Thursday, June 21, 2012

Off Season Needs: Southeast Division

     This year, the Southeast Division was arguably the most controversial division in the entire NBA. First you have the Miami Heat. There are the fans, and the haters. The nonstop bickering and banter about LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh will avail to no end until the minute they win a championship together. If you head up the coast of Florida, then travel west on SR 50, you'll reach Orlando, home of the Magic, where there also was nonstop chatter because of all the Dwight Howard trade rumors spreading around. There is still major controversy to this day. In Atlanta, the Hawks have established their ground and are considered an annual playoff team. However, they never seem to be able to take the next step. The Wizards took a quick step to rebuilding by trading away Javale McGee and Nick Young in a deal for Nene. They have the #3 pick in this year's draft, and are on their way. The Bobcats have taken their first major step of the summer by recently naming St. John's assistant Mike Dunlap their new head coach. But, they still have a ton of work to do to turn their ship around.

A quick key of acronyms used in the entry: RFA = restricted free agent. PO = player option. TO = team option. ETO = early termination option.

1. Atlanta Hawks

Players under contract for next season: Joe Johnson, Marvin Williams, Josh Smith, Jeff Teague, Zaza Pachulia, Al Horford
Can (left to right) Josh Smith, Al Horford, and Joe Johnson
take the Hawks farther than just the second round?

Free Agents: Ivan Johnson (RFA), Vladimir Radmanovic, Jason Collins, Kirk Hinrich, Erick Dampier, Willie Green, Tracy McGrady, Jannero Pargo, Jerry Stackhouse

What they need: This year, the Hawks looked very good without Al Horford. With him back in the starting five and Josh Smith in the prime of his career, the Hawks can realistically get to the Eastern Conference Finals. The Heat will still be the top dog in their division, but the Hawks have a lot of pieces that can get them that far in the playoffs. The Hawks will need a reserve point guard so they might try to obtain Iona's Scott Machado in the second round of the draft. They'll also need some bodies down low and shooters, so they might be interested in bringing back Jamal Crawford or signing reserve big men like Detroit's Jason Maxiell or Charlotte's D.J. White.

What to expect: Basically, their entire bench is set to hit the market this summer. So, they're going to need depth. Ivan Johnson was a nice option off their bench and since he is restricted, I think the Hawks will re-sign him unless another team presents him with an outlandish offer. However, I don't believe the Hawks will retain any of their other free agents, simply due to lack of interest. In the NBA Draft, I believe the team will select Royce White out of Iowa State. White is a forward who is big, physical, and tough. I expect them to draft him to play behind Williams and Smith, who they might dangle around as trade bait. In free agency, this team has to sure up its bench, so I only expect small contract signings from the Hawks.

2. Charlotte Bobcats

Players under contract for next season: Kemba Walker, Bismack Biyombo, Corey Maggette, Gerald Henderson, Reggie Williams, Byron Mullens, DeSagana Diop, Jamario Moon

Free Agents: D.J. Augustin (RFA), D.J. White (RFA), Derrick Brown (RFA), Cory Higgins (RFA), Matt Carroll (ETO), Eduardo Najera

What they need: This team is young for the most part, so they're in the rebuilding stage. I think legendary owner Michael Jordan and GM Richard Cho are seeking to build this team to a championship caliber through the draft similar to the Oklahoma City Thunder's logic. With that said, what they need is almost everything. They need forwards the most. I don't believe they could really go wrong by drafting either Kentucky's Michael Kidd-Gilchrist or Kansas' Thomas Robinson, since they both fill needs. After that, they'll need bench players at all positions because every player on the roster besides Walker and Biyombo will be a free agent in 2013, and I don't believe many of their players desire to re-sign. They need to move expiring contracts or players of any value for draft picks like the Minnesota Timberwolves are infamously known for.

Walker is a candidate to be the starting
point guard for the Bobcats next season.
What to expect: I believe that although D.J. Augustin wants to stay, another team will give him an offer Charlotte will refuse to match. Walker shall become the starting point guard. D.J. White and Derrick Brown have a lower possibility to walk away because they will get low-ball offers, but I think at least one of them will leave. Then the team will look forward to the draft, where they will select Thomas Robinson at #2. The hybrid forward is exactly what the Bobcats need, and I wouldn't be suprised if the team conducted some draft night deals where they could ship away a veteran player like Corey Maggette for a first round pick and select a younger, cheaper forward like St. John's Moe Harkless or Iowa State's Royce White. In free agency, they'll likely have to overpay for players to join the team but I expect them to get a couple decent reserve players, something this year's free agent market is plentiful of.

3. Miami Heat

Wade and the Heat look to
continue their dominance.

Players under contract for next season: LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh, Udonis Haslem, Shane Battier, Norris Cole, Mario Chalmers, Mike Miller, James Jones, Joel Anthony, Dexter Pittman

Free Agents: Terrel Harris (RFA), Ronny Turiaf (PO), Eddy Curry, Juwan Howard

What they need: They need a center who can defend and body up against any big man in the NBA, similar to a Kendrick Perkins. The Heat are one of the best offensive teams in the NBA, but they need that one defensive stalwart in the paint who can cover and disrupt the best bigs they will face continuously like Dwight Howard, Kevin Garnett, and Roy Hibbert. Joel Anthony is a good defender, but is too small to cover players of that caliber. If Mike Miller retires because of recurring back issues, they'll need to look into acquiring a shooting guard to play behind Wade.

What to expect: Pat Riley will do nearly whatever it takes to get Syracuse's Fab Melo. He was the Big East Defensive Player of the Year, and is exactly what the Heat is looking for. I think they'll have to move up in the draft to get him, but I wouldn't be suprised if they dealt their first rounder with another pick or a player to obtain Melo. If they can't get anything done, they might stay at their spot and draft Vanderbilt's Festus Ezeli, a center projected to be selected around Miami's draft choice. In free agency, I expect them to try signing a low-price guard who is an exceptional defender like Indiana's Dahntay Jones, Brooklyn's DeShawn Stevenson, or Cleveland's Anthony Parker.

4. Orlando Magic

Players under contract for next season: Dwight Howard, Hedo Turkoglu, J.J. Redick, Jason Richardson, Quentin Richardson, Justin Harper, Chris Duhon, Glen Davis

Free Agents: Ryan Anderson (RFA), Ishmael Smith (RFA), DeAndre Liggins (RFA), Jameer Nelson (PO), Earl Clark (PO), Daniel Orton

What they need: Pieces for rebuilding. No matter whether it be Brooklyn, Dallas, Los Angeles or anywhere else, Dwight Howard is not staying with the Magic for any longer than next season. Orlando has to be smart and make sure it ends up with assets like Utah did when they traded away Deron Williams and not like Cleveland who ideally hoped LeBron James would stay. They need to keep Ryan Anderson, who is coming off the best season of his career and is starting to enter his prime. If they can move expiring contracts like J.J. Redick, Hedo Turkoglu, and Quentin Richardson, they should. They should try to stock up on draft picks and younger talent. Moving Dwight Howard will get them at least one good prospect for the future, so if the franchise is smart, they need to realize that they need to build for the future now or they can be cellar dwellers for a long time.

Hennigan, the Magic's GM, has a lot of
crucial decisions to make through next season.
What to expect: I know that CEO Alex Martins wants to surround Dwight Howard with enough talent to fuel another run to the Finals, because owner Rich DeVos is getting very old and wants to see his team raise a banner before he passes away. So in saying that, I think Martins and new GM Rob Hennigan are going to go for the championship, and take the risk in seeing Dwight Howard walk and try to go on a playoff run instead of focusing toward the future. They're going to make as safe or smart a draft pick as they can next week, and in free agency I expect them to go after Steve Nash, unless Jameer Nelson accepts his player option. They will probably retain Ryan Anderson, but somebody could offer him a big contract. However, I wouldn't be suprised if the Magic completely unloaded this summer and started rebuilding. I don't think they will go that route, though.

5. Washington Wizards

Players under contract for next season: John Wall, Jordan Crawford, Nene Hilario, Emeka Okafor, Trevor Ariza, Jan Vesely, Shelvin Mack, Andray Blatche, Trevor Booker, Kevin Seraphin

Free Agents: Morris Almond (RFA), James Singleton, Brian Cook, Cartier Martin, Maurice Evans

What they need: They need two things. First, to keep John Wall happy. Second, to get an established All Star talent in the locker room. The Wizards are now starting to look like the Denver Nuggets, with a good mix of young players and veterans and most of their players are solid. Players like Seraphin and Vesely still need to develop, but they have plenty of time. They need a prolific scoring two guard most. I like Crawford, but I think he's better coming off the bench and has the potential to be a Sixth Man of the Year player. The Wizards have a lot of pieces now, and some can become extendable, so I don't think this franchise is done making moves just yet.

Can Washington keep Wall satisfied in D.C.? The young phenom
point guard is the key to the future results of the franchise.

What to expect: This will be a good season for the Wizards fanbase, because they will return to the playoffs. This team has made the right moves so far and is positioned well to go to the postseason next year. The recent trade for Okafor and Ariza was brilliant. They both fill needs and are solid veteran players who can instill maturity, defense, and developmental skills in the locker room. I don't think the Wizards are finished yet, however. I doubt they'll retain any of their free agents due to lack of mutual interest. In the draft, it will be intriguing to see who Washington will select. I have a feeling they'll pick Florida guard Bradley Beal. He is undersized, but is a consistent scorer and a hard worker. It will be a grind for him in the NBA but I think he will develop into a solid offensive player. But, if Kentucky's Michael Kidd-Gilchrist is still on the board, I think the Wizards select him. His defense is fantastic and his offensive game isn't polished, but it's decent. His offensive skills will develop over time, and I think he can be the next Andre Iguodala in the right system. His potential is very high, and he has a chance to be a fantastic player in the NBA. In free agency, I think the Wizards will only sign some low-salary role players to fill up their bench. They'll need some reserve guards for the most part, so they might target players like Toronto's Alan Anderson, Phoenix's Ronnie Price, or Brooklyn's Armon Johnson. If most key players on this team stay for a while and the young players blossom and develop, the Wizards can become contenders down the road.

     The Southeast Division has a possibility of becoming the most front-loaded division in the NBA, with the exception of the Charlotte Bobcats of course. It can produce possibly four playoff teams for next year. There are a lot of decisions to be made this summer, and there might be some old faces in new places by the time November comes around. This division will have some interesting competition next year. Next, I'll be starting to analyze the Western Conference teams, starting off with the Pacific Division. Can the Lakers hold their ground atop the division? Or can the Clippers overtake them? How will the Steve Nash saga fare in Phoenix? Can Bogut fit with the Warriors? And will the Maloofs move the Kings out of Sacramento? Stay tuned, there's much more to unfold.

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