NBA Preview: Southeast Division

By Drew Sorrells

Atlanta Hawks:

credit: www.atlantablackstar.com
  • 2014-15 Record: 60-22
  • Key Acquisitions: Tim Hardaway, Jr. (Knicks), Tiago Splitter (Hawks)
  • Key Departures: Demarre Carroll (Raptors)
  • Projected Starting Lineup: Jeff Teague, Kyle Korver, Kent Bazemore, Paul Milsap, Al Horford

What you need to know:

NBA Coach of the Year Mike Budenholzer and the Hawks took the league by surprise when they turned in the first 17-0 month in NBA history. They had no superstars, but they had very good players and a Poppavichian system predicated on ball movement. This season, they are expected to take a step back after losing Demarre Carroll to the Raptors and becoming somewhat exposed in the playoffs last season.

They still have 4 of their starters from last season, and a dynamic back-court in Jeff Teague and Kyle Korver. Korver is a lethal weapon spotting up from behind the arc, and Teague is an underrated playmaker. Their front-court is also stout, with Paul Millsap and Al Horford.

But in the East, they do not stack up well against the Cavaliers and therefore have little hope at a title this season. They will remain competitive by Eastern Conference standards, but will also regress with the loss of Demarre Carroll and the acquisition of no key assets. However, they could very well prove me wrong in this regard because not a soul had them pegged to be as good as they were last season. If any system is predicated on replacing somebody without any hitches or drawbacks, Budenholzer has the perfect one.

Washington Wizards:

credit: www.rantsports.com
  • 2014-15 Record: 46-36
  • Key Acquisitions: Jared Dudley (Bucks), Alan Anderson (Nets)
  • Key Departures: Paul Pierce (Clippers)
  • Projected Starting Lineup: John Wall, Bradley Beal, Otto Porter, Kris Humphris, Goran Dragic

What you need to know:

The Wizards lost their playoff hero this offseason when Paul Pierce left for the Clippers. The loss of that kind of vocal leader is crucial on a young team, but John Wall has his sights set on filling that void. Wall turned in a tremendous campaign in 2015 where he was second to only Chris Paul in assists, and looks to improve on that season moving forward. There are also whispers throughout the nation’s capital about the possibility of Kevin Durant returning to his hometown next summer. By whispers, I mean that the franchise is all in on KD and is making no secret about it. So, not really whispers at all. Every offseason move the Wizards made was to set them up for a pursuit of Durant next offseason, but this season will not be a lost cause.

The trend of the NBA is to spread the floor and play fast.  You literally can’t watch a game or read an article without hearing about a stretch-4 and floor spacing. The Wizards have bought into this philosophy, slotting Kris Humphries into the starting 5 over longtime starter Nene and introducing a new pace to their game to suit the skill set of the fastest player in the NBA, who happens to be their point guard, John Wall.

For this to hold success, it relies on the emergence of two young players: Bradley Beal and Otto Porter. These two were both top-3 draft picks and showed two productive they can be in last year’s playoff run. Beal can be a very capable scorer, while Porter can be a menace on the boards and stingy on defense. Porter also gives the Wizards the ability to play small and spread the floor further.

Health is also a key factor for the Wizards. Bradley Beal is looking to make a push for his first All-Star campaign this year and he must remain healthy to do so. After missing considerable time as a rookie and last season, he will have to prove he can be a durable NBA starter who can put up points for the Wizards. I knocked on wood after writing that and I hope you do the same.

In the East, the Wizards fall into the category of “not as good as Cleveland but still good” along with Chicago, Atlanta, Miami and Toronto. They have to prove that all of their eggs aren’t in one Duran-sized basket and compete for that second seed if they will continue to progress. But there is a young core surrounded by veteran presences that can prove to be very effective, which makes Washington an Eastern conference contender at the very least.

Miami Heat:

credit: www.sportsworldreport.com
  • 2014-15 Record:  37-45
  • Key Acquisitions: Justise Winslow (Duke), Gerald Green (Suns)
  • Key Departures: Nobody…
  • Projected Starting Lineup: Goran Dragic, Dwayne Wade, Luol Deng, Chris Bosh, and Hasaan Whiteside

What you need to know:

Miami may be the team with the most unpredictable season ahead. They bring back their Big 3 minus 1 with Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh. Bosh, who missed the stretch of last season, is now the key offensive weapon and the guy who will carry them to where they need to be. Wade, while aging, still has some game. He’s not the same “Flash” we saw in his younger days, but Im pretty sure Flash the superhero is out of commission now too so what did you expect?

A lot remains up in the air still for Miami. We still don’t know how effective Goran Dragic can be with Dwayne Wade, whether or not Hassan Whiteside was just a flash in the pan or legitimate, if Justise Winslow has the tools to be a steady contributer his rookie season, and how gray Erik Spoelstra’s hair will turn with all of the offensive-minded-defense-be-damned bench players on their roster.

Make no mistake, this is the last ditch effort for the Heat to build a contender, and a makeshift one at that. Bosh and Wade are proven veterans, but they haven’t really proven they can get it done as a duo without Lebron James there to complete the triangle. They found themselves in what appeared to be no man’s land in last years draft, but came out with Winslow which is a huge plus. They could very well be the best chance to knock Lebron and the Cavs off, but could also be another one of the NBA’s failed experiments. I’m a (self-proclaimed) expert in these sorts of things, and I have no idea which one it will be. The only thing we can do is wait and see.

Charlotte Hornets:

credit: www.basketball-society.com
  • 2014-15 Record: 33-49
  • Key Acquisitions: Nicolas Batum (Trail Blazers)
  • Key Departures: Lance Stephenson (Clippers) ((Actually an acquisition by departure))
  • Projected Starting Lineup: Kemba Walker, PJ Hairston, Nicolas Batum, Cody Zeller, Al Jefferson

What you need to know:

The Hornets went from an upstart team expected to compete to a miserable example of how Lance Stephenson can dismantle a franchise. This season, they have already lost their top-flight wing defender Michael Kidd-Gilchrist for the season and bring back the same core that couldn’t secure a playoff spot in the East last year. They aim for mediocrity once again, and will most likely fall short of that low bar.

Most were left to scratch their heads at the rejection of Boston’s draft day King’s Ransom trade offer for the number 9 pick. Their reward was the goofiest man the game has seen in years, Wisconsin big man Frank Kaminsky.

credit: www.espn.com

Its hard to see where he fits in a frontcourt that already features Al Jefferson, Cody Zeller, Tyler Hansborough, and Spencer Hawes.

The direction of the franchise is difficult to see and this season could very well be their ceiling. They have put much of their stock into Kemba Walker, who has shot 40% in a season just once in his career, an aging Al Jefferson, and a rookie Kaminsky who isn’t expected to be a tremendous NBA talent. It could be a case of the Hornets chasing fools gold and not rebuilding, or a case of the Hornets trusting Walker’s development.

So, what’s next for the Hornets? Probably not great things. Sorry, MJ.

credit: www.bossip.com

Orlando Magic:

  • 2014-15 Record: 25-57

  • Key Acquisitions: Mario Hezonja (Croatia)
  • Key Departures: Kyle O’Quinn
  • Projected Starting Lineup: Elfrid Payton, Victor Oladipo, Evan Fournier, Tobias Harris, Niokola Vucevic

What you need to know: 

The Magic brought in new coach Scott Skiles to push them from rebuilding to contention this season. They have a very solid young group that they have built around. Elfrid Peyton finished second in the East in assists in his rookie campaign last year, and combines with Victor Oladipo in the backcourt to lead a very athletic roster. They have some serious bounce. Seriously, look.

They added Croatian legend Mario Hezonja, who looks to bring shooting to a team that seriously lacks in that department. His potential is up in the air, but he is a young 20 years old with tremendous upside. His potential fits in neatly with the rest of the Magic roster.

Instead of pursuing free agents this offseason, the Magic instead trusted the foundation they had built inside their organization. They have a young team with star upside, but its not likely they are quite there yet. They look to Oladipo to be their star player, and it has yet to be seen if he can do so. And in a league moving towards 3-point bombing over athletic driving, the Magic gear more towards the latter over the former. The potential is obvious, but the product will remain to be seen.