NBA Preview: Southeast Division
By Jon Pastuszek
(Teams listed in projected order of finish)
Head Coach: Stan Van Gundy
2007-2008 Record: 52-30 (Lost in Eastern Conference Semis to Detroit)
Key Additions: Courtney Lee (Draft), Mickael Pietrus (FA from Golden State), Anthony Johnson (FA from Sacramento)
Key Losses: Carlos Arroyo (signed in Europe), Keyon Dooling (FA to New Jersey)
Last season, the Orlando Magic won 52 games behind Dwight Howard’s dominance, Hedo Turkoglu’s emergence and Rashard Lewis’ convergence.
Howard put everything together last year, hauling down a league leading 14 rebounds, swatting over two shots and scoring 20 points a game last season.
Turkoglu posted his best year as an NBA player, winning the Most Improved Player award. The main beneficiary to Stan Van Gundy’s system, the Turkish international became Orlando’s best clutch player as well as their most versatile offensive weapon.
Lewis was the new $122 million dollar addition to the team last year. There is no way he should be getting that amount of money, but he was still a great player last year, cashing threes and effectively spreading the floor for Howard.
With the Magic, everything revolves around their man in the middle. Entering his fifth season, Howard is now an official force on offense. His mere presence in the lane attracts a double team with every touch.
He’s a lock for 20+ a night, but does Dwight even have an offensive move? He gets most of his points off of dunks, layups, putbacks, alley-oops and the occasional awkward baby hook shot. Just imagine if Superman developed a little face up game, or a turnaround jumper.
Orlando returns the same core of Lewis, Turkoglu and Howard that got them 52 wins and a trip to the Eastern Conference Semis. That still makes them the best team in their division, as well as a very relevant team in Eastern Conference picture.
But, with the Cavs and Sixers – their two main rivals for the third spot in the East – both made major moves that should improve their teams. Orlando basically stood pat, making very minor moves. As an added worry, the departures of Carlos Arroyo and Keyon Dooling makes the Magic a team heavily reliant on NBA journeyman and rookies.
The Magic are going to be good, just not as good as last year.
Top Rookie: Courtney Lee (Western Kentucky)
The selection of Courtney Lee at the 22nd overall spot confirms the obvious: Dwight Howard is the centerpiece of this franchise. Lee can stroke from three – spotting up or on the move – which is always a needed skill on a team with a dominant big man. At around 6-5, the WKU product is a little undersized for the two, but the Magic are hoping that his four years of college ball and high basketball IQ make up for that. Drafting Lee pretty much spells the end for J.J. Redick, which brings us to our…
Bold Prediction: J.J. Redick finally gets off the bench this year and… becomes the team’s official water boy.
If anybody watches NBA TV semi-regularly, you’ve seen the advertisement. The Better Basketball DVD series calls J.J. Redick “the best shooter in basketball history” in promotion for their Better Basketball: Shooting disc. How can you be the best shooter if you can’t even get on the floor? How is he even comparable to Reggie Miller, Ray Allen, Downtown Freddy Brown or any other of the all-time great marksmen? J.J. has called for more PT in the media this offseason, but it won’t make a difference. If you can’t defend, there is no way any Van Gundy brother is going to play you. I’m interested to see him get on the court someday, but I’m going to have to wait until he hits free agency in two years because the only time you’re going to see him is on those commercials.
Projected Record: 51-31 (3rd in Eastern Conference)
2. Atlanta Hawks
Head Coach: Mike Woodson
2007-2008 Record: 37-45 (Lost in 1st Round to Boston)
Key Additions: Maurice Evans (FA from Orlando), Flip Murray (FA from Indianapolis)
Key Losses: Josh Childress (signed in Europe), Salim Stoudemire (FA to San Antonio)
The (L)Eastern Conference was a joke in 07-08. Only six out of 15 teams finished with winning records, but since NBA rules say that eight teams from each must conference must make the playoffs, two more teams had to get in. And that’s how Atlanta got in as the eighth squad… they weren’t as terrible as the Pacers.
Expected to be nothing more than a punch line in their first round matchup with the Celtics, Atlanta totally stunned everybody by pushing the best team in the NBA to seven games. Rookie Al Horford was unitimidated by Kevin Garnett, Joe Johnson was unstoppable against Boston’s unrivaled defense and Josh Smith was everywhere. The residents of Atlanta suddenly realized that there was a basketball team in their city, and showed up in full force to give their young squad a real homecourt advantage.
The progress that was seen in the series was enough to re-up head coach Mike Woodson to a new deal. He’s improved his team’s record in each of his four seasons, and he’s expected to make this team into a consistent playoff team.
In this sense, Atlanta’s near upset of Boston turns from something really positive into something really negative. Woodson and his 106-222 record on the Hawks’ sidelines will be holding the clipboard yet again, and that’s not good.
The ATLiens actually have a really good starting five. Mike Bibby, Johnson, Marvin Williams, Smith and Horford can play with any other starting-five in the NBA and if they all stay healthy, they Hawks will definitely be in the playoff equation.
The other seven guys who will suit up every night, however, are not really good. They’re actually really bad. Now that Josh Childress, one of the best sixth men in the league last year, is eating gyro’s in Greece, the Hawks bench is bereft of depth and talent. Other than the solid Maurice Evans, there is almost nobody who should be getting major minutes.
With Woodson still on the sidelines and a bench that wouldn’t even get that much run in the D-League, Atlanta shouldn’t be a playoff team. Yet, in an Eastern Conference that is still trying to bridge the gap from its elite teams to its bad ones, Atlanta may yet again back into the playoffs as a below-.500 team
Top Rookie: None
The Hawks did not have a draft pick in 2008 and will have no rookies on their roster.
Bold Prediction: The Hawks make back-to-back playoff appearances in back-to-back sub-.500 seasons.
Let’s cool all this talk about how the East is now a beast. With injuries hitting the Wizards very hard already, the conference goes six deep. Other than Boston, Detroit, Cleveland, Philadelphia, Orlando and Toronto, you can make a convincing argument that none of the nine remaining teams will finish with more than 41 wins. If every team is severely flawed in some way, then it’s the team that is the least flawed that will back into the playoffs. With their fantastic starting five lineup, the Hawks are the “best” worst team in the East and will make the playoffs as a result.
Projected Record: 39-43 (7th in Eastern Conference)
3. Miami Heat
Head Coach: Erik Spolestra
2007-2008 Record: 15-67 (15th in the Eastern Conference)
Key Additions: Michael Beasley (draft), Mario Chalmers (draft trade), James Jones (FA from Portland)
Key Losses: Jason Williams (retirement), Ricky Davis (FA to LA Clippers)
No team has fallen lower or faster, than the Miami Heat.
In just two years time, the Heat have gone from NBA Champs to worst team in the NBA. Last year went from hopeful, to sympathetic, to bad, to worse, to worst. It was pitiful to watch.
After a horrendous start, Miami pulled the plug quickly by sending Shaquile O’Neal to Phoenix for Shawn Marion and introduced a series of D-League players to NBA life as a starter. Dwyane Wade missed a good chunk of the season with injuries, and never really got it together once he came back. In all honestly, there wasn’t really any motivation for him to play hard. GM Pat Riley made it clear that they were going to tank the season in hopes of getting the number one pick. The D-League All-Stars did enough to get the second pick, where they got a pretty good consolation prize in Michael Beasley.
This season, there seems to be two views on the Heat. The first group feels the Heat are a playoff team. D-Wade went back to being unstoppable in Beijing, and all signs indicate that he is fully healthy and ready to dominate the league again. Beasley is an impact rookie who should be the second option of offense this year. Like in Phoenix, Marion will be flying all over the court on offense and defense, starting the break with his rebounds finishing them with his speed and hops. Those three, especially a healthy Wade, will be enough to get in the postseason.
The other group thinks that there isn’t enough around those three to
mount a serious threat to make the playoffs. There is really nobody of consequence
at any other position, and while Miami’s main three players are talented,
a better overall team is needed.
With one of the top 5 players in the world in Wade, look for this team to get back on track and the first scenario to play out. Despite lacking great depth, the Heat's big three should be enough to carry them as after the top 6, the East lacks
Top Rookie: Michael Beasley (Kansas State)
Say what you will about Beasley’s character issues (they’re all valid), but it doesn’t change the fact that this kid can flat out ball. He’s got it all: an incredibly gifted offensive player who can score from anywhere on the court in a variety of different ways. The only concern I have about Beasley is his height. With his large frame and diversified skill set, he doesn’t have a real position yet. That likely won’t matter, because his talent will be more than enough to overcome his lack of ideal height. If Beasley can keep his head on straight in a city that invites late-night debauchery, he’s a great piece to go along with Dwyane Wade for the future.
Bold Prediction: Alonzo Mourning successfully comes back from his horrific knee/quad injury, even playing well in a backup role afterwards.
Alonzo Mourning is a true warrior. If he comes back from the injury that kept him on the sidelines for most of last season, he’s going down as one of the most driven people in sports history. We all know his amazing story in overcoming his nearly fatal kidney disease. He has a will unlike any other. He’s had some not so glorious moments in the past, but nobody can question the guy’s resolve. Why the Heat have not retired this man’s jersey is a mystery to me. Other than Dan Marino, Alonzo is the most revered person in the Miami area for the success he’s brought to the franchise, and the difference he’s made in the community. ‘Zo is going to shut down his doubters yet again, and provide even more inspiration for his many fans.
Projected Record: 38-44 (8th in Eastern Conference)
4. Washington Wizards
Head Coach: Eddie Jordan
2007-2008 Record: 43-39 (Lost in 1st Round to Cleveland)
Key Additions: Javale McGee (Draft), Juan Dixon (FA from Toronto)
Key Losses: Roger Mason Jr. (FA to San Antonio)
Washington lives up to their Wizards moniker every year, somehow staying magically relevant in the East despite major injuries to key players. Last year, they won 43 games without Gilbert Arenas, and the year before that they missed Antawn Jamison for extended and extended period.
Eddie Jordan deserves credit for that. He somehow manages to effectively coach depleted teams while staring in major films like Hustle & Flow and Crash.
Last year though, Caron Butler and Jamison delivered their own critically acclaimed performances. “Tough Juice” had his best year as a pro, doing everything on both sides of the ball. Jamison took over Arenas’ role as primary offensive option, and he had the first 20-10 season of his career.
In an offseason where both Jamison and Arenas were free agents, Washington decided to throw the house at both of them, signing the two to massive deals in hope that when finally healthy, the Wizards would be a serious challenger to Boston and Detroit.
For the third consecutive season, they’ll be battling injuries again. Arenas is still coming back from major knee surgery and will be in a suit and tie for the first part of the season. They’ll also be without their starting center and main source of interior toughness, Brendan Haywood, who is expected to be out for the season with a fractured wrist.
Without Haywood, Jordan will be leaning on Etan Thomas, Andray Blatche and rookie Javale McGee to fill the void. It’s funny to think that Haywood could be more important than Arenas, but it may be true. The Wizards have a huge hole in the middle and it may be too big to cover up. Rebounding and interior defense, two things that separate the men from the boys in the NBA, are going to be tough in D.C. this year and not having Haywood may be too much for the Wizards to overcome.
On paper, this is a fantastic team. Arenas, Butler and Jamison are as good as any other trio in the league, and Washington has solid role players like DeShawn Stephenson, Brandon Haywood, Antonio Daniels and Nick Young to support them.
In reality, however, this is a team that has shown its brittle. Washington’s has no real replacement for its only true big man, and will miss the playoffs this year as a result. I guess we’ll have to wait another year to see all the guys together.
Top Rookie: Javale McGee (Nevada)
McGee isn't ready for the show yet but should turn into an excellent center over time. He may get thrown to the wolves a little faster than planned with Brendan Haywood out for the season with an injury.
Bold Prediction: Gilbert Arenas puts an addition on his custom swimming pool complete with dolphins and killer whales.
While Arenas has become one of the most entertaining players in the league both on and off the court with his blog, his injury woes have to be a concern for a team that just sunk a guarunteed 126 million into him.
Projected Record: 36-46 (10th in Eastern Conference)
5. Charlotte Bobcats
Head Coach: Larry Brown
2007-2008 Record: 32-50
Key Additions: D.J. Augistin and Alexis Ajinca (Draft)
Key Losses: None
The Bobcats are simply one of the worst run franchises in the NBA. Bob Johnson bought this team without any apparent plan, and it shows on the court, as the Bobcats are pretty much being constructed without a plan. Charlotte is in between veteran and youth -- a team that is locked into needless salaries while also trying to develop its young players.
It’s a strategy that hasn’t worked out at all. Since its expansion into the league, Charlotte has never been good and they have never had any kind of fan support. Johnson has lost a good chunk of money in the team, and has made suggestions on television and in the newspaper that he’s looking to sell.
Bob is one of the least involved owners in the league, so it would make sense that he’s teamed up Michael Jordan, one of the least involved executives in the league.
MJ, the best player ever, is in danger of becoming the next Isiah Thomas if somebody doesn’t relieve him of his duties. He set the Wizards back for years during his stay in Washington, and he’s doing nothing to disprove the theory while in Charlotte that he’s an atrocious GM.
Look at what he’s done: He’s spent big money on Jason Richardson, Emeka Okafor and Gerald Wallace, a core that hasn’t accomplished anything together. Raymond Felton, the team's starting point guard, is currently lined up next for an extension. To me, it makes no sense to invest a future in a team that has so far been unable to show it can make the playoffs, nonetheless contend for a title.
He’s whiffed on several draft picks over the years, most notably Kwame Brown and Adam Morrison.
New coach Larry Brown is putting himself in the exact same Knicks scenario he said he would never return to: coaching a bad team, run by a bad GM, and owned by a clueless billionaire.
No playoffs this year for the BETcats, only speculation as to where Charlotte will be relocating to in three years.
Top Rookie: D.J. Augustin (Texas)
There are reports that Jordan wanted to go with Brook Lopez at the nine spot, but Larry Brown begged the team to draft a point guard. Brown finally convinced Jordan, and Augustin was selected at nine. Augustin enters into the Bobcats backcourt mix because somebody (Brown probably) isn’t too enamored with Ray Felton. I’m not a huge Felton fan either, but is Augistin an NBA starter? Despite great handles and floor vision, D.J. isn’t overly fast or quick, nor does he have much lift on his jump shot. That wouldn’t be a problem if he were a bigger guard, but since he checks it at under six feet, there are some major concerns about his effectiveness. If Brown gets fed up with Felton and his shaky decision making, Augistin will get the call-up to starter and that will definitely cost the Bobcats some wins this season.
Bold Prediction: Larry Brown gets tired of this team before the season starts. Brown is out as coach before completeing two full seasons.
Projected Record: 26-56 (12th in Eastern Conference)
Maybe the worst preview in the history of the internet and reporting as a whole. There are Titanic sized holes in the entire piece.
"Johnson has lost a good chunk of money in the team, and has made suggestions on television and in the newspaper that he’s looking to sell"
WHEN has he ever said that? Because all I seem to read is this:
" The first black majority owner of a major professional sports team is not interested in selling, even as he loses millions in a bad economy.
Bob Johnson said Monday he remains committed to the Charlotte Bobcats, who have struggled to win and attract fans since he paid $300 million for the expansion franchise four years ago."
"Look at what he’s done: He’s spent big money on Jason Richardson, Emeka Okafor and Gerald Wallace, a core that hasn’t accomplished anything together"
Maybe because that core has only been together for 1 season???? Any before that, that core was the core of an expansion team that had, by NBA mandate, the LOWEST cap in the league and was made up of a mismatch of NBA cast offs?
"To me, it makes no sense to invest a future in a team that has so far been unable to show it can make the playoffs, nonetheless contend for a title."
To me, it makes no sense in reading such an uninformed and poorly written piece, yet here I am!! I love that you have some unrealistic expectation that a 4th year expansion team should be contending for a title. I honestly wonder what universe it is that you live in?
"He’s whiffed on several draft picks over the years, most notably Kwame Brown and Adam Morrison and it looks like he’s made mistakes with the injury-plauged Sean May as well."
Because Ammo has played ONE season in the NBA......you are ready to judge him? Based on that, Pritchard REALLY crapped out on Oden in Portland. What a bust that has been!! And you know that Jordan wasn't even WITH the Bobcats in '05 when May was drafted - right?????
"No playoffs this year for the BETcats, only speculation as to where Charlotte will be relocating to in three years."
Better speculation for three years time would be if you are serving fries with the happy meal or if more people are taking the salad option.
Just because you wrote a preview for your high schools chess club doesn't mean you are going to cut it in the real world of grown up words and pictures. A good place for you to start though would be to actually research your subject matter rather than just spewing forth what ever springs to mind.
Did you seriously just compare a baseball expansion team to an NBA expansion team??
The things I pointed out were not opionion based, they are fact, something that the author seemed to ignore when writting this piece.
You may not like the article or the author but man is he right. The Bobcats have done nothing right since the beginning of the franchise.
So I thought it would be a good idea to critique your critique.
"To me, it makes no sense in reading such an uninformed and poorly written piece, yet here I am!! I love that you have some unrealistic expectation that a 4th year expansion team should be contending for a title. I honestly wonder what universe it is that you live in?"
This just sounds like something you would say on the playground after someone makes fun of you. You are mocking the author and you may not know this, but it is not a good writing technique. You might as well have said "To me, your a doodie head".
Also, If you cheer for a team that does not have aspirations of being a championship team, then you cheer for the wrong team. Let me [apparently] be the first to say, "You cheer for the wrong team".
"Because Ammo has played ONE season in the NBA......you are ready to judge him? Based on that, Pritchard REALLY crapped out on Oden in Portland. What a bust that has been!! And you know that Jordan wasn't even WITH the Bobcats in '05 when May was drafted - right?????"
Ammo???? Best nickname ever. Oh and everyone is ready to judge Ammo and that judgement is that he is terrible. Unless you like players that can't create their own shot, ala Kevin Pittsnoggle. But I am sure you know that and will come back with a doozy like "Best doodie-head ever" or something like that. Because you're a writer.
"Better speculation for three years time would be if you are serving fries with the happy meal or if more people are taking the salad option."
There's that mocking again. Well done Bill Shakespeare. Your use of the most tired BURN used in the world is ... not surprising.
My humble Predictions.
Sean May finally cuts his 50 pound overweight, and plays some minutes. ( like 20 minutes per game and play more than half the season)
Ammo...(well, nothing against Morrison) will be a better player than he was his first year but will never justify to have been taken so high in the draft. predicted stats 15 points 4 rebounds 3 assists and 43%FG
Ajinca will be defensive player of the year...... of the d-league.. hopefully he fills his frame. ( ten thousand GNC milkshakes away.. he'd better have a good stomach)
Augustin will be a good backup point guard, not more.
Bobcats will be have bit better record than last year (36-46)
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