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

Morning Skate: Not a dry eye as Canucks draftee gets the call

Morning Skate: Not a dry eye as Canucks draftee gets the call

Here are all the links from around the hockey world, and what I’m reading, while getting ready to check out GLOW on Netflix.

*This video of a Vancouver Canucks draft pick tearing up while watching the video of his brother celebrating him getting picked is all that is right with the NHL Draft.  

*FOH (Friend of Haggs) Adrian Dater has Avs first-round pick Cale Makar talking about his hockey background, and why it doesn’t matter.

*The Calgary Flames are excited about their prospects and the pieces they were able to acquire last weekend.

*The Washington Capitals have re-signed Brett Connolly for a couple of years at short money and he appears to have found a home in DC.

*The Chicago Blackhawks are still in talks with Marian Hossa about how to resolve his contract and the allergic skin condition that might have prematurely ended his hockey career.

*Will the Tampa Bay sports go through a dry spell when it comes to Hall of Fame athletes now that former Lighting forward Dave Andreychuk has been called to the Hockey Hall?

*It looks like young Pierre Luc Dubois will be put in a position to contribute with the Columbus Blue Jackets this season.

*Alex Prewitt has a preview of the NHL free agency period and the stress levels that many players go through in it.

*For something completely different: This video of Drake and Will Ferrell hoop handshakes was pretty solid, and funny.

 

Drellich: Hanley Ramirez has to improve or Red Sox need to try others

Drellich: Hanley Ramirez has to improve or Red Sox need to try others

BOSTON — It doesn’t really matter what’s holding Hanley Ramirez back: his health, his desire to play at less-than-100 percent, neither, both. The Red Sox need him to produce more at the plate, as the designated hitter, or need to play someone who can produce more.

The suggestion of putting Ramirez on the disabled list so that his shoulders (and now, his left knee, where he was hit by a pitch Sunday) may heal is reasonable. If you can’t hit well — if you can’t even be in the lineup — why are you on the roster?

Ramirez was out for a second straight game Tuesday night. 

Flat-out benching Ramirez in favor of Chris Young or Sam Travis or both for a time makes sense too. Young will DH again Tuesday and Travis will start at first against Twins left-hander Hector Santiago. 

Try one, try all. The route to better production doesn’t matter. As long as the Sox get some, be it from Ramirez or somewhere else.

After Mitch Moreland, who’s playing with a fractured big toe on his left foot, homered and had another impactful night on Monday, Sox manager John Farrell made some comments that are hard to read as anything but a message to Ramirez.

“In his most recent stretch, he’s been able to get on top of some fastballs that have been at the top of the strike zone or above for some power obviously,” Farrell said. “But I think the way he’s gone about it given the physical condition he’s in, is a strong message to the remainder of this team.”

Tuesday is June 27. From May 27 on, Ramirez is hitting .202 with a .216 on-base percentage and .369 slugging percentage. 

In the final three months of the 2016 season, Ramirez hit .300 with a .379 OBP and .608 slugging percentage. That’s from the start of July through the end of the regular season. 

The potential for such a second-half surge is hard to ignore. The Sox need to figure out if Ramirez is healthy enough to give it to them, and if not, be willing to give someone else an extended look — be it with Ramirez on the bench or the DL.