The Heat’s Big 3 celebrate their NBA championship in the same venue where they had their infamous pep rally. Credit: Steve Mitchell-US PRESSWIRE
A Heat Wave in the Forecast
I have the easiest division out of all my colleagues because it is fairly obvious who will win this division. The Miami Heat are the clear favorite to win the division, the conference, and an NBA championship. No sensible NBA fan can object to the previous statement. However this article will focus on how the teams of the Southeast Division will fare in this first 82 game season since the lockout.
First, this division may fair to have the biggest win-loss drop compared to the rest of the divisions. What I mean by that is that two of the five teams will indeed perform significantly weaker than they did last season. With the departure of arguably the best big-man in the league, Dwight Howard, the Orlando Magic will dramatically struggle and will rival the horrible season the Cleveland Cavaliers had after the departure of their franchise player LeBron James. Including the departure of Dwight Howard, the division lost another All-Star, Joe Johnson, after the Atlanta Hawks traded away their leading scorer to the New Jersey Nets. The Hawks will indeed face a decline this season.
The other two teams, the Charlotte Bobcats and Washington Wizards, were easily among the worst teams in league last year. To add more fuel to the fire of inferiority, the Bobcats were statistically the worst team in league history when they won only seven games out of 66 games, a winning percentage that severed the previous low for scrubbiness. The Wizards meanwhile are in the latter stages of their rebuilding phase. They have assembled an entourage of young talent led by John Wall and Jordan Crawford and capable veterans. The Wizards will be a surprise team in the association and will have a turnaround from their years of losing.
Overall I expect the Southeast Division to be a diverse pool of teams: the elite, the average, and the just plain disgusting.
2011-2012 Record: 46-20
2011-2012 Playoffs: Won the NBA finals by defeating the Oklahoma City Thunder.
2012-2013 Record Projection: 65-17
Starters: Mario Chalmers, Dwyane Wade, Shane Battier, LeBron James, Chris Bosh
Sixth Man: Ray Allen
Synopsis: There isn’t much of a surprise on how good the Heat will be this year. They are the defending NBA champions and they only got better this offseason. Pat Riley and Heat management signed veterans Ray Allen and Rashard Lewis to add to the depth and to come off the bench to add additional scoring output. With three of the top twenty players in the league, its hard not to be this good.
Yes, the Heat haven’t been spectacular in the two regular seasons after the decision. However, with a much weaker division, the Heat can pull of more wins against the Howard-less Magic and the Hawks minus Joe Johnson. With the division slowing down and the Heat roster only getting better, expect the division to be a victim of the Heat’s awesome talent.
I expect LeBron James to capture his 4th MVP trophy. In addition to that, I expect Ray Allen and Rashard Lewis to play close to 20 minutes a game and hit a few three pointers on their limited action on the court. Don’t forget both Lewis and Allen were teammates on the Seattle Supersonics and were one of the best duos in the league several years ago. The team will have a dynamic chemistry and leadership to avoid any sort of meltdown or collapse similar to the NBA finals two years ago.
2011-2012 Record: 40-26
2011-2012 Playoffs: Defeated by the Boston Celtics in the 1st round of the playoffs.
2012-2013 Record Projection: 45-37
Starters: Jeff Teague, Anthony Morrow, Josh Smith, Al Horford, Zaza Pachulia
Sixth Man: Louis Williams/Devin Harris
Synopsis: The Hawks without a doubt are not the same dynamic team they were, without Joe Johnson. Johnson helped spread the floor with his deadly accurate 3-point shooting ability and overall scoring presence. Yes, the Hawks will indeed make the playoffs but don’t expect them to get past the first round when they would have to face a team like the Heat, Celtics, or Pacers.
The Hawks did make up some of the void left by Joe Johnson by acquiring Devin Harris and Lou Williams. Harris was an all-star for the New Jersey Nets but he has never returned to that form and appears to be a bench contributor for the Hawks. Williams is a dynamic scorer who doesn’t really offer much besides his shooting ability and athleticism. Expect him to be like Jason Terry of the Hawks; someone who will take the last shot and offer a consistent amount of scoring.
I believe this will be the year Josh Smith finally matures up and becomes the Hawks’ leader. He will finally get his first all-star appearance alongside with Al Horford. Horford will likely make it with the lack of centers in the Eastern Conference. However the Hawks will have two all-stars and could have a candidate for sixth-man of the year with Lou Williams. The Hawks are built for the present and future. They will have a tremendous amount of cap relief in the future and they will be well built in the future.
2011-2012 Record: 20-46
2011-2012 Playoffs: Did not qualify for playoffs.
2012-2013 Record Projection: 38-44
Starters: John Wall, Bradley Beal, Trevor Ariza, Emeka Okafor, Nene
Sixth Man: Jordan Crawford
Synopsis: Out of the five teams in the division, I think the Wizards are the most unique team to write about. This is because not a lot of people know about the team and their different additions this offseason. Obviously there isn’t a rich tradition in Washington and their fan base is subpar. However this team could be like this year’s Washington Nationals baseball team in the near future.
The Nationals are a team built on youth and efficient veterans. The Wizards are built the exact same way. Led by John Wall, the team is looking to make some noise and a possible playoff seed. The Wizards have a trio of guards that can cycled around and have tremendous impact on both defense and offense. Bradley Beal out of Florida is a knockdown shooter who drew comparison by scouts to Ray Allen. Include him with the scoring machine of Jordan Crawford and defensive specialist and freak of nature athlete John Wall, this might very easily be one of the best guard trios in the league.
To add to the incredible youth in Washington, team management traded for shot blocker Emeka Okafor and swingman Trevor Ariza. Both played rather well for the New Orleans Hornets and are set to be owed a boatload of money for the next two years at least. Yes, the Wizards are strapped financially for a while, but Ariza and Okafor are great teammates who will definitely help the once troubled locker rooms in Washington. Overall this team is built great for the future. With a year of additional development look for them to be a constant in the playoff race.
2011-2012 Record: 37-29
2012-2013 Record Projection: 26-56
2011-2012 Playoffs: Defeated by the Indiana Pacers in the 1st round of the playoffs.
Starters: Jameer Nelson, Aaron Afflalo, Hedo Turkoglu, Glen Davis, Gustavo Ayon
Sixth Man: JJ Redick
Synopsis: Well, Orlando might be in dire panic mode right now. They lost their franchise player by trading him for essentially nothing. Arron Afflalo is a great player, don’t get me wrong, but he is no where near making the same impact as Dwight Howard. The Magic are in a period similar to the Cavaliers after they lost LeBron James. The Magic luckily still have a few good players to hold down the fort and avoid a total collapse.
The Magic overall got rid of three core pieces in last year’s rotation with Dwight Howard, Jason Richardson, and Ryan Anderson. All three were double-digit scorers with various roles that need to be replaced. Gustavo Ayon can be a very good big man similar and learn a lot from the big man farming system called the Orlando Magic. He can be the next Marcin Gortat. Afflalo and Al Harrington can help spread the floor like how J-Rich and Anderson did last year.
The Magic will definitely struggle this year. New coach Jacque Vaughn will have the luxury of not having high expectations and will have to play the role of teacher for the younger member of the team. The Magic will most likely not make the playoffs this year with the increased competition within the Eastern Conference. However if they can get lucky and get a top three pick in this year’s draft. Look at Shabazz Muhammad, Nerlens Noel, and Cody Zeller to easily become the star the Magic desperately need to replace Dwight Howard.
2011-2012 Record: 7-59
2012-2013 Record Projection: 18-64
2011-2012 Playoffs: Did not qualify for playoffs.
Starters: Kemba Walker, Gerald Henderson, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Bismack Biyombo, Byron Mullens
Sixth Man: Ben Gordon
Synopsis: Oh jeez, other than the Heat for this division, this is probably one of the easier previews of the division if not the whole league. The Bobcats will dramatically struggle this year. Again, they will have a top four pick in next year’s draft. I hated the Michael Kidd-Gilchrist move for the Bobcats very much, even though I believe he might be the second safest pick in the entire draft behind Anthony Davis. The Bobcats needed a number one option on their team who can score in bunches like a Bradley Beal or Harrison Barnes. I love my fellow New Jersey native, but Kidd-Gilchrist would be at his best with another option on his team.
The Bobcats do have some talent on their team. Kemba Walker and Byron Mullens showed moments of effectiveness and Gerald Henderson is one of the more consistent players on the team. Biyombo still needs to work on the technical aspect of the game to go along with his elite level of shot blocking. However, what I like about this team is the additions of Ben Gordon and Ramon Sessions. Both veterans can pay great dividends to the team. Gordon can easily score 20+ points in a game and will likely have to if the Bobcats want to win. Sessions is a great distributor of the basketball and can score double-digits off the bench.
Don’t expect much of an increase from last year’s disaster season. It’s hard not to be better. The Bobcats will probably be the worst team in the league again and it can finally prove to Michael Jordan that he shouldn’t be interfering in the basketball day to day operations. I cannot deny the great playing ability of Jordan, but he might be one of the worst managers of the game in history. Along with that, they will get a great pick in next year’s draft which is very top heavy. Shabazz Muhammad is exactly what the Bobcats need, someone who draws comparisons to Kobe Bryant. The Bobcats need to tank the season and start over by assembling more draft picks.
This division hosts my favorite team, the Miami Heat, but also holds the most diverse of all divisions. It’s not the most competitive. It’s statistically not the worse either. However it does hold the best of both worlds. After all the defending NBA champions were the Southeast Division champs. I expect the Miami Heat to very easily win the division again.
The Washington Wizards will be the biggest surprise in the entire division. They feature a team that is fully loaded to make a playoff run. With young legs and explosive players, it will be a fun show to watch in the Verizon Center in downtown Washington D.C. They will capture the D.C. metropolitan’s attention very quickly and show the town that it has grown from the embarrassing situation with Gilbert Arenas and the gun.
The Atlanta Hawks will make the playoffs this year under the leadership of Josh Smith and Al Horford rather than Joe Johnson. J-Smooth will hopefully clean up his immaturity and be the leader the Hawks need him to be and become more appealing for teams who want to sign him in the free agency. Look at the Hawks being at best an average team in the tightly contested Eastern Conference.
The Charlotte Bobcats and Orlando Magic will probably be lottery teams in next year’s draft. Both teams lack a star to help carry them to the playoffs and to build around in the near future. If the Orlando Magic do not win more than 25 games, that will be a big disappointment and Dwight Howard will probably be laughing while he and the Los Angeles Lakers cruise through the first two rounds of the playoffs.
Expect a great season and a few surprises in the Southeast Division. Hopefully, these five teams can outperform what I think they will do and help create a more competitive league.