It’s the third week of our preseason previews here at The Chasedown Block, and this week we will be taking a look at the Southeast Division of the Eastern Conference. This division houses the Charlotte Bobcats, Orlando Magic, Washington Wizards, Atlanta Hawks, and the Miami Heat. While the Heat may be the only elite level team here, the other teams also pose some interesting questions due to their transitional states.
The Hawks and the Magic both had some massive shake-ups this offseason, and the Wizards and Bobcats added a new piece or two but are mainly just young teams trying to find a way to win some games. One obviously has to pencil the Heat into the playoffs, but can the division produce more than one postseason team?
That’s what we are here to find out, so without further ado, here is the 2012-2013 preview for the Southeast division, presented again in the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly format.
The Good: The Heat won the championship last year of course, and one would think that they will run away with this division and probably wind up with the top seed in the East. After years of being maligned for a lack of effective post game, Lebron James unveiled just that as an addition to his arsenal during last year’s playoffs. Lebron being able to operate in the post generates a nearly endless supply of open looks for his teammates, something the team is obviously looking to capitalize on since they went out and picked up Ray Allen and Rashard Lewis to help beef up their shooting stable. Ray Allen is of course the record holder for made threes in the NBA, and Rashard Lewis may not be the game changer he was years ago during Orlando’s Finals run, but one figures he can hit an open two here or there to contribute to the Heat’s offensive spacing. When you consider the fact that I haven’t even mentioned Dwayne Wade or Chris Bosh yet, it really isn’t all that difficult to see why I believe Miami makes their third consecutive Finals appearance.
The Bad: Speaking of Dwayne Wade, he sure seemed to spend a lot of time looking injured, both on the court and off of it. In the Finals there were numerous times that Russell Westbrook made him look too slow and old to compete at the highest level anymore. Wade is expected to miss the beginning of the season with knee injury, and if he misses a lot of time this year, Lebron will have to carry a lot of the load. One of the biggest reasons that James’s postgame was so successful is it surprised everyone. The more he has to use, the more teams will find a way to compensate for it.
The Ugly: Miami has gotten where they are by playing a small ball style and using their smothering defense to help fuel easy opportunities on offense. I do expect that they will return to the Finals, but you may have heard about a certain LA team trading for a large athletic center. If the Heat meet the Lakers in the Finals, they will be wishing they had more effective big men to compromise for for Dwight Howard and Pau Gasol’s size.
Season Prediction: 58-24
Hit the jump for the rest of Jordan’s piece…
The Good: People (myself included) have been saying that Atlanta needed to blow up their Joe Johnson-oriented roster for some time, and it seems we halfway got our wish. Joe Johnson was shipped to Brooklyn, leaving Al Horford, Josh Smith, and Jeff Teague as the guys left who will have to pick up the pieces of his departure. Smith and Horford fueled what was a top five defense early on last year, and even after Horford’s injury, the team’s D stayed much stronger than anyone really expected. That will have to remain a calling card for the Hawks if they want to make another appearance in the postseason. One figures the offense will be less iso-heavy without Johnson around, and if they use Smith’s presence to create looks for import Lou Williams and snipers Kyle Korver and Anthony Morrow, it is quite possible that the Hawks could do well again. But reaching the playoffs is not the goal anyone has for the Hawks. The question is will this team be ready to compete with the likes of Boston, Miami, or the Knicks when they get there.
The Bad: The question has been asked for years if Josh Smith is a piece that a contender could be built around, and if he isn’t, we will find out very quickly. Does this team reach the playoffs? I think so, yes. Can they do anything once they get there? I don’t believe so. The Hawks are taking steps in the right direction with the Johnson trade, but if this team still just gets to the playoffs and loses in the first and second round, then what has been achieved here? I say give it a year. If they fail, trade Smith before he kills his value.
The Ugly: Ivan Johnson is the only player I know of to have a college coach refuse to extend his scholarship because of “anger management issues.” He is also the only player I know of to be banned from the Korean Basketball League (after flipping off an official. In the last game of the championship.). After writing this admittedly not-so-sunny Hawks preview, I’m thinking of asking Mark if I can live in the BTGIO bunker for the season.
Season Prediction: 35-47
The Good: Well, if there is a silver lining in all of this for Orlando, it’s that they have managed to pull a number of valuable pieces from the wreckage of the Dwightmare. Whatever the long term plan winds up being here, Orlando has positioned themselves as a team with a number of players that could be easily traded if the right deal offered itself up. Arron Afflalo isn’t the type of player that fires up a stadium, but he is certainly one of the most solid two guards in the league. You can take that same sentence I just typed and apply it to JJ Redick as well. Al Harrington is a player that could easily be traded to a team in need of a big man. I think this is certainly a lottery team, but if new GM Rob Hennigan can find takers for some of his players, then a full reboot of this team may not be far off. If you are going to be a lottery team, you may as well be a bad lottery team. Hard to swallow for the fans of the team, but unfortunately true.
The Bad: I know that the team was put in one of the weirdest situations that we have ever seen last year, what with Dwight, Stan, and Stan’s Diet Pepsi, but it is still amazing to me that when the smoke cleared out of that massive trade, that Orlando didn’t even manage to get the second best player in the deal for the league’s best center. I still feel like if Orlando would have held on a little longer, they could have gotten LA to fold and hand over Gasol, or at least get something more than what they got. But these things can’t really ever be judged this early. The Pau Gasol trade was lambasted at the time, but turned out to be a good thing for Memphis.
The Ugly: It most certainly wasn’t the intent of the Magic to wind up with basketball’s funniest backcourt, but that is certainly what has happened here. Don’t believe me? Come on man! Let me start a joke, and you can finish it however you want to: Al Harrington, Gustavo Ayon, Josh McRoberts, and Big Baby Davis walk into a bar….
Season Prediction: 31-51
The Good: The Wizards are amazingly young. Ten players on this roster are twenty-five or younger, meaning that the Wiz in theory should have nowhere to go but up. I don’t expect them to soar to lofty heights this season, but having a roster full of players that are still improving is far from the worst thing to have. John Wall will be returning for his third year, and the team will certainly be looking for major strides from him, but the fact remains that Wall is a passing point guard, and the team around him will have to grow before we see just how good he can be. Jan Vesely was picked up to be Wall’s running mate, and it will be critical for the team that he grow into someone able to accept that role. Trevor Ariza will have to step up as well. With all the youngsters on the team, guys like Ariza (as well as Emeka Okafor and Nene, the team’s presumptive frontcourt) will have to be the veteran presence that keeps the entire team from going off the rails at the first sign of trouble.
The Bad: I know that the Wizard’s management has predicted a long rebuild, but so far we have seen little to nothing out of it. The team is very young, and it is of course true that young teams always have a chance of over performing, but does anyone really think that will be the case here? The OKC model only worked for OKC because they drafted three top 25 players in consecutive drafts. The Wizards haven’t done that. Randy Wittman will need more than stickers in his bag of motivational tricks to get this team to where they want to go.
The Ugly: I seem to remember when he was drafted, people wondered if John Wall would be able to fit into the league during this point guard heavy period. He was mentioned alongside names like Derrick Rose, Steve Nash, Rajon Rondo etc. At this point Ricky Rubio has had a larger impact on his team. Wall’s rookie contract is running out, and if he can’t find his foothold, he’s going to see a lot of names start passing him by.
Season Prediction: 25-57
The Good: Whatever else happens, it would be nearly impossible for the Charlotte Bobcats to be worse than they were last year right? Ramon Sessions will be replacing DJ Augustin this year, and while Ramon was underwhelming last year in the playoffs, he is still a solid point guard who should have a calming effect on this team and hopefully help move them out of “Worst Team Ever” territory. Kemba Walker should continue to improve his game, and can hopefully contribute some offensive punch this year. You still have the owner of the coolest name in the NBA, Bismack Biyombo, who will hopefully hone his shot-blocking skills this year and help Brendan Haywood hold down the frontcourt. Adding Michael Kidd-Gilchrist will likely not be something the team regrets either. Look, I’m not saying the team will make the playoffs or anything, but there should be a dramatic improvement over the atrocity that took the court last year.
The Bad: On the other hand, while I do expect them to move out of “Worst Team Ever” territory, I do think it will be just a short move to merely “Close to Worst Team of 2013.” The sad truth is that the younger players on this team are likely nowhere near where the team needs to be, and the veterans on the squad are just nowhere near good enough to pick up the slack. Sessions, Mullens, Diop, Thomas, and Gordon do not an entertaining team make.
The Ugly: With the Bobcats more than likely not being entertaining again this year, owner Michael Jordan will likely have to use some interesting promotional tactics to fill seats when the Heat or Lakers aren’t in town. Gana Diop bobblehead night? Raffle for a chance to watch the game from Jordan’s box? MY hope is that he will give a free cat sweater to everyone in attendance one night.
Season Prediction: 28-54
Would Jordan Akin wear a cat sweater if Michael Jordan gave it to him? You bet your ass he would. You can questions Jordan’s fashion sense on Twitter @jakin1013, or via email at email@example.com.