Ranking the NBA’s Southeast Division
Cody Taylor takes a look at how the teams in the Southeast Division stack up entering the 2015-16 season.
With the bulk of this summer’s roster changes behind us, we’re beginning to get an idea of how each division will stack up. Teams are finding an identity with their new players, and rookies are adjusting to life in the NBA through Summer League.
The Southeast Division will remain largely intact for the most part, as those teams felt confident with their existing rosters and opted to only make small changes. The Charlotte Hornets have made perhaps the most noise by trading Lance Stephenson and bringing in Nicolas Batum and several other players.
With the Orlando Magic looking more likely to take the next step in their rebuild, the division could be back near the top of the league as soon as this season. Based on how the offseason has gone, here’s a look at how the division should shake out next season:
#5 – Charlotte Hornets (33-49)
Key Additions: Nicolas Batum, Frank Kaminsky, Jeremy Lin, Spencer Hawes, Jeremy Lamb, Aaron Harrison
Key Subtractions: Lance Stephenson, Gerald Henderson, Mo Williams, Bismack Biyombo
The Hornets ended the experiment with Lance Stephenson and opted to ship him out to the Clippers. They were unsure of how to integrate him into the lineup as he started some games and came off of the bench for others. The results were poor, as Stephenson averaged just 8.2 points per game on 38 percent shooting, including just 17 percent from three-point range.
They were quick to make changes to the team and decided to bring in Nicolas Batum from Portland and then signed free agent Jeremy Lin. They drafted Frank Kaminsky, acquired Jeremy Lamb from Oklahoma City and added Spencer Hawes in the Stephenson deal.
Adding all of the pieces together could take some time to pan out as each of those players figure to see significant roles next season. Finding minutes for those players and setting them into their roles could be a tough task for head coach Steve Clifford.
#4 – Orlando Magic (25-57)
Key Additions: Mario Hezonja, C.J. Watson, Jason Smith
Key Subtractions: Maurice Harkless, Kyle O’Quinn
This is the season in which the Magic begin to show signs of life. This upcoming season will be the fourth in the post-Dwight Howard era and it should be the one that they climb out from the basement of the Southeast Division. With another season under their belts, it’s time for the team’s younger players to take the next step in their development.
Nikola Vucevic and Tobias Harris will each be playing in the first year of their new contracts. Victor Oladipo should pick up from his successful second-half run of last season in which he finished eighth in scoring in the East. Elfrid Payton is coming off of a successful rookie campaign and Aaron Gordon is beginning to show improvement through summer workouts and in the Summer League. Rookie Mario Hezonja has flashed his potential in limited action in the Summer League and they added veterans Jason Smith and C.J. Watson to help mentor the younger guys.
It’ll be up to new head coach Scott Skiles to put it all together and take advantage of their defensive-minded players to help them come out from the bottom of the conference.
#3 – Washington Wizards (46-36)
Key Additions: Jared Dudley, Alan Anderson, Gary Neal, Kelly Oubre Jr.
Key Subtractions: Paul Pierce
The Wizards were one of the more quiet teams in the division. They opted to bring in pieces in Jared Dudley, Alan Anderson and Gary Neal to add depth to the bench. Kelly Oubre, Jr. will need time to develop and may not see a huge role in the offense at first, but could be an option after some time.
By staying mostly quiet in free agency, the team likely felt their team can contend with the roster as is. The loss of Paul Pierce may prove to be critical as he was able to still remain productive last season. He had the most playoff experience of anyone on the roster and came up with clutch shots all throughout the season. His time with the team proved to be invaluable for some of the younger players.
With Pierce gone, they’ll rely more on John Wall this season to fill the leadership role left by Pierce. The team was devastated in the playoffs last season with the injury to Wall and their chances to go deep consequently suffered. With everyone back healthy and some new pieces in the mix, the Wizards could be in for a long playoff run.
#2 – Atlanta Hawks (60-22)
Key Additions: Tiago Splitter, Tim Hardaway Jr., Edy Tavares, Justin Holiday
Key Subtractions: DeMarre Carroll, Pero Antic
The Hawks were another team that remained fairly quiet. Their biggest move of the offseason thus far has been retaining free agent Paul Millsap as he was reportedly considering signing with Orlando. While they bring Millsap back, they lost DeMarre Carroll to the Raptors. Carroll was certainly a key piece to the team’s success last season, but the Hawks are a team with plenty of depth and should make do without him with players like Thabo Sefolosha and Kent Bazemore.
After a successful season last year in which they secured the top seed in the East, the Hawks will again have to prove themselves this season. They’ve made the playoffs in eight consecutive seasons, but have yet to make it to the Finals after getting swept by the Cavaliers in last season’s Conference Finals. With the majority of the roster back for another run, the team will be in a good position to pick up where they left off.
#1 – Miami HEAT (37-45)
Key Additions: Justise Winslow, Amar’e Stoudemire, Gerald Green
Key Subtractions: N/A
The HEAT had perhaps one of the best offseasons in the league, and they really didn’t change too much. By keeping Dwyane Wade, Goran Dragic and Luol Deng, the team will be at full strength all season long and will avoid any drastic roster changes.
Last year, the HEAT weren’t at full strength for much of the season and went through quite a few rough patches as a result. Hassan Whiteside caught on around January, Dragic joined the team at the trade deadline and Chris Bosh missed a significant portion of the season after suffering from blood clots in one of his lungs. With the team all back for next season, the HEAT should seriously challenge for a top-three position in the Eastern Conference and should clinch the Southeast Division.
The HEAT should prove to be back on top again after an up-and-down campaign last season. The Hawks have been written off before and it seems as though they like playing in the underdog role so they could challenge the HEAT for the top spot in the division. While this was an early look at how the division should stack up next season, things could change as the season approaches and we know what roles the players will have (and if injuries occur). But it’s never too early to start thinking about it.
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