Quick! Off the top of your head, who has the fourth best record in the Eastern Conference? I'll give you a few seconds to guess.
It belongs to a team that will not exist (in name only) next season: the Charlotte Bobcats! The Bobcats have been off to a decent start this year, had a winning record and some exciting players around some vets and...
Wait, they're 7-8.
Oh my God, the Eastern Conference. What's wrong with you? Are you having a difficult time at work? Do you need a day off? Maybe an extended absence?
The Conference, as a whole, was expected to bounce back from the doldrums of the last two years. Up-and-comers Washington, Cleveland, and Detroit were expected to compete with perennial bottom end contender Atlanta for playoff positioning in a not-great-but-still-decent fight to see who would lose in round 1 to the actual Eastern Conference contenders.
So far: not happening.
The Pistons haven't figured out how to make 3 bigs work at almost any time. The Wizards have fought injuries (and whatever lingering phantom ailments Nene has at a given moment). The Cavaliers are only fighting each other, and Mike Brown somehow can't construct anything better than a terrible offense around Kyrie Irving. Atlanta's okay, and okay is good enough for third in the East.
Because the Nets and Knicks stink. They have 7 wins in 27 games played between them, and one of those came in a match up between the two teams. The teams we all expected to stink still do. And the Chicago Bulls have another issue altogether.
Chicago after the Derrick Rose Injury
You've already heard that Derrick Rose will not be returning this season after suffering a torn meniscus. Unlike last year, the Bulls have already ruled him out, probably to avoid the "will he, or won't he?" situation from arising again.
Bulls fans now, largely, want the team to punt this season, get under the tax, and at least try to make another run next year if Rose can stay healthy. That's unfortunately a really big question now, along with questions about production he provides on the court. The sad reality is that we may never see the pre-injury Derrick Rose again. And the Bulls have to operate with that in mind.
But with Tom Thibodeau stressing again that they have enough talent to win basketball games, and having the core of probably the best defensive basketball team over the last three years still in check, the Bulls seem unlikely to tank outright. Again, look at the Eastern Conference and tell me they aren't a playoff team. They may look to make moves, however, especially knowing that the luxury tax could be a big concern in future seasons.
In the meantime, the Sixers have the most cap space to relieve them of their tax woes. This has been a popular subject on this site; for instance, this excellent FanPost on a potential Boozer (ew)-Evan Turner swap drew a lot of attention. While Turner seems like a bad fit in Chicago - the players on that team and Evan historically haven't gotten along - the ingredients for a trade certainly exist. Keep an eye out.
Pelicans Pick Update
The Pelicans have a positive point differential on the season. After a home loss to the NBA's resident traveling fun show, the Pelicans now have the third worst record in the Western Conference. They would have the third best team in the Eastern Conference, though, so the futility of the Eastern Conference is helping the Sixers in this regard.
Also, Jrue is still kind of woefully inefficient, and this is making me sad.
5. Brooklyn/New York
I'm keeping these two here until they pass the Sixers in the standings. This might take a while.
The Sixers actually kept up with the Jazz this past week. We've discussed the "goodness" of this team enough already. We'll see how they do for the next 20 days where we're pretty sure the roster stays about the same, and reevaluate from there.
They've got logjams up and down the roster, but not at the small forward position. So they traded their best one for Derrick Williams, who is not a small forward but plays one in NBA games. The move wasn't done to tank - Sacramento hopes they bought low on a potentially good player - but this can't help their win total. They were going to finish near the bottom of the West just because the rest of the conference is so good.
2. Utah Jazz
They won a game this week, and they got their point guard back. Which are two things the number one team did not accomplish.
Owned by Spencer Hawes.