October 24, 2012
By Joe Kotoch
The Southeast Division has seen itself turned upside down, While the defending champs are the standard bearers of the division, the rebuild in Orlando has created an interesting race to the bottom between the Magic and Charlotte Bobcats for the worst record in the NBA.
What is there to say? The Heat won the title in convincing fashion and bolstered their roster over the summer by adding Ray Allen and Rashard Lewis. While the Heat's roster has struggled against length, Miami seemed to find a recipe for success when they played small-ball with LeBron James at power forward. With Allen, Lewis, Mario Chalmers, Shane Battier, Joel Anthony, and company the Heat have surrounded James, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh with the most depth and talent yet.
As the class of the division and favorites to repeat as champs, there is little doubt that Miami will bulldoze through the competition. What will be more interesting is to see how this cast gels and if they play as smoothly as they did in the Finals.
This is not the same Hawks that we have grown accustomed to seeing the last few seasons. Newly-hired GM Danny Ferry wasted no time wheeling and dealing, shipping out Joe Johnson as part of a massive cap-clearing strategy towards the summer of 2013. The Hawks added Kyle Korver, Devin Harris, and Louis Williams while adding John Jenkins and Mike Scott via the draft.
It seems as though the Hawks are taking the long-view approach in creating cap flexibility for the sake on on-court success this year. Having been in the middle of the Eastern Conference playoffs the Hawks appear to be a borderline playoff team this season. Atlanta should be the runner up to the Heat for the Division but that still may not be enough to sneak into the improved Eastern Conference playoff picture.
On paper a lineup of John Wall, Brad Beal, Trevor Ariza, Nene, and Emeka Okafor looks talented and with Jordan Crawford and others off the bench Washington might be ready to make a jump in the standings in the Eastern Conference. While the playoffs still may be out of reach for this young team, a marked improvement is the least that fans should expect. The key for the Wizards will be to get out to a fast start and build on that momentum. With Wall and Beal the Wizards have the making of one of the league's best and youngest backcourts and the two should perfectly compliment one another.
If Beal makes an immediate impact and provides Washington with outside shooting and Nene and Okafor stay healthy don't sleep on this team making some noise and staying in the playoff hunt throughout the regular season.
How far have the Magic fallen? No team will experience as steep a decline as the Magic will this season. While the Dwightmare is finally over and the Magic have given the keys to Rob Hennigan, there is just not much talent in Orlando. While the Magic were linked to numerous deals with teams over Howard and ultimately settled on trading Howard to the Lakers the Magic centerpiece now appears to be Moe Harkless and while the rookie has some intriguing attributes he will not make people forget Howard anytime soon.
With a flurry of draft picks and some needed cap flexibility the Magic are opting for a slow rebuild. In the end don't be surprised to see the Magic win the lottery this year as the Cavs and Hornets have each done so after losing superstars too.
The Cats are in a difficult position of having no clear direction. The hire of Mike Dunlap was a surprise to many and while Rich Cho is a respected GM, Michael Jordan's crew dug themselves a huge ditch and will take a while to get out of it. Nonetheless the key of the Bobcats offseason was the drafting of Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, who was the emotional leader of the Kentucky Wildcats. With a young crew led by Ben Gordon and Gerald Henderson, a coach like Dunlap can help teach and progress the teams development but do not be naive this will be one of the worst teams in the NBA.
The battle with Orlando for the worst record may go down to the wire but with MKG at least Bobcats fans will have something to cheer for amidst all the losing.