Discussing Sports: Past, Present, Future
Over the last two seasons the Eastern Conference’s Southeast Division has been unquestionably dominated by the LeBron led Miami Heat. If you’re reading this article or as long as you haven’t been living under a rock for last 6 months, you know that LeBron has bolted South Beach, taking his talents back to everybody’s 3rd favorite mid-western city, Cleveland. His homecoming however opens the door up to an underrated and talented division. Who will emerge on top? Let’s take a look.
Young and overlooked are the words I most associate with the 2014-2015 Orlando Magic. Does that mean I think they will be a contender in the East? No. Yet, I do expect this team to make strides back into NBA relevance. A lack of maturity will be the Achilles Heel for the 2015 Magic; the average age in the frontcourt is 21. While the backcourt features back-to-back first round draft picks Elfrid Payton and Victor Oladipo, neither older than 22. (What am I doing with my life?) The Magic should be very annoying defensively. Credit goes to GM Rob Hennigan for putting together a young core of energetic, athletic players that all made a name for themselves defensively in college. Notable signing Channing Frye should bring maturity and experience to a bunch in need of guidance. It will be interesting to see the style of play Jacque Vaughn installs with this young bunch. Win or lose, they should definitely be exciting to watch.
Best Case Scenario: 2015’s version of the Phoenix Suns.
Worst Case Scenario: Injuries and lack of chemistry result in a top lottery pick.
Over the last 10 years, the Atlanta Hawks have been exactly what you don’t want to be as an NBA franchise. The Hawks have been talented enough to make the playoffs, but nearly not enough to be a serious contender and I expect that trend to continue this season. The return of Al Horford should help open up Jeff Teague’s game, as he won’t be expected to shoulder as much of the scoring load. Paul Millsap will continue his status as “the best player you’ve never heard of”. Barring injury, it will be exciting to see what head coach Mike Budenholzer will do with this frontcourt duo. Last year he did a great job with a limited squad; success may come easier this year with a wider array of talent. I cannot fail to mention the offseason headlines dominated by the front office. Their owner is now in the process of selling the team and Danny Ferry now holds the “Most Racist GM” title. Buried beneath all that were the signings of Kent Bazemore and Thabo Sefolosha. They are not huge signings, but rather glue guys that add depth to what was a non-existent bench in 2014.
Best Case Scenario: 5th Seed in the East
Worst Case Scenario: NBA Purgatory, just missing the playoff
LeBron is gone. Mickey Aronson and Miami Heat fans worldwide are distraught. The good news, the roster is talented enough to make the playoffs. The bad news, in a reloaded East it is going to be tough to repeat as champions. Luol Deng and Josh McRoberts are serviceable, quality NBA players, but they barely serve as a valid replacement for LeBron. The Heat still lack for size and depth in the frontcourt and their bench is riddled with aged veterans: Udonis Haslem is still around, Danny Granger took his current lack of talent to South Beach and then Birdman. Enough said. Something to watch with the 2015 Heat will be the development of Shabazz Napier. Any kind of spark and instant offense of the bench and his contribution will be valuable; however, there is a good chance he’ll go through the growing pains natural to a rookie. The Heat will be a different team with a new look, I still expect success, but to what extent is the question that remains to be seen.
Best Case Scenario: Experience and talent wind up at 3rd in the East.
Worst Case Scenario: Old age and injuries play a role, No Playoffs.
The Washington Wizards stole hearts and garnered legit attention during last years postseason. As a fan, it was great to see a perennial Eastern Conference bottom feeder escape the first round of the playoffs. Expect the Wizards to continue their upward trend led by their young and stellar backcourt of Wall and Beal. Randy Wittman, who has one of the worst all-time winning percentages as an NBA coach, earned an extension and security after a great 2014 campaign. The departure of Trevor Ariza will hurt, but the effect will hopefully be negated by the addition of Paul Pierce. While Pierce is not entirely the same player of yesteryear, his NBA pedigree could do wonders in taking the Wizards to the next level. As Pierce nears his horizon, it is important Otto Porter begins to provide anything after a non-existent and dismal rookie campaign. If the 2013 3rd overall pick can produce, Porter will add some necessary depth to a team that currently lacks a quality bench. The amount of production the Wizards can get out of Kris Humphries, Martell Webster and the aforementioned Porter will play a big role in how far this team can go.
Best Case Scenario: Top 3 Seed in the East
Worst Case Scenario: 7th or 8th Seed
Continuing on the theme of Eastern Conference darlings, the Charlotte Hornets finally broke through into the playoffs last season. Led by Al Jefferson, this past decade’s most underrated big man; the Hornets restored themselves with a strong defensive identity. They play staunch defense every night and Coach Clifford will continue to emphasize this side of the ball. This keeps them in the game when the offense goes anemic. The addition of Lance Stephenson provides the Hornets with someone who can provide instant offense and his edge should fit in perfect on this squad. Repeated success will hinge a lot on the production of Cody Zeller and rookie Noah Vonleh to replace the variety of contributions Josh McRoberts made last year. The real driving force of this team will be the continued growth of Kemba Walker. If he can emerge into a dynamic point guard, not just a scorer, this team can reach new heights. Also the Stephenson-Kemba dynamic in the backcourt will be an interesting relationship to watch.
Best Case Scenario: 4th Seed in the East.
Worst Case Scenario: Taking the step backward and missing the Playoffs.