It’s been an exciting and interesting offseason throughout the league, and the Southeast Division is one with plenty of uncertainty as we prepare for training camp. Today we continue our breakdown of each NBA division by diving into the Southeast.
#5. Orlando Magic (35-47 last season)
Key Additions: Bismack Biyombo, Serge Ibaka, Jeff Green, D.J. Augustin, Jodie Meeks, C.J. Wilcox
Key Subtractions: Victor Oladipo, Dewayne Dedmon, Ersan Ilyasova, Brandon Jennings, Devyn Marble, Andrew Nicholson, Shabazz Napier, Jason Smith
The Magic have been in the Eastern Conference basement since trading Dwight Howard to the Los Angeles Lakers in 2012. But the plan during those down years was clear for all to see: the team was going to take their time by rebuilding with young talent and avoiding an influx of highly paid free agent acquisitions.
However, as we head into the 2016-17 season, the Magic have abruptly ended those slow grinding plans. First the team hired head coach Frank Vogel and then went on an assault via trade and free agency with their sights clearly set on a playoff return sooner rather than later.
But can they make the jump back into relevancy this season?
While the Magic made a splash this summer there can be an argument made whether the team actually moved the needle significantly forward. Bismack Biyombo, now armed with a four-year deal worth $70 million, plays the same position as longtime starter Nikola Vucevic. The newly acquired center is a much better defensive option than Vucevic, but the latter is without a doubt the stronger offensive player.
The Magic’s hope for improvement also rests on the shoulders of Green, a veteran who has bounced around the league trying to find his niche. Green signed a one-year, $15 million deal and will be headed to free agency next summer. There’s a lot riding on this season for him, so there’s motivation.
Perhaps the Magic’s most splashy move of the summer came when they acquired Serge Ibaka from Oklahoma City. Ibaka had a largely inconsistent 2016 campaign, but the veteran forward should be highly motivated with free agency looming next summer. But Ibaka’s presence could stifle the growth of forward Aaron Gordon, who showed flashes last season in bigger minutes.
The mission for Frank Vogel and company is to win and do so in a hurry.
#4. Washington Wizards (41-41 last season)
Key Additions: Ian Mahinmi, Andrew Nicholson, Jason Smith, Trey Burke, Tomas Satoransky
Key Subtractions: Alan Anderson, Jared Dudley, Drew Gooden, J.J. Hickson, Nene, Ramon Sessions, Garrett Temple
Heading into the 2016-17 season, the Wizards are an extremely tough team to peg. The team didn’t have any picks in June’s draft, but did manage to sign their 2012 second-round selection Tomas Satoransky to a multi-year deal. Nightly role players Ramon Sessions, Garrett Temple and Jared Dudley departed in free agency and were replaced with Andrew Nicholson, Jason Smith and Ian Mahinmi. Former lottery pick Trey Burke was acquired via trade and enters a contract season after an up-and-down start to his professional career.
But maybe the goal in D.C. isn’t about flashy offseason moves. The team believes they already have their franchise player in All-Star guard John Wall on the roster. The club also believes guard Bradley Beal is capable of being Wall’s trusty sidekick – if he can shake off the injury woes.
If their assessment is accurate, then it comes down to their current group of role players and young talent. Satoransky has been playing professionally overseas and should be ready for minutes from day one. Forward Kelly Oubre received solid minutes as a rookie and could take another step this season. Starting center Marcin Gortat is a nightly double-double threat.
The Wizards could make a return to the playoffs, or at least a strong run at a berth, if new head coach Scott Brooks is able to find the right rhythm early and avoid a slow start out of the gate.
#3. Miami HEAT (48-34 last season)
Key Additions: Wayne Ellington, Dion Waiters, Derrick Williams, James Johnson, Luke Babbitt, Willie Reed
Key Subtractions: Dwyane Wade, Chris Andersen, Luol Deng, Gerald Green, Joe Johnson, Amar’e Stoudemire
There’s just too much uncertainty surrounding the Miami HEAT organization to rank them any higher, but the team has proven to be one of the most mentally tough squads in the league year in and year out so it’s tough to rank them any lower.
But one thing is certain: These are new times for the HEAT without future Hall of Fame guard Dwyane Wade in town. Wade’s departure would sting in any year, but compounding the devastation is the uncertainty surrouning the playing future of All-Star forward Chris Bosh, who has had to miss the back half of each of the past two seasons.
Still, this is a team that came within one victory of an Eastern Conference Finals appearance this past season. Miami will be expecting huge growth from center Hassan Whiteside after awarding the emerging big man with a four-year deal worth nearly $100 million. The team also scrambled in free agency to ink guard Tyler Johnson to a four-year, $50 million deal by matching Brooklyn’s offer sheet after Wade bounced to Chicago.
This is a prime opportunity for guard Goran Dragic to thrive as a featured piece of the offense. Dragic is the unquestionable best player in Miami’s backcourt for the first time since arriving to town.
Head coach Erik Spoelstra has his hands full adjusting to life without Wade (and potentially Bosh) but the cupboard is far from bare down in Miami.
#2. Charlotte Hornets (48-34 last season)
Key Additions: Marco Belinelli, Ramon Sessions, Roy Hibbert, Christian Wood
Key Subtractions: Tyler Hansbrough, Al Jefferson, Courtney Lee, Jeremy Lin, Troy Daniels
The Hornets flirted with 50 victories last season and came within one win of reaching the second round of the playoffs. Not bad for a team missing Michael Kidd-Gilchrist (75 games) and Al Jefferson (35 games) for the majority of the season. Those two guys entered the campaign as shoe-ins in the Hornets’ starting rotation, but Charlotte managed to weather the storm led by talented guard Kemba Walker, who left no doubt whose team it is now.
Jefferson opted to join the Indiana Pacers in free agency this summer, but Kidd-Gilchrist should be back in the fold fully healthy. However, the Hornets will have to endure the departures of Courtney Lee and Jeremy Lin, two pivotal members of their backcourt last season. The additions of Marco Belinelli and Ramon Sessions soften the blow, on paper, but it remains to be seen if they can duplicate the production.
Wingman Nicolas Batum had a strong bounce-back campaign last season and was awarded a five-year, $120 million deal for his efforts. The Hornets’ success will be driven by Walker’s continued growth, Kidd-Gilchrist’s return and Batum’s ability to stay consistent.
#1. Atlanta Hawks (48-34 last season)
Key Additions: Dwight Howard, Jarrett Jack, Malcolm Delaney, Taurean Prince, DeAndre’ Bembry
Key Subtractions: Jeff Teague, Al Horford, Kirk Hinrich, Lamar Patterson
For a team that lost two All-Star caliber performers this summer, the Hawks still have numerous reasons to be optimistic headed into the 2016-17 campaign. Veteran Al Horford decided to uproot his family and head to Boston in free agency, while Atlanta chose to deal Jeff Teague to the Indiana Pacers in order to give the keys of the offense to Dennis Schroder.
By the time Horford announced his decision to wear Celtic green, the Hawks had already secured a verbal agreement from former Defensive Player of the Year Dwight Howard early in free agency. Howard immediately will address some of the Hawks’ rebounding woes.
To be fair, Howard’s production has been on the decline in recent seasons, but the hope is a little home cooking, change of scenery and a new style of play will help reinvigorate his career. While Howard has had the better overall career compared to Horford, at this point the departed center has been more consistent while also developing a steady three-point shot.
Trading Teague to Indiana put an end to any backcourt drama before it could begin. Teague will be an unrestricted free agent next summer and Schroder is headed to restricted free agency as well. It’s clear Schroder wanted the starting role and the team has been looking for the right opportunity to see if he can handle the job full-time. Perfect timing for all parties.
The Hawks’ biggest problems could come from the backcourt if Schroder isn’t ready for primetime or if veteran guard Kyle Korver’s decline from last season continues in more dramatic fashion. On the interior, Howard and All-Star Paul Millsap are an intriguing inside-outside duo. The wings have a solid amount of depth with Kent Bazemore, Thabo Sefolosha and rookies DeAndre’ Bembry and Taurean Prince in the mix for minutes.
It won’t always look pretty, but at season’s end the Hawks should win the Southeast Division and earn a top-three seed in the East come playoff time.
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