The Miami Heat clearly rank supreme in the Southeast division as well as in the Eastern conference. Having won back-to-back titles, they show no signs of slowing down. LeBron James is dazzling basketball fans around the world, making them wonder if he really is the best to ever play the game. The Heat will win this division, but there is hope for some other teams in the Southeast, like the Wizards, who have a chance to make the playoffs. Let’s look at how the division will play out (*denotes playoff team).
1.) *Miami Heat
If I were a betting man, my money would be on the Miami Heat to pull a three-peat and win the NBA championship. They have all of the pieces and even found a way to improve their team from a year ago. They signed Greg Oden, an injury plagued center who has not lived up to his #1 overall pick six years ago, and Michael Beasley, a talented but immature small forward who was once considered the best player coming out of college. These are two low-risk, potentially high reward picks could significantly help Miami’s bench. Of course, distractions are part of the game, and there will be a huge focus on LeBron’s impending free agency and whether he will return to South Beach next year. The X-factor for the Heat is Dwyane Wade’s health. Although Dwyane is working with Tim Grover, the legendary trainer who has worked miracles with athletes and their injuries, he still has a lot of miles on his knees and has clearly shown deterioration in his explosiveness. Chris Bosh is another important player for the Heat as he stretches out opposing defenses with his mid-range game, opening up the hole for LeBron and D-Wade to attack. If Bosh improves on the defensive side of the ball, the Heat will be tough to beat. The Miami Heat has great talent off the floor as Pat Riley and Erik Spoelstra have brought in viable role players who have meshed with the big three quite well. Riley and Spoelstra will be busy managing the media scrutiny about LeBron’s free agency while also formulating a plan for the future in case LeBron decides to leave. Watch for the Heat in the headlines as they create a lot of excitement on and off the court.
2.) *Washington Wizards
The Wizards take a big step and reach the playoffs this season with their young stars starting to pay dividends. After John Wall returned from a serious knee injury last year, the Wizards finished the season with a .500 record, which would have been good enough to make the playoffs considering the Bucks got in under .500. John Wall received his much-desired max contract extension, they drafted Otto Porter, a versatile wing player who can defend and Bradley Beal showed significant improvement as the season wore on. The Wizards also have some expiring contracts in Emeka Okafor and Trevor Ariza that could be traded for some younger assets to help the Wizards in the long-run. But the Wizards lack post presence, as Nene has not been able to stay healthy, Emeka Okafor is not the player he once was, and the Wizards don’t have any reliable back-ups. This put the onus on Wall, Beal and Porter to carry the offense and both Wall and Porter are inconsistent shooters, which is partially why the Wizards ranked 27th in field goal percentage last season. If the Wizards can attack more, and trade Okafor and/or Ariza for a viable big man, the Wizards could vault themselves from an 8th seed to a 6-7th seed.
3.) Atlanta Hawks
The Hawks are positioned for a rebuilding year as they let Josh Smith go to Detroit and they fired Larry Drew. And while the Hawks have a solid core of Al Horford, Jeff Teague and Lou Williams, they are still several significant upgrades from making the playoffs. In the NBA, there are teams who are consistently mediocre with little potential of advancing but are not the dregs of the league. The Atlanta Hawks are the quintessential example. They missed out on Chris Paul and Dwight Howard but signed a nice complimentary piece in Paul Milsap while also re-signing Kyle Korver. The Hawks also had a nice draft by selecting Dennis Schröeder, a talented point guard who could be a surprise ROY and might even take over the starting job from Jeff Teague. He still needs time to adjust to the NBA game but has the potential to be a cornerstone of this franchise. The Hawks are young and need more pieces to be contenders.
4.) Charlotte Bobcats
The Charlotte Bobcats have been the laughing stock of the NBA for years now as they have consistently drafted players who have turned out to be busts including Adam Morrison, Brandan Wright and DJ Augustin. Fan attendance is low and the Bobcats don’t have a player worth advertising. Insert Al Jefferson. Although Jefferson may not be a star, he has a consistent game of 18 points and 9 rebounds per game, solid numbers for a new NBA game that focuses on perimeter play. This signing is important for the growth of the Bobcats and for showing the fan base that the team can attract free agents. But even with the Jefferson signing, the Bobcats don’t have enough talent to get out of the lottery, which is a good thing for them as they traded a protected 1st round pick to the Bulls back in 2010 and that pick still has protection until 2016. The Bobcats also have a Blazers protected top twelve pick and a Pistons protected top eight pick that the Bobcats may get this year as the Blazers and Pistons look to make the playoffs. Given how stacked the draft is expected to be, a midrange pick could turn into a star, so the Bobcats have a great opportunity on the horizon. Multiple picks can change the course of their franchise in just one night. This might be the last year for Bobcat nation to root for tanking and hopefully owner Michael Jordan and GM Rich Cho can turn this team around. As for this season, the Bobcats need Michael Kidd-Gilchrist to find a jumpshot, Cody Zeller to play physical against bigger players and for Kemba Walker to become a more efficient shooter. I don’t like this team now, but next year, it may be an entirely different story.
5.) Orlando Magic
The Magic will be one of the worst teams in the NBA, no doubt about it, but they do have some exciting young players such as Victor Oladipo, Tobias Harris, Mo Harkless and Nikola Vucevic. These players will become complimentary pieces to the high first round lottery pick they will draft this year. The question becomes what kind of player will they draft, as Victor Oladipo has played point guard throughout the summer league as well as in preseason. If the Magic get the #1 overall pick, there is no question who they will take Andrew Wiggins; if they fall to a lower spot, and they think Oladipo will be more of a shooting guard, then the Magic may draft a point guard, potentially Marcus Smart, a player they wanted last year who didn’t declare for the draft. Other possibilities are Dante Exum, an Australian player with good height and play making ability or Andrew Harrison, a physical guard who can play both guard positions and will know how to play under pressure because he will star for the University of Kentucky this season. The Magic will also get the lesser pick of the Nuggets-Knicks trade that involved Carmelo Anthony, which could turn into another valuable asset. This season will not produce many wins for the Magic but the future is looking brighter.
Stats from ESPN/