With the 2015-16 NBA season set to begin, NESN.com is breaking down each of the league’s six divisions. This time we’re focusing on the Southeast, where the Atlanta Hawks are obvious frontrunners but have some intriguing opponents behind them. Teams are listed in predicted order of finish (last year’s record and result in parentheses).
1. Atlanta Hawks (60-22, first in division)
Key additions: Tiago Splitter (trade), Tim Hardaway Jr. (trade)
Key departures: DeMarre Carroll (free agent), Pero Antic (Europe)
The Hawks might not win 60 games again this season, but they still rank among the East’s elite. The departure of DeMarre Carroll to the Toronto Raptors is a significant loss, as he displayed a unique chemistry with the Hawks’ talented starting five last season. Bringing in Tiago Splitter should help shore up Atlanta’s undersized frontcourt, though, and as long as All-Stars Jeff Teague, Kyle Korver, Paul Millsap and Al Horford are around, this team should be right behind the Cleveland Cavaliers come playoff time.
2. Miami Heat (37-45, third)
Key additions: Justise Winslow (draft) Amar’e Stoudemire (free agent), Gerald Green (free agent)
Key departures: None
Can the Heat make some noise in the Eastern Conference after missing the playoffs last season? The potential is there. Tenth overall pick Justise Winslow joins another exciting young player in big man Hassan Whiteside, while Goran Dragic and Luol Deng provide some stability on offense. The question remains whether veterans Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh have enough left in the tank for another postseason run, but this team has a surprising amount of depth, which bodes well for Miami’s hopes of finishing strong down the stretch.
3. Washington Wizards (46-36, second)
Key additions: Jared Dudley (trade), Gary Neal (free agent), Kelly Oubre Jr. (draft)
Key departures: Paul Pierce (free agent), Kevin Seraphin (free agent), Andre Miller (free agent)
With veteran Paul Pierce now enjoying sunny Los Angeles, Washington’s success rests squarely on the shoulders of John Wall and his backcourt partner-in-crime, Bradley Beal. The Wizards didn’t make any major moves this offseason, and they certainly have the potential to advance past the first round of the playoffs once again. With an aging frontcourt, though, Washington has little room for error, and losing any of its key starters could derail the team’s hopes of doing any significant damage in the East.
4. Charlotte Hornets (33-49, fourth)
Key additions: Nicolas Batum (trade), Jeremy Lin (free agent), Spencer Hawes (trade), Frank Kaminsky (draft)
Key departures: Lance Stephenson (trade), Gerald Henderson (trade), Noah Vonleh (trade)
The Lance Stephenson Project didn’t exactly pan out last season, and Charlotte parting ways with him this offseason is addition by subtraction. There still are plenty of questions surrounding this Hornets team, however, chief among them being big man Al Jefferson’s health. If Jefferson can stay on the court, a decent supporting cast led by Kemba Walker and newcomer Nicolas Batum could sneak this team into the playoffs. If he can’t, it could be another long season in Charlotte.
5. Orlando Magic (25-57, fifth)
Key additions: Jason Smith (free agent), C.J. Watson (free agent), Mario Hezonja (draft)
Key departures: Kyle O’Quinn (sign-and-trade)
The Magic are somewhat reminiscent of a poor man’s Boston Celtics. While lacking a superstar, Orlando has a young, underrated core in Victor Oladipo, Tobias Harris and Nikola Vucevic and drafted another promising prospect this spring in Mario Hezonja. That said, being a lesser version of a team that needed a major push to even make the playoffs last season doesn’t bode well for the Magic’s prospects in 2015-16. But the future still looks sunny in Orlando.
Thumbnail photo via Dale Zanine/USA TODAY Sports Images
Atlanta Hawks forward Al Horford (15) drives against Miami Heat forward Chris Andersen (11) during the first half at Philips Arena.
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