the league in statistics he keeps in his own heart. Thankfully, Michael Carter-Williams is both stylistically interesting and actually good. Sixers fans wouldn’t mind at all if the team continued to flash potential as it bottomed out for a high lottery pick.
Toronto Raptors (6-11): I was talking to my friend James Herbert of SBNation, who covers the Raps regularly, and he made an interesting point: The fans and media didn’t expect much from the Raptors, but it’s not as if this is an especially young squad. They have respectable NBA vets in Rudy Gay, DeMar DeRozan, Amir Johnson and Kyle Lowry. None of these guys accept that the team is unsuccessful, and the locker room is a bitterly frustrated place because of it. The Raptors are like watching a man in a suit very purposefully and ineffectually try to break into his own apartment because he forgot his keys.
Orlando Magic (6-12): The Magic are similar to the Sixers in that there’s obviously talent on the team, but it doesn’t quite fit together, and they’re not particularly invested in figuring it out this year anyway. I do hope their coaching staff understands that Victor Oladipo isn’t a point guard, though, and that he’s just doing the Dwyane-Wade-as-a-rookie de facto floor general thing because they want him to develop his on-the-ball skills. I just imagined a Marcus Smart-Oladipo backcourt and had to take a lap around my desk because of the sheer nervous excitement that prospect inspires in me.
Cleveland Cavaliers (5-12): Kyrie Irving hates this team, and so do I. There might not be a more stagnant offense in the league. I was saying before the season to friends that the Cavs have a lot of intriguing and maybe ill-fitting pieces, and it would take a great coach to find a way to help all of them harmonize. The team is shopping Dion Waiters, and Tristan Thompson is shooting a tick under 42 percent. Mike Brown is a decidedly not-great coach.
Brooklyn Nets (5-13): I’ll defer to our own Emma Span on this one. So there’s a bright side. You can go watch a bunch of undead once-stars skulk around and clank jumpers in person for a reasonable price.
New York Knicks (3-13): Reached for comment for this story, James Dolan waved his hand at me and said “Nnnnngh” without looking up from his iPad. Carmelo Anthony recently asserted that the Knicks are in “a dark place.” When your best player describes his team in a way that evokes divorce and/or substance abuse, that’s not a great sign for your already waifish title hopes.
Milwaukee Bucks (3-14): The Bucks had a good-hearted-but-dumb strategy going into the season. Herb Kohl committed himself to putting a halfway decent product on the floor, even if it meant existing in the purgatorial space between the high lottery and title contention. I’m fairly certain Milwaukee fans are glad this plan has backfired so far, because if the Bucks continue down this path, they’re going to be perfectly positioned for a top-three pick, which is way more desirable than getting swept by Miami in the first round.
That’s every team in the Eastern Conference except for four, and the Hawks and Wizards are thoroughly middle-class teams that need to figure out where their respective projects are headed. It’s remarkable that the NBA season has been as interesting as it has, considering how many lousy teams are involved. If things hold steady, the West deserves about 13 playoff spots. Make it happen, Silver.