Changing Face of the Atlantic MORE: Preseason all downhill from here

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Changing Face of the Atlantic MORE: Preseason all downhill from here

Five years ago last month, Kevin Garnett landed in Boston and changed the face of the Atlantic Division.

Or maybe changed the face is the wrong phrase. More accurately, Garnett simply took over. He invaded and pillaged the Atlantic like a White Walker after sundown.

That first season, the Celtics took the division by 25 games.

Of course, most of that had to do with the fact that Boston was a damn good team. Obviously. Now that the Cs have fallen slightly back into the pack, I think we have a much better appreciation for just how great that 2008 squad was. They won 66 games. They went 35-6 at home. They would have won in any division that year. But at the same time, their dominance was enhanced by a lack of competition.

Back in 2007, the rest of the Atlantic was a ghost town. The Knicks were stuck in the Isiah Years. The Nets were on their last lap with Jason Kidd. The Sixers were figuring out life after AI. The Raptors were OK, but never a threat. They were the best worst team in basketball. And all of a sudden, they were sharing a division with an NBA super power.

In Year 2, even with Garnett injured down the stretch, the Celtics won the Atlantic by 21 games. In Year 3, with KG hurting, Big Baby pouting and Rasheed Wallace stinking everything up, Boston fell back to Earth with 50 wins, but still won the division by 10. In Year 4, Perk trade and all, the Celtics won by 14. Last year, they started slowly, but went on a late run to claim the Atlantic by three. Three games.

From 25 to three, things have obviously changed.

Over the last five years, the Knicks have freed themselves from Isiah's crippling insanity. The Nets were purchased by a crazy Russian billionaire, determined to compete at all costs, and moved to Brooklyn. The 76ers drafted well, found the right coach and were bought by a young HarvardWharton-educated owner. The Raptors are down, but can only get better.

When KG arrived in Boston, the Atlantic was void of star power. You had Chris Bosh and little else in Toronto. A bunch of spare, awkward parts in New York. Young Andre Iguodala flailing in Philly. Kidd and Vince Carter past their primes in New Jersey. Today, you look around and its hard to believe the talent that surrounds the Celtics.

Carmelo Anthony, Amare Stoudemire, Tyson Chandler, Deron Williams, Joe Johnson, Gerald Wallace, Brooke Lopez, Jrue Holiday, Evan Turner . . . and now, Andrew Bynum.

There are about 1,500 different storylines surrounding today's enormous Dwight Howard trade, and as far as I can tell there's only one positive for Boston: They got Howard out of the conference. I don't care where he went, or who else changed teams, one of the biggest and best defensive players in NBA history no longer stands between the Celtics and the NBA Finals. That's a good thing. But after that, it was a tough day for Boston. Emotionally (with Howard going to the Lakers) and in a pure basketball sense.

As A. Sherrod Blakely pointed out this afternoon, moving forward, Andrew Bynum's presence will concern the Celtics far more than Howard's absence. Obviously, Bynum's a bit of a wild card physically. If he isn't healthy, the conversation will change. But assuming he stays on the court, the transformation of the Atlantic Division is just about complete.

From the most boring and one-sided segment of the NBA world, to one of the most competitive divisions in the league.

In a way, we knew it would eventually happen. There was no way that an entire division could stay down for so long without a worthy challenger finally scraping its way to the surface. But all of a sudden, there are three of them.

Fortunately for Boston, Kevin Garnett's still here. Five years older, but still willing and able to defend his kingdom.

But for he and the Celtics, the days of feasting on the Atlantic have disappeared in the rear view.

Rich can be reached at rlevine@comcastsportsnet.com. Follow Rich on Twitter at http:twitter.comrich_levine

Francona, Epstein receive grand ovations at BBWAA dinner

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Francona, Epstein receive grand ovations at BBWAA dinner

BOSTON -- “I didn’t feel that love after I made a pitching change in the sixth inning,” Terry Francona said after a 45-second standing ovation from Boston fans upon receiving the MLB Manager of the Year award from the BBWAA Thursday.

It’s without question the love for Francona runs deep in the city. Why wouldn’t it? He was the leader in breaking the 86-year old curse, and wound up winning another World Series title for Boston three years later.

Actually, he was more of a co-leader, working alongside the same person who won the MLB Executive of the Year honors from the BBWAA for 2016.

Theo Epstein -- who received an ovation 17 seconds shorter than Francona, but who’s counting -- reminisced about the Red Sox ownership group that took a chance on a young kid who wasn’t necessarily the ideal candidate to take over as GM of a team, but now that’s helped him build the Chicago Cubs into a winning franchise and establish a great working environment.

This October marks 13 years since the ’04 championship, 10 years since ’07 and six years since the pair left Boston. Without question they’ve left their mark on the city and forever changed Red Sox baseball.

And while the fans showed their undying gratitude for Francona with an ovation almost as long as his acceptance speech, the Indians manager recognized the favor the current Red Sox brass has done for him.

“I’d like to thank Dave Dombrowski and the Red Sox for getting Chris Sale the hell out of the Central Division,” Francona said.