When the NBA season tips off this week the standings will show every team starting out tied in the same spot. That will quickly change, but in the minds of many it already has, as preseason expectations begin to rate teams on where they belong before any games that actually count have been played.
A glance at the rankings on three different sites may reveal teams in three slightly different orders. These rankings are subjective, particularly before the season when we have no current data to support them. Most Power Rankings will show the Boston Celtics hovering in the middle of the pack, better than the lottery teams but not quite good enough to be a legitimate contender.
Every prediction provided by SB Nation's collection of writers has the Celtics making the playoffs, but they don't all agree on the seed that they will end up in. The 6-8 range in the East should be a tight race all season, with the Celtics likely to fall somewhere in that mix.
ESPN is as optimistic about the Celtics as any publication outside of Boston, pegging them for 13th overall and 6th in the East. This puts them only one spot behind the Toronto Raptors, while Marc Stein leaves the debate open for the Celtics making a serious run at the division title.
"For all the things that the East can't give you, here's one small consolation: We'll almost certainly have a race for the Atlantic title," writes Stein. The Celts, with Amir Johnson and David Lee sprucing up a front line that badly needed it, will be a (regular season) team to reckon with and perhaps even topple Toronto. Don't say we didn't warn you."
Over on NBA.com we find that they have the Celtics listed at No. 17, which has them barely clinging to a postseason spot as the 8th best team in the East. While this set of rankings isn't quite as high on Boston as Stein is, they are quick to note that they are bullish on Marcus Smart having a breakout season and are intrigued by R.J. Hunter's upside. This suggests that they are prepared to move this team quickly up the list if some of their young players exceed expectations.
One thing these lists have in common is that the Celtics are trending upward. Both ESPN.com and NBA.com showed Boston moving up a spot or two from the last incarnation of their rankings, so it's not unreasonable to predict that a strong start could lift them into the top-5 in their conference.
A blazing start out of the gate won't be easy, as Boston faces 8 teams in their first 11 games that finished .500 or better last season. That number doesn't even account for the two meetings in that span with the Indiana Pacers, who are bound to be vastly improved with a healthy Paul George at their disposal. The Celtics will be tested early, but if they can weather the storm of a difficult opening stretch then they will warrant their rise up the rankings.
As eager as Celtics fans are to see where their team fares in these Power Rankings, what is bound to garner even more excitement is where the Brooklyn Nets fall on the list. Boston owns an unprotected first-round pick from Brooklyn in next year's draft, so the Nets' failure will do a lot more for Boston's future than the Celtics' own success will do. With that in mind, you'll be thrilled to see that each of these sites rates Brooklyn in the bottom-five of the league.
The Celtics may be stuck in the middle of the pack for now, but they remain a young team on the rise. With a little help from Brooklyn they can conceivably make the playoffs and still end up with the No. 1 pick, which is bound to improve the outlook of their future no matter where they rank in the present.