Goodbye to Bron-Bron. Goodbye to four straight finals appearances. Goodbye to four playoff teams?
Last year the Southeast was the most competitive division in the East, which is kind of like saying you are the skinniest person in Houston, but still. The Bobcats-turned-Hornets rode a borderline top 5 defense into the postseason, the Wizards went all-in on surrounding their young backcourt with the necessary pieces, and the Hawks managed to scheme their way into snagging the 8th seed after losing their best player for better than 50 games. With the East looking a little better across the board, its time to see if this division can do it again.
Ummm, Lebron’s in Cleveland for one.
I’m guessing that you are not my 13 year old sister and probably heard that this happened sometime over the summer. No? Well, it happened and I’m not covering it here. (Though check out this clip of him “returning” to Miami in the preseason).
It should be safe to say that Miami has an uphill climb in making their 5th straight Finals appearance in 2014-2015, but the new pieces are interesting. Basketball maestro Pat Riley re-signed Dwayne Wade to a 2-year deal, cock-blocked Houston on Chris Bosh, and brought in a few interesting pieces in Luol Deng, Josh McRoberts, and Danny Granger. Deng will be about as competent a fill-in as someone could expect for the best player on Earth and McRoberts was an excellent glue guy who should work well with Miami’s constant movement, setting picks and shooting 3s. Its harder to say what they’ll get out of Granger who is now three years removed from being the man in Indiana and an All-Star player. Injuries have kept him out of the game, but if he is able to regain a little bit of his form he should be a nice in a 6th man capacity.
Outside of Atlanta, who are basically just hoping for improvement from a healthy Horford, each of the other teams in the Southeast made some nice changes. The Wizards replaced the departed Trevor Ariza with THE TRUTH, which is a killer signing. A lot has been made of how old Paul Pierce is, but he basically carried Brooklyn through their playoff series with the Raptors and will give this team some nice added toughness and veteran leadership. The Hornets brought in another player with an excellent nickname in “Born Ready” Lance Stephenson, who will continue to add to their impenetrable defense, and the Magic made a lot of interesting (puzzling) moves, key of which was bringing in Channing Frye who was a huge contributor to Phoenix’s improbable successes last year.
What to be Most Excited About?
This could go a couple of ways. I like all of Orlando’s young guns and, as a New Yorker at heart, love watching Stephenson playing professional street ball, both because of his crazy athleticism and also total gratuitous play-style.
Ultimately, though I gotta go with another year of this Wizards backcourt. In my opinion, John Wall and Bradley Beal have the tools to rival basketball’s other great 1-2 combination of Steph Curry and Klay Thompson in Golden State. Wall is one of the fastest players in the entire association, is amazing around the rim, and is a great passer who finished second in the league in assists behind CP3 last year. Beal is entering his third year in the pros and is a knock down shooter who can score from anywhere, and LIT UP Chicago in their playoff series last year. The Wizards’ front office has put a lot of eggs into this backcourt basket, trading picks for Nene and signing a pretty meaty contract to retain Gortat in the offseason. This is not a championship team by any means, but they believe this group can continue to bring success to the starved Verizon Center and maybe win a couple of playoff series this year. If they do, it all comes down to these two young guns and what they can bring to the table after playing another season together. A lot of people have predicted Wall will become one of the rare PGs who can average a 20-10 this year and I’m putting a vote of confidence behind it. WIZARD PARTY!! (note: Bradley Beal recently broke his left wrist and will miss about 6-8 weeks. Only making me more excited for when he comes back).
Honorable Mention: Replacing Lebron in Miami. Riley brought in a lot of good free agents and Bosh seems excited about returning to his old role as the 1st option on offense, but this is still a team that can go drastically in one of two directions. They have a very thin roster (thinner still if you doubt Wade plays out the whole season) and are playing in a division that has improved across the board. They have all the pieces to return to the playoffs but they could also DRASTICALLY fall apart without Lebron to run the show.
Biggest Question Heading into 2014?
How good is Chris Bosh?
Bosh took four seasons of playing third banana to Lebron and Wade after putting up something like 24 points and 10 rebounds in Toronto. Not only that, but he had to dramatically alter his game, becoming more of a stretch-the-floor shooter than a traditional post-up presence. Don’t get me wrong, this adjustment was crucial to Miami’s success and not a lot of people realize how necessary Bosh’s speed was in allowing the Heat’s defense to be as hyper-aggressive and trappy as it was.
Still, Bosh wasn’t really scaring anyone in Miami and his full-on embrace of 3 pointer shot only added to his reputation of being too soft to bang bodies in the paint. Bosh certainly seems to think he can still be the focal point of Miami’s offense; he refused an offer to create another “Big Three” in Houston and has been not exactly bad mouthing Lebron over the offseason, calling out his conditioning and leadership style. Well, its time to put his money where his mouth is. Miami is certainly going to need him.
Wizard Party aside, I still think these guys are a little too inconsistent on a nightly basis to win the division. This means I’m going with Steve Clifford’s defense and the all-world post game of Dr. Al Jefferson for the Hornets to take their first division crown since 2002.
Also, I don’t see 4 teams coming out of the Southeast again, meaning big man Bosh and the Heatles are my prediction for the ones looking in come playoff time.
Charlotte Hornets (49-33) Last Year (43-39)
Washington Wizards (45-37) Last Year (44-38)
Atlanta Hawks (43-39) Last Year (38-44)
Miami Heat (42-40) Last Year (54-28)
Orlando Magic (24-58) Last Year (23-59)
And, because no one likes jumping through a bunch of different pages to see what the projection is for the entire East, here ya go:
1.) Cleveland Cavaliers (57-25)
2.) Chicago Bulls (55-27)
3.) Charlotte Hornets (49-33)
4.) Brooklyn Nets (47-35)
5.) Toronto Raptors (46-36)
6.) Washington Wizards (45-37)
7.) New York Knicks (44-38)
8.) Atlanta Hawks (43-39)
9.) Miami Heat (42-40)
10.) Indiana Pacers (31-51)
11.) Detroit Pistons (30-52)
12.) Boston Celtics (25-57)
13.) Orlando Magic (24-58)
14.) Milwaukee Bucks (22-60)
15.) Philadelphia 76ers (12-70)