The final division preview in the NBA is the Southeast Division, which is the weakest in the NBA. The Heat and Magic are likely playoff teams in the Eastern Conference, but neither is even locks, and the other three teams are unlikely to make the postseason. In other words: other teams will feast against the teams in this division.
Players Added: Jimmy Butler, Tyler Herro, Meyers Leonard, Kendrick Nunn, KZ Okpala
Players Lost: Josh Richardson, Rodney McGruder, Dwyane Wade, Hassan Whiteside
Summary: The Dwyane Wade era of Miami Heat basketball is over, and the Jimmy Butler era has begun. Butler, having forced his way out of Minnesota and then departing a title contender in Philly, will take control of a Heat team that has nobody remotely close to his level of talent. That doesn’t mean the Heat won’t be good – Bam Adebayo is quite good already, and could make another jump or two; Justise Winslow broke out last season as a point guard, and is looking sharp for a pivotal season as a full-time starter; and, the Heat have several competent veterans like Goran Dragic, Meyers Leonard, Kelly Olynyk, and James Johnson. Still, lack of a second star (barring a breakout from one of the young guys) limits the Heat’s ceiling to second-tier Eastern Conference playoff team. There are moves to be made here – Dragic and a young guy plus picks for a star – but as is, the Heat should be good, perhaps very good, but no better.
Predicted Record: 47-35
Players Added: Markelle Fultz, Al-Farouq Aminu, DaQuan Jeffries
Players Lost: Jerian Grant, Jarell Martin, Isaiah Briscoe
Summary: Perhaps no team in the entire NBA went through less roster turnover than the Orlando Magic. They kept all their key players, including star big man Nikola Vucevic and sixth-man extraordinaire Terrence Ross, and let only a few deep bench players walk. Essentially, the Magic doubled down on a 42-40 roster, hoping that their run down the stretch of the season that pushed them into the playoffs was the “real” level of the team. It’s not an awful bet – their defense was awfully good the last few months of the season – but teams have had weird runs over two-month stretches before that cost them heavily in the long run (look at the Heat the past couple years). Aminu will help as yet another long, versatile defender with playoff experience, but he’s not a difference maker. The guy who might be is Markelle Fultz, who finally looks healthy and confident going into this 3rd NBA season. If he’s even remotely close to the player who dazzled at Washington a few years, the Magic’s outlook in both the short and long term could be more positive. As is, it’s hard to see them as much more than a decent playoff team in the NBA’s lesser conference.
Predicted Record: 44-38
Players Added: De’Andre Hunter, Cam Reddish, Evan Turner, Allen Crabbe, Chandler Parsons, Damian Jones, Bruno Fernando, Jabari Parker
Players Lost: Kent Bazemore, Taurean Prince, Justin Anderson, Dewayne Dedmon, Tyler Dorsey, Daniel Hamilton, Tyler Zeller
Summary: The Hawks will probably be extremely fun this season… but that doesn’t necessarily mean they will be good. Trae Young is a delight, and his pairing with John Collins is one of the most fun duos in the league. Adding young talent like De’Andre Hunter and Cam Reddish will only boost the Hawks’ watchability, with Reddish’s smooth scoring and Hunter’s defense complementing Young and Collins quite well. However, the Hawks are extremely young, and many of their key players are awful defensively. Young, in particular, is a sieve, and as long as he’s playing big minutes, it will be hard for the Hawks to muster a decent defense. Add in Collins’ issues on that end and the learning struggles of Reddish and Hunter, and the Hawks will likely be a bottom-five defense. Even if their offense is very good, which it might well be, their defensive liabilities should prevent them from making a playoff push this season. Still, they should be league pass favorites, and will be highly entertaining on a nightly basis.
Predicted Record: 32-50
Players Added: Rui Hachimura, Isaiah Thomas, Ish Smith, Admiral Schofield, Davis Bertans, Mo Wagner, C.J. Miles, Isaac Bonga, Justin Robinson
Players Lost: Tomas Satoranksy, Trevor Ariza, Jeff Green, Bobby Portis, Jabari Parker, Sam Dekker, Dwight Howard, Wes Johnson, Chasson Randle
Summary: The Wizards let almost all of their (mediocre) veterans walk, replacing them with a mix of journeymen and younger players. They did sign franchise star Bradley Beal to a two-year extension a few days ago, which means trade rumors will be postponed for at least this season. The certainty of having Beal on the roster throughout the season (and his new iron man abilities the past couple years) are what separates the Wizards from the Hornets and Cavs. Beal’s excellence will win the Wizards a handful of games they have no business winning, and should keep them from abject awfulness. But the Wizards will still be really bad. Thomas Bryant is a promising young big man, Troy Brown Jr. intrigued his rookie season as a ball-handler and playmaker, and Rui Hachimura will score points. Outside of that, this team’s best and most important player is Davis Bertans as a floor spacer. And while Bertans is good, his being that prominent is a sign of how little talent the Wizards possess. Further, Bertans and other vets (like Miles and Thomas) are likely to be traded at the deadline if healthy, further depriving the Wiz of competent players.
Predicted Record: 25-57
Players Added: Terry Rozier, PJ Washington, Cody Martin, Caleb Martin, Jalen McDaniels
Players Lost: Kemba Walker, Jeremy Lamb, Frank Kaminsky, Tony Parker, Shelvin Mack
Summary: Kemba Walker wasn’t just the best player on the Hornets. He wasn’t even merely one of the greatest players in franchise history. He was the heart and soul of the Hornets, a fantastic leader and teammate who was beloved in the community. Without him on the team, it will be difficult for fans (of both the Hornets and the NBA) to tune in to what’s left. Walker didn’t just leave, he left for nothing, as did second-best player Jeremy Lamb. Rather than accept a true rebuild, Charlotte gave a massive three-year contract to Terry Rozier, a fine backup point guard who is coming off an awful season in Boston and has shown very little indication of being a starting-level point guard. There is talent on the roster: Miles Bridges is exciting, PJ Washington is a nice prospect, and Dwayne Bacon come on strong down the stretch last season. But the Hornets are still weighed down by large contracts to mediocre veterans, and have almost no avenues to being even competent this season. The Hornets, young, which means they will likely be awful on defense, and their best playmaker is Nic Batum, who has been declining for years. The Hornets will be really, really bad.
Predicted Record: 17-65