The next installment of our NBA preview series talks about the southeast division. Miami looks to have little trouble winning the division again. The question is, who is second?
(58-24, lost in the NBA Finals to Dallas)
Headline: After a Bitter Defeat Last Season, LeBron and the Superfriends Know it’s Championship or Bust Once Again.
Summary: It was not the smoothest of first years for the vaunted trio of superstars in Miami. They stumbled a bit in the regular season before catching fire in the playoffs and rolling to the NBA finals virtually unchallenged. Unfortunately for them, they ran into a Dallas team that was destined to win its first-ever title and, they fell in six exciting games. Nothing less than a title will do for this squad, which bolstered its lineup a bit with some offseason additions, even if questions still abound at the PG and C spots.
Overall Trend: Up. Miami is a better team than they were at the end of last year, as scary as that seems.
Biggest Addition: Shane Battier.
Losses: Mike Bibby.
Best Case: NBA Title, and going 16-2 or better in the playoffs. The Heat are the unquestioned favorite this year, and it is certainly possible that they will simply demolish all of their opponents in five or less games in this year’s playoffs.
Worst Case: Second Round of the playoffs. If Miami runs into a hot team and has the same problem finishing games that it did last year, it could be in trouble. Given how weak the bottom of the east playoff field is, however, it is unlikely that they will face a team capable of doing this before the second round at the earliest.
Most Likely Case: NBA Title. LeBron should get his first ring this year, he and the rest of his team are too good to fall short again.
(52-30, lost in the first round to Atlanta)
Headline: Superman Looks to Abandon Orlando’s Sinking Ship.
Summary: There are times that one might wonder why a star player would want to leave a solid team in search of a ring. This is not one of those times. Not much has gone right for Orlando since they made the finals a few years ago. A combination of bad personnel moves, injuries and luck have left this once elite Eastern Conference team collapsing and collapsing fast. The only question is whether Dwight Howard gets traded or simply walks into the chaos that is free agency at the end of the season.
Overall Trend: Down and down quickly. The Magic are worse than they were last year, and every move they make just seems to bring them further from their goal.
Biggest Addition: Glen “Big Baby” Davis.
Losses: Gilbert Arenas, Brandon Bass.
Best Case: Eastern Conference finals. If Dwight Howard stays, becomes dominant again and they catch fire as they did a few years, ago, it is possible they make one more run to the conference finals.
Worst Case: Miss the playoffs. If they trade Howard, this team may well not be good enough to make the playoffs. Worse for Orlando, they would just miss the playoffs, meaning a lose-lose situation because they wouldn’t get a great draft pick out of it.
Most Likely Case: First Round of the playoffs. All things being equal, Orlando should stumble into the playoffs and just as quickly stumble out, much like last year.
(44-38, lost in second round to Chicago)
Headline: After Their Proposed Sale Fell Through, Atlanta Finds Itself in a Holding Pattern.
Summary: Atlanta was finally going to get decent ownership for once, selling to an owner who appeared committed to making the investment necessary to produce a winning team longterm. However, that deal fell through at the last minute, and so it is another year in a holding pattern for the Hawks. With almost $45M committed to Johnson, Smith and Horford over the next two seasons alone, it is unlikely that this pattern will change soon.
Overall Trend: Down. Atlanta has too much money committed to too few players on a team that does not appear likely to have a legitimate shot at becoming a title contender anytime soon.
Biggest Addition: Tracy McGrady.
Losses: Jamal Crawford.
Best Case: Second Round of the playoffs. The Hawks have made the second round two years in a row, and it is certainly possible they can repeat that feat next year.
Worst Case: First Round as the seventh or eighth seed. The Hawks are still too good of a team not to make the playoffs this year; however, they could barely make it and be done quickly at the hands of Chicago or Miami.
Most Likely Case: First round of the playoffs with a seed in the 4-6 range. Atlanta is a solid playoff team, but almost certainly a one and done team.
(34-48, missed playoffs)
Headline: Jordan’s Squad Looks to Rebuild Around a College Star and a Promising Young Big Man.
Summary: Trading Gerald Wallace to Portland last season signaled that the Bobcats realized the inevitable. They were not going to be any more than a fringe playoff team at best without rebuilding. After a solid offseason that landed them Kemba Walker and Bismack Biyombo from the draft, the Bobcats have the first few pieces of what they hope will be a renaissance of NBA basketball in Charlotte.
Overall Trend: Down, but in a controlled way. The Bobcats wisely chose to blow it up last year, so while they are worse off the next few years, they should be better a few years down the road.
Biggest Addition: Kemba Walker (9th overall pick).
Losses: Kwame Brown, Stephen Jackson and Shaun Livingston.
Best Case: #1 overall draft pick. This year’s Bobcats should finish with one of the worst records in the league, exactly what GM Rich Cho wants. They will have a decent shot to nab the top pick as a result.
Worst Case: Lose out in the lottery and end up with a pick in the 8-10 range. The bottom of the east is bad enough that the Bobcats could pile a bunch of cheap wins, come nowhere close to the playoffs, and end up with a pick similar to the #9 choice they had last year (they acquired the #7 pick via trade).
Most Likely Case: Miss the playoffs and get a top-five pick. The Bobcats need good, young players, and they are likely to get a high pick to allow them to continue stockpiling young talent after this season.
(23-59, missed playoffs)
Headline: Can John Wall Conjure Something to Avoid Another Last Place Finish?
Summary: Last year wasn’t quite the improvement that many Washington fans might have hoped. The Wizards struggled all year and although #1 overall pick John Wall was exciting to watch, he had a tendency to turn the ball over far too often and was not as good as many had hoped. Still, with a decent crop of young players and a fair bit of cap space next offseason, things are looking up for the Wizards for the first time in a while.
Overall Trend: Up. If not that quickly, the Wizards should be a better team than last year, although the big jump appears to come after this season when they will have lots of cap room to play with.
Biggest Addition: Jan Vesely (6th overall pick).
Losses: Josh Howard.
Best Case: Get a top-five pick and land a few good free agents. Due to the increased minimum salary requirements in the new CBA, the Wizards had to hold onto Rashard Lewis’ bloated contract for one more year. They will presumably amnesty him next summer, and combining that cap space with a top-five pick would be a great haul for them.
Worst Case: They strike out in free agency and get a pick near the bottom of the lottery. It is not entirely clear that Washington is a place top free agents want to go. If the Wizards fail to land any big free agents and get a late lottery pick they will be better than they are now, but not by nearly as much as they had hoped.
Most Likely Case: Do well in free agency and get a pick in the 8-10 range. The Wizards may not realistically be in the running for any of the top free agents, but they could land several decent players that, combined with another top 10 pick, could allow them to become a playoff caliber team in short order.