Today we start the Eastern Conference. With that, we begin with the Southeast division (the Hawks, Bobcats, Heat, Magic and Wizards). Let's get going...
For Atlanta: The Hawks tore it down a bit with the Joe Johnson trade, the craziest thing? They'll probably still make the playoffs (but, that's the Eastern Conference for you!). The Hawks traded Joe Johnson to the Brooklyn Nets and in return got a lot of expiring contracts and that 'less than stellar' 2011-12 New Jersey Nets bench: Jordan Farmar (bought out and signed overseas), Johan Petro, Anthony Morrow, Jordan Williams (recently waived), DeShawn Stevenson (via a sign-and-trade) as well as a future first-round pick. They shed that Rashard Lewis-like contract and will now begin to rebuild. The big question is, do those future plans include their star Josh Smith? Smith will be an unrestricted free agent this coming summer (2013) and there's a good chance he'll be dealt by the 2013 Trade Deadline. If he's not traded, I'd say there's a VERY good chance he finds a new home in free agency, next summer. I doubt the Hawks will let one of the NBA's Top 35 players (according to #NBARank) walk without getting anyone back. The Hawks also signed hometown boy Lou Williams. He'll likely fill a sixth man role with the team, however he could also start at shooting guard. I can't speculate with much accuracy, what Larry Drew will decide. If it's not Williams starting at shooting guard, it could be rookie John Jenkins or sharpshooter Anthony Morrow. JJ wasn't the only Hawk to be traded this offseason. The Hawks sent former #2 pick, Marvin Williams to the Utah Jazz and received Devin Harris, in return. He'll be the main backup to Jeff Teague at point guard (and obviously provides a capable starter if Teague were to go down with an injury). They resigned Ivan Johnson who'll provide depth at power forward behind Smith. They also signed partially guaranteed contracts for James Anderson (former Spur) and Damion James (former Net). The Hawks recently waived big man Jordan Williams and they now have their roster at 15 (assuming Anderson & James make the team/aren't waived). Despite all these moves, there's still a VERY good chance the Hawks are a playoff team this season, 6-8 seed in the East.
For Charlotte: They may have added some talented rookies, but myself and ultimately ever NBA fan knows they'll have another high lottery selection in the 2013 Draft. They're now on record as the worst team in the NBA's storied history. They finished last season with the NBA's worst record, but failed to land the top pick (and ultimately, Anthony Davis) their consolation? Another Kentucky Wildcat: Michael Kidd-Gilchrist. MKG will be the Bobcats' new starting small forward. Charlotte also grabbed small forward Jeffrey Taylor with the 31st pick. The Bobcats also have a new head coach. Gone is Paul Silas, as Michael Jordan & Charlotte welcomes first-time NBA head coach Mike Dunlap. Dunlap says all starting positions will be up for grabs. The Bobcats also traded Corey Maggette to the Detroit Pistons for shooting guard Ben Gordon (their likely sixth man). With Maggette gone, those two rookies: Kidd-Gilchrist & Taylor, they've given their small forward position, a facelift. The 'Cats also signed free agent point guard Ramon Sessions and picked up center Brendan Haywood, after he was amnestied by the Dallas Mavericks. As far as their starting lineup for the 2012-13 season, I'd say: Ramon Sessions, Gerald Henderson, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Bismack Biyombo and Brendan Haywood. Tyrus Thomas could be a possibility at the power forward, as well. He had an awful season a year ago, but he's reportedly put back on some of that weight he's lost (he says he had some 'giant ulcers' last year, that became a serious problem). Charlotte basketball should be a bit better this season, but I still expect another terrible record, another high draft pick, along with a last place finish in the Eastern Conference (an likely the NBA).
For Miami: The rich get richer. Welcome Ray Allen & Rashard Lewis. Goodbye Eddy Curry and Juwan Howard. Well...I'd say that's a pretty good swap. They have three of the Top 30 players in the NBA, two of those Top 10, maybe even Top 5. Add in guys like Allen, Battier, Chalmers (all three Top 100 players) as well as Haslem & Lewis (when healthy Top 150), they're a formidable squad. On paper, I'd say they're the #2 team in the League (behind the L.A. Lakers). But as I always say: "You can wipe your rear with paper." (at least that's the G-rated version). Look, with Rose's injury in Chicago, I don't think there's another team in the East that can compete with the Heat. Sure, Philly will be competitive with Holiday & Bynum (Bynum being a matchup nightmare for the Heat). The Pacers have a lot of talent, but they lack a true superstar to lead them. Brooklyn or New York, you just can't know how they mesh together, both should give the Heat some problems, but I'd still put my money on Miami. Coach Spo says it's likely they'll play 'small ball' this season. That means starting Chris Bosh at center, LeBron James or Shane Battier at small forward/power forward and Dwyane Wade and Mario Chamlers--potentially even Ray Allen in the backcourt. My guess is a Top 2 seed in the East with a return trip to (at least) the Eastern Conference Finals.
For Orlando: The Magic ended an era this summer. They said goodbye to another one of the NBA's best centers. First Shaq, now Dwight Howard, losing them both to the Lakers. The four-team trade, landed Orlando: Denver's Arron Afflalo and Al Harrington, L.A.'s Christian Eyenga and Josh McRoberts, Philly's 2012 draft selection: Moe Harkless and second-year player Nikola Vucevic. Their starting lineup will likely include: Jameer Nelson (who they inexplicably resigned for big money), Afflalo, Hedo Turkoglu, Glen Davis and Gustavo Ayon. They could also move Davis to center and start Al Harrington at power forward. I'll leave those kind of decisions up to Orlando's new head coach Jacque Vaughn. He'll take over for Stan Van Gundy and he'll have an uphill battle these next couple seasons. Who knows, the Magic could struggle this season and land a top draft selection and nab another big time center: Noel Nerlens or Cody Zeller? Despite the roster turnover, with the East being the weaker of the two conferences (talent-wise), Orlando could have an outside shot at the playoffs as a 7th or 8th seed. It's far-fetched, but not out of the realm of possibilities. My best guess is they find a taker for Jameer, they continue to tear it down, gather more and more draft picks and begin to rebuild. All in all, I honestly don't know what to expect from Orlando this season. Lotto or Fringe Playoff squad?
For Washington: News broke a few days ago that John Wall would miss the next eight weeks with a knee injury. In his place, the Wizards have A.J. Price, Shelvin Mack and Jannero Pargo (on a partially guaranteed deal) to attempt to fill the void. The Wizards have gone through quite a transformation. They swung a trade with the Hornets that landed them big man Emeka Okafor and small forward Trevor Ariza. Washington also drafted Bradley Beal (3rd overall). He'll compete with Jordan Crawford for that starting shooting guard spot, but I think we all know that he'll eventually be the team's starting two-guard--paired up with Wall in the backcourt. The Wizards will likely begin the season with a starting lineup of: Jannero Pargo, Jordan Crawford, Trevor Ariza, Nene and Emeka Okafor. By the end of the season? They'll have that Wall-Beal backcourt together. The Wizards had a great team a few years back, when their lineups consisted of Gilbert Arenas, DeShawn Stevenson, Caron Butler, Antawn Jamison and Brendan Haywood. For the first time since then, I think they have a real chance of being a competitive squad...once again. I certainly think they have the talent to grab a 6-8 seed in the East, but I don't know that Randy Wittman can bring these guys together to put a winning product on the court every night. My best guess is another season on the outside looking in. They have a lot of guys with injury concerned pasts. Nene last season wouldn't play through the smallest of injuries, John Wall is dealing with a knee problem, both Ariza & Okafor have had some injury history. If they lose any of those four guys for an extended period of time, it could easily derail their season. I think us TWolves fans know all about how injuries can derail a season. My best guess says they'll be another squad that's on the outside looking in come mid-April.
That's all for now. We're two-thirds of the way done with our season previews. Hopefully we'll have our last two within the next two weeks (definitely before the season begins on Oct. 31st). Until then, thanks for reading HOWL and GO WOLVES!