As the start of training camp dawns on the NBA 2010-2011 season, let’s take a look at the teams and see how they stand. This is going to be a series of articles structured by Conference and Division. We’re continuing with the Southeast Division in the Eastern Conference, home of the Orlando Magic, Atlanta Hawks, Miami Heat, Charlotte Bobcats, and Washington Wizards. Let’s examine these teams’ records last year, some roster changes in the offseason, and what their future looks like this upcoming season.
The Orlando Magic have been the powerhouse of the Southeast Division for several years now. With the Superfriends in town, that might end up changing quite quickly. Nevertheless, the best center in the NBA is still in Orlando, and he has a great supporting cast. A solid center is one of the few things the Heat currently lack, and stopping Dwight Howard will be difficult for any team, even if they have pretty much everything else. The Magic went 59-23 last season, which game them the second best record in the NBA for that year. Yes, the only team better than them during the regular season was the Cleveland Cavaliers, and they’re no longer a viable threat to Superman. His team had a relatively uneventful summer. They chose not to pursue Matt Barnes, who decided to go to Los Angeles (it’ll be interesting to see him, Kobe, and Ron Artest interact) and instead signed Quentin Richardson. While a good player, Richardson won’t bring this team over the top. He does, however, bring solid defense and good 3-point shooting to a team that prides itself on hailing down from downtown. One of the biggest issues facing the Magic is what to do with Vince Carter. He’s in a contract year (yes, this has been said many times already, but it’s actually a big deal), and if he wants to show everyone that he’s still worthy of being considered an All-Star (in spite of last season), he’ll have to do big things this season. In his place, young J.J. Redick is looking more and more likely to take over Carter’s starting role any moment. Provided Jameer Nelson can stay healthy, the Magic will easily be among the top 5 teams in the NBA this season. While I don’t think they’re a sure lock for second best overall record, they’re almost certainly a top two seed in the Eastern Conference. The other contender…Miami.
The Hawks flew high last season with 53 wins. Mike Woodson had been an impressive head coach as his team improved every season but continued to fall short during the playoffs. Despite having a very talented roster, they face a lot of internal problems. Joe Johnson, one of the first big name free agents to be signed during the offseason is undeniably talented. However, after being booed by his home crowd, he might be remiss in giving his all. Then again, if he doesn’t, why did he bother inking a six year contact with the team? A bigger problem is Jamal Crawford, who has openly demanded a new contract or a trade. As the reigning Sixth Man of the Year, I think he deserves one; however, the Hawks are hesitant. And with no other big roster changes this summer, the Hawks could be in for a slide down the Eastern Conference rankings. They’ll still make the playoffs, but it’s hard to tell just how far new head coach Larry Drew will take this team. I predict 45-55 wins for the Hawks this season, which will probably give them the third or fourth seed.
The Miami Heat went 47-35 last season, but could go as far as 73-9 or better, if you’re Jeff Van Gundy. For the rest of us who live in the real world, we understand that assembling a bunch of All-Stars doesn’t guarantee anything. In fact, it puts all the pressure on the team’s shoulders. But the rest of the team isn’t too bad either. Veterans like Zydrunas Ilgauskas, Mike Miller, etc. set up a pretty strong roster. Trading away Michael Beasley also helps the Heat because it establishes additional stability within the team. The biggest problem facing the Heat is the overwhelming amount of star power on the floor at once. All three of the Superfriends want the ball at any given moment, but who’s going to get it? Can three huge egos function together on one team? History says they can’t (i.e. Kobe and Shaq), but both Lebron and Wade are pretty unselfish players. Then again, after “The Decision”, calling Lebron unselfish might be a stretch of the imagination. Individually, these guys combine for about 80 points a game. But even if they’re playing 35-40 minutes a night that just doesn’t seem possible. All I can say is that the Heat will either be very good or very bad. As it stands, I’d estimate the Heat will win at least 60 games. Any team with Lebron on the roster will be incredibly talented, and the Heat were already pretty decent with Dwyane Wade at the helm. One of the biggest questions may actually revolve around Chris Bosh. While Wade and Lebron have both been proven capable leaders, Bosh has never guided his team the way they have. Bosh himself said that his free agency game was just for fun, and this, at least in my mind, casts some doubt on his usefulness for this team. Bosh can score and rebound and to deny that he’s a great player is simply wrong. However, his defensive game is lacking and his control of the ball isn’t always that great. Moreover, with Lebron and Wade running the floor, is Bosh really necessary to this team? The truth is that there’s no way to know. The one thing that is certain is that someone’s averages are going to have to go down this season in order for this team to click.
The Charlotte Bobcats fought valiantly against the Magic last summer, but ultimately fell way short and Michael Jordan wasn’t too thrilled about it. After winning 44 games, one would expect them to improve this summer. Unfortunately, it’s not that simple. Signing Kwame Brown may have been one of Jordan’s poorest decisions in a long time. The former Number 1 draft pick has been as influential on the court as Darko Milicic. Wondering who he is? He’s the guy drafted second after Lebron James in 2003. Clearly, draft order isn’t everything! On the bright side, at least they haven’t resigned Larry Hughes…yet. Waiving Erick Dampier hurt the team, but from a financial standpoint, made a lot of sense. Simply put, the Bobcats are an NBA wild card. They’re not good enough to be guaranteed a playoff spot, but they’re also not bad enough to be out of the race. As it stands, I’d give them 35-45 wins next year. I expect that they’ll be competing with the Cavaliers for a bottom playoff spot come late March and early April.
Last season, the only thing magical about the Wizards was…to be honest, I can’t think of anything. The team had an excellent roster on paper several seasons ago, but thanks to Lebron and his former Cavaliers, the Wizards couldn’t make it out of the first round of the playoffs. And like Lebron, that old roster is virtually completely gone. Gilbert Arenas is one of the few remaining holdouts, and his nickname “Agent Zero” was truly an appropriate way to describe his impact on the team last year. Or perhaps they should have called him “Negative Zero” since it’s truly a sad day when an NBA guard records double digit turnovers. Then again, the rest of the team wasn’t much of a factor either. Sure, Andray Blatche’s development had been impressive, but that was all the Wizards had to show for last season. Maybe that’s why Arenas brought guns into the locker room – maybe he wanted to motivate his teammates in a way Flip Saunders simply couldn’t do as head coach. Either way, that’s all hopefully in the past. With Arenas healthy and John Wall ready to vie for Rookie of the Year honors, the Wizards can be a force this season. Several questions still remain for the Wizards. Who will start in the backcourt? Wall is almost certainly a lock, but what about Arenas and Kirk Hinrich? Hinrich is a shooting guard, while Wall is a point guard, and Arenas can act as a combo-guard. What should the team do with Yi Jianlian? Can Flip Saunders help the team mesh after years of disastrous failures? The answers to these questions will determine the record the Wizards can realistically hope to achieve. I’d say that 30-40 games is not too unreasonable. Anything past 45 wins, however, is delusional at this point. Still, after winning only 26 games last season, this would be a definite improvement.
Finally, we’re shifting to the Atlantic Division to finish up the Eastern Conference.