NBA

Southeast Division Preview

Gabe Botero | October 18th, 2019 

This division has players who want to prove themselves, but it also has players that need to live up to the hype surrounding their names in the past couple of months. I mean think about it, there are so many names that have dominated conversations that are on sup-par teams, at least when compared to years past. Trae Young, Bradley Beal, Jimmy Butler, Terry Rozier, and Nikola Vucevic just to name a few!

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All of whom are supported by teammates that want to put their names in conversations about subjects such as Rookie of the Year, Most Improved Player, and All-Star. These teams are hungry and with a conference that is lacking in competition for the bottom half of the playoff seedings, we may just be surprised at how well these teams perform in the regular season. Or maybe not (sorry Hornets fans).

Atlanta Hawks

Vince Carter knows everyone, and everyone knows Carter. There’s an article about that somewhere. There’s another article about how Trae Young should have won Rookie of the Year last year; he wanted that award and he’s on a revenge tour for all those who doubted him. Luckily, his job could be easier with John Collins becoming a star that no one anticipated. He was a silent weapon last year and he’s looking to make just as much damage as he did last year, if not more.

Let’s talk about who they drafted: Cam Reddish and De’Andre Hunter. Picks that they could have only gotten if they had two picks in the top ten. Reddish was voted to have the best career by the rookies of his class and Hunter was seen to be a defensive madman. Also, the draft prospect profile that the NBA made for Hunter said that he “enjoys video games and dancing”; need you to want more?

The pressure on these college standouts is large, their ceiling is high, but is their time now? Hawks’ coach Lloyd Pierce has been experimenting with them on the court, really trying to find where they fit into the scheme of things. This team will be incredibly good in a couple of years simply because of the ceiling that they have. That being said, there’s a long road to redemption before they legitimately make the playoffs.

Atlanta made some interesting trades, many of which seemed very lateral. What’s the difference between Evan Turner and Kent Bazemore? Jerseys. In fact, I think that the Portland Trail Blazers got the better end of this deal because that means Portland’s off the court podcast team just increased by one! They also traded away Taurean Prince to the Brooklyn Nets for some draft picks and Allen Crabbe. Once again, interesting trade. Finally, they acquired Chandler Parsons from the Memphis Grizzlies and shipped off Solomon Hill and Miles Plumlee. Adding Parsons on any team is a red flag for me and this one really made me question Atlanta’s motives. But who am I to judge? Even Parsons deserves a second or third or fourth chance.

And of course, the Hawks re-signed the oldest man in basketball Mr. Carter. He proved he’s still got it in one of his preseason showings this year even if it was against the New York Knicks. It’s fun that he is still playing in the league and he’s fought for his right to play for this team. Amidst a summer that sent many older players to the great blacktop in the sky, as far as playing is concerned, it’s refreshing that a team like the Hawks still sees that Carter is still worth a spot on the roster.

The Hawks will soar past their total wins last year and hover just below the playoff cutoff missing that coveted spot by a couple of games. They’re still worth watching this year if only to see some wild shots from Young.

Charlotte Hornets

How Michael Jordan has remained owner and wizard behind the curtain of this team baffles me. Like how many bad moves can you make before people realize you aren’t good at this whole owner/governor thing? You had a great star in Kemba Walker, and you let him live up to his last name by letting him walk after giving him less than what he’s worth to the team? Then you have the audacity to sign Rozier with too much of the salary cap? And then to top it all off, you get rid of Bojangles in the Spectrum Center for Chick-fil-A? It’s gone too far, and I would like to turn in my Hornets fan union card. The free bobbleheads are no longer worth it.

The team is in the middle of a rebuild which makes fans think that all is lost. The Hornets have a sliver of hope though: these guys are playing pretty good in the preseason! Rozier, former backup and one-time incredible playoff performer for the Boston Celtics, is playing with a true chip on his shoulder. He’s not praising himself in the media and he’s not radio silent; he’s heard what the fans have said about him and he’s ready to prove you wrong. Players like Rozier have always been looked down on because of their playmaking ability but he’s been in the lab this offseason and I think the fans might eat their words once they watch him play.

The returning cast of Cody Zeller, Malik Monk, Miles Bridges, and Dwayne Bacon are joined by draftees and signees PJ Washington, Caleb Martin, and Kobi Simmons. Small ball is the name of the game in Buzz City and looking forward, this team needs to focus on shooting the ball efficiently because they lost a lot of their offense by letting both Walker and Jeremy Lamb sign with different teams.

Two big headlines going into the season will revolve around leadership and growth. Who will be the leader of this team? Is it Miles Bridges or is it Rozier? Both have hard-nosed approaches to the game, but will that lead to an issue later on in the season? Another issue: What will Malik Monk’s and Devonte’ Graham’s role be. We saw them on the bench for a majority of the season last year much to fans irritation. Both of these players have shown large jumps in their playmaking abilities as of late so in my eyes they’ve earned more playtime. Coach James Borrego has kept Monk on the bench too much in times past. Free Malik.

Nicolas Batum is still on the roster. Salary deadweight, unemotional, and under-performing. Hopefully, he will begin to play as he did before his max contract so that Charlotte can send him as far away as possible in a trade otherwise their stuck with him eating up the young guys’ playing time for two more years.

Rebuilds must be embraced for the fans to experience the emotional spectrum of being a fan. No one said that would be fun though.

Washington Wizards

Beal just signed a monster extension; a contract that many people would never be signed. I think there’s a direct correlation between John Wall being hurt and the amount of money that the Wizards offer Beal. So put your trade machines away, Beal is locked in D.C. for at least two more years according to his contract. After that, all bets are off. If he keeps playing like he did last season, Washington’s phone will be ringing non-stop with trade offers. Wizards fans beware, if Beal hurts himself too, the salary situation would ruin the hopes of this team making substantial progress in the seasons to come. Wall has a max contract and he hasn’t played in two years, might as well be burning money at that point.

There are other names of note on this team. Isaiah Thomas, and recent draft acquisition Rui Hachimura. Whenever Wall stops falling down stairs and Thomas plays basketball again, the Wizards have Ish Smith as their point guard. I’m not sure I need to say anything else about this other than those other two better get back on the court as fast as possible. But all is not too gloomy in D.C., forward Hachimura and center Thomas Bryant are prepared to show up and show out for this team. Because neither are competing for any playtime, you can expect them to have plenty of practice while all of Washington waits on the return of Wall.

I enjoy watching both of these younger players. Bryant was not too shabby last year, and I was able to watch Hachimura play for the nation of Japan in the FIBA tournament. It could be argued that their ceiling is very low, but I’m ok with surprises. Who knows, they might be the face of this team when Beal and Wall decide to pack it up!

How far can this team go? I expect them to finish at seeding spot number 11 and winning as many games as it takes to get there, which I assure you is not a lot. I’m thinking just over 30 wins before the team finds themselves in March with a lottery pick to show for their hard work.

Orlando Magic

Do you believe in magic? The levitation abilities of Aaron Gordon. The mysticism surrounding Markelle Fultz. The rafter scraping height of Mohamed Bamba. The underappreciated proficiency of Vucevic. The little brother of Florida basketball has plenty of team members that if utilized correctly can make it back to the playoffs this year.

Fultz has been on a walkabout. Not a walk in the park; a walkabout. Defined as a journey to in the wilderness for a period as long as six months to make the spiritual and traditional transition into manhood or in this case living up to the reputation of number one pick. When I saw his “hype tape” released over the summer, I’ll be honest, I got pretty excited to see him play again.

I made the mistake of tweeting that he would be going on a revenge tour against the Philadelphia 76ers soon and you Philly fans got so touchy! Don’t pretend like you supported him this whole time. There’s been plenty of interviews where players on your teams have been heckled in the streets and I know for a fact that you did it to Fultz too. Other health mysteries aside, this man will have a breakout season. He’s got the tools in his tool bag and he’s proved it before. This guy can play.

Let’s talk about the Vucevic-Gordon combo. What do you get when you combine high-flying dunks and a center that can shoot threes? Big-screen movie magic. We were all stunned when the Magic went toe to toe with the Toronto Raptors by winning their first game in the playoffs last year and putting the result off the table, for a second there were plenty of people chomping at the bits to write about how Orlando could pull off the greatest upset ever. The magic is there, you just have to believe and pray for no more injuries for Gordon.

In the offseason, there was little more than abracadabra as they signed Al-Farouq Aminu. Not the most ambitious of signings but they were able to re-sign Terrence Ross and Vucevic for longer contracts. This team needs to play like there’s no tomorrow to make it higher in the playoff seedings and it’s the assumption that they can do that. Other ingredients for success include Evan Fournier playing as he did in the FIBA tournament and D.J. Augustin putting some more numbers on the stat sheet. If they can do that, they might pull more than just a bunny out of a hat; maybe some respect from the other teams in the Eastern Conference. Ok enough with the magic jokes…

Miami Heat

…and onto temperature-related metaphors! Get ready for a sizzling season in Miami because the Heat just signed Butler. My initial reaction to this was how much trouble Butler could get into down south. We all saw how he behaved in Chicago, Minnesota, and Philadelphia and if you think that Miami is supposed to calm his personality down, think again.

Honestly, this could not have gone better for him. I think the place to see the real Butler is where he can let his personality go crazy like we all knew it could. And to back it all up, he’s still great at basketball! He didn’t have to have any crazy antics and his performance on the court would be just as great. I will be watching this team to see what sort of real game-winning strategies that they can pull off because Butler does his best work in the 4th quarter (or at 3 AM, hours before team practice?). Will his teammates be able to hold down the fort until Butler can pull out the win?

Speaking of his teammates, the Heat has some interesting players to work with. Immediately my mind goes to rookie Tyler Herro and his offensive capabilities, especially behind the arc. He can catch fire quickly and that’s what he’s known for! What he isn’t known for is his defensive play which is something he needs to fix in the years to come to become a great player as he is shaping out to be.

He ran his mouth to Michael Carter-Williams after a pump fake and a three. I like his audacity. Playing with a chip on your shoulder can be good as long as the focus is to win and not to prove opponents wrong individually. I wonder if his audacity would be the same if he were being guarded by Klay Thompson or James Harden?

Other sizzling team members include Bam Adebayo, Justise Winslow, and Dion Waiters; all have what it takes to scorch the opponents on each end of the court. Out of these, remember the name Adebayo, the more playing time he gets the better he’ll get, and the trends are pointing pretty high. He reminds me of Orlando Magic Dwight Howard and I’ll stick by that in the games to come. The Heat sent off Hassan Whiteside to the Portland Trail Blazers and Josh Richardson to the Philadelphia 76ers They were able to grab Jimmy Butler from Philadelphia and Meyers Leonard from Portland. Miami will miss Richardson but not Whiteside.

If you can’t take the heat, get out of the kitchen but if you can’t handle the heat of the playoffs, what’s the next move? Miami isn’t the type of team to tank and I don’t expect them to take any games off. I like the scrappy mentality that this team brings to the table and I have them right in the middle of the playoffs, they should make it through the first round.

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