This year’s Celtics have been straightforward in their willingness to sacrifice a season to retooling for the future. The team’s efforts to reposition itself — for instance, by letting go of aging stars Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce — were never likely to yield many victories this year. Under new coach Brad Stevens, the Celtics started off an unsurprising 0-4. Since then, they’ve improved a bit, but only to 8-12.
Somehow, though, this was enough to claim first place this week. One big advantage to playing in the lowly Atlantic Division, the NBA’s worst, is that even a .400 team can shine. The Celtics are two games ahead of Brooklyn, where Pierce and Garnett now reside. The 37-year-old Stevens, who led tiny Butler College to two national championship games, has if nothing else instilled a scrappy style in his team.