Our preview series continues with a look at the Southeast division, won last year by surprisingly good Atlanta Hawks. Can they repeat or will Miami or Washington top the standings?
Atlanta Hawks (60-22, lost in the eastern conference finals to Cleveland):
Headline: After a Successful 2014-15 Season, Atlanta Wants to Prove it was no Fluke
Summary: Atlanta was last year’s surprise team, winning 22 games more than last year and topping the east in the regular season before getting swept by LeBron and co in the Eastern Conference Finals. The Hawks were a fun team to watch and appeared to be on the rise but its a serious question of whether they can maintain last year’s level of success.
Overall Trend: Down, they’re not winning 60 games again this year.
Salary: $69.7M (under cap by $.3M)
2016 Draft Picks: Owed Washington’s 2016 Second Round Pick.
Losses: DeMarre Carroll
Best Case: Eastern Conference Finals. If Atlanta stays healthy and gets a decent draw in the playoffs like they did last year, it could be a return trip to the ECF.
Worst Case: First Round. The Hawks are too good to miss the playoffs in the east but not so good they will necessarily win a series.
Most Likely Case: Second Round. I’d say the Hawks are solidly in the top four in the east, meaning they should make it out of the opening round of the playoffs this year.
Washington Wizards (46-36, lost in the second round to Atlanta):
Headline: After a Second Straight Second Round Exit, the Wizards Look to Prove their Haven’t hit their Ceiling
Summary: The Wizards were supposed to be one of the NBA’s breakout teams last year. They really weren’t. Only two games better than last year and the same second round exit from the playoffs. With much of their core up for free agency next summer, its put up or shut up time for John Wall and co.
Overall Trend: Up, they might not make it past the second round but they will win more than 46 games.
Salary: $80.3M (over luxury tax threshold)
2016 Draft Picks: Owe their 2016 Second Round Pick to Atlanta
Biggest Addition: Jared Dudley
Losses: Paul Pierce
Best Case: Eastern Conference Finals. Given the right matchups and a healthy core this could be a team that surprises more than a few folks by makes it all the way to the conference finals.
Worst Case: First round. This is a good enough team to miss the playoffs entirely but their stay could be a short one.
Most Likely Case: First Round. They aren’t as good as Chicago, Atlanta, Toronto and Cleveland, so its one and done for them this year.
Miami Heat (37-45, missed playoffs):
Headline: Bosh Looks to Build Miami Back Towards the Elite
Summary: Miami took perhaps a bigger drop than could have been expected last year, falling completely out of the playoff picture. Yet all is not lost for the Heat as a good trade for Dragic left them in a position to build, if not exactly a title contender, a solid playoff team.
Overall Trend: Up, they’re going to make it back to the playoffs this year.
Salary: $94.5M (over luxury tax threshold)
2015 Draft Picks: Owed Orlando’s 2016 Second Round Pick (Protected for Selections 31-55). Owe Philadelphia their 2016 First Round Pick (Protected for Selections 1-10) and Boston their 2016 Second Round Pick.
Biggest Addition: Goran Dragic
Losses: Shabazz Napier
Best Case: Second Round. If Wade is healthy and good enough by April, they could win a series.
Worst Case: Miss playoffs. The east may be terrible but its not that bad. A few injuries and it could be a second straight year out of postseason playoff for the Heat.
Most Likely Case: First Round. One and done for Bosh and co this year
Headline: The Hornets Look to Build Towards Anything Resembling Success After Another Tough Offseason
Summary: The hornets are a reminder that just because you may be the greatest basketball player that ever lived, you can’t necessarily run a team very well. After a season that saw them drop well below their level in 2013-14, the Hornets made a series of strange moves this offseason, most notably trading for Batum and thereby giving up on a player they drafted only last year for one that has only one year left on his deal. With an injury to MKG, its hard to see that they will make a serious playoff push this season.
Overall Trend: Down, even before the MKG injury this team was at best a fringe playoff squad.
Salary: $75.9M (over cap)
2016 Draft Picks: Owe San Antonio or OKC their 2016 Second Round Pick (depending on which pick it is).
Biggest Addition: Nicolas Batum
Losses: Noah Vonleh, Lance Stephenson
Best Case: Just Miss Playoffs. This team isn’t very good but neither is the east so they could fall just short of playoff contention this year.
Worst Case: Miss the Playoffs and Batum and Jefferson both leave next summer. This is certainly possible for Charlotte.
Most Likely Case: Late Lottery. This team isn’t good enough to make the playoffs but they are good enough to not be among the worst in the NBA.
Orlando Magic (25-57, missed playoffs):
Headline: Orlando Continues its Rebuild as it Looks to Keep Acquiring Solid Assets
Summary: Orlando was only two games better last year than the previous but they showed a fair amount of promise. Oladipo is a good player to build around and they are set to tank for at least one more year as they look to build assets. They will be bad but that’s exactly the point.
Overall Trend: Up, the Magic are nowhere near the playoffs but they should significantly better this year, even if they don’t actually improve by that many wins.
Salary: $50.8M (under cap by $19.2M)
2016 Draft Picks: Chicago will convey the less favorable of its own and Portland’s 2016 Second Round Picks to Orlando. Owe Miami their 2016 Second Round Pick (Protected for Selections 31-55).
Biggest Addition: Mario Herzonja
Losses: Ben Gordon
Best Case: #1 overall pick. The Magic will probably be too good to have much of a chance at the top pick but hey, they could get lucky.
Worst Case: Late lottery pick. The bottom of the east is so soft that Orlando could pile up a bunch of wins and end up with a late lottery pick without being that good a team.
Most Likely Case: 6-8th overall pick. Orlando will be better than some teams but still nowhere near the playoffs.