Finally we have our third and final division of the Eastern Conference featuring the defending champions and a Dwight-less Magic team.
How long are we going to ignore the fact that Atlanta cannot make it out of the first round of the playoffs? Not sure that will change this season either. The Hawks have added several players this season. The biggest additions are Lou Williams and Devin Harris at the PG positions and Kyle Korver at the SG. Al Horford will hopefully be healthy for an entire season which will give them possibly the best offensive Center in the East. All of this is good, but there’s something deep inside me that says that Josh Smith is going to be gone by the trade deadline this year. Offensively, Smith is a liability. But defensively he’s one of the best rim protectors in the NBA and not someone that can be easily replaced.
The best news for the Bobcats is that MJ has given up all of his basketball related decisions (one step closer to The Comeback). Looking over the Bobcats roster, it’s not the worst in the NBA. They have a very defensive roster with guys like Bismack Biyombo, Brendon Haywood, rookie Jeff Taylor, and Rookie of the Year candidate Michael Kidd-Gilchrist. As soon as the Bobcats drafted MKG, he became the best player on the roster. Almost all of the scoring on this team will have to come from Kemba Walker and Ben Gordon. Gerald Henderson emerged as a solid NBA player last year (as long as he keeps his elbows to himself), but that feels like it was more a product of being the best player on an awful time. If you’re a Bobcat fan (and I’ll admit I kind of am because of the MJ comeback that we all know is going to happen) the good news is you won’t have the worst team in NBA history anymore. The bad news is that you’re still several years and players away from contending for the 8 seed.
There is nothing I can tell you about this team and the Big 3 that you do not already know. The rich got richer this year (on paper) by adding Ray Allen and Rashard Lewis. This team still has no legitimate starting Center and a PG that looks better than he is because LeBron is a PG in a SF body. But you, and anyone who has watched basketball over the past two seasons already know all of this so I’ll take this opportunity to voice my opinion on LeBron vs. MJ. He is not, will not, cannot, ever be Jordan. He is a Magic Johnson type player that can get all of his teammates involved and take over a game when necessary. Jordan was a hyper competitive monster that had something mentally that LeBron will never have. The closest thing we will see to Michael for a long time is Kobe, and he still won’t come close. If Michael comes back tomorrow wearing a Bobcats uniform, I’m redoing this whole preview and moving the Bobcats up to at least the 6 seed in the East. If LeBron or Kobe joins the Bobcats, I still have a hard time putting them above 7 or 8. Back to the preview, the Heat are still the best team in the East and LeBron is the best player currently in the NBA.
The most dominant C in the NBA has left Orlando to go play with Kobe in LA. I’m not sure how much it will help the Lakers with Stockton and Malone still in their prime in Utah. Oh, sorry. I thought it was 1996 again when Shaq left Orlando for LA. That Orlando team still got into the playoffs as a 7 seed. This Orlando team will be lucky to finish in the top 3 of their own division. Getting Arron Afflalo was a big positive for the Magic and netting Moe Harkless in the draft is something I really like for them long term. The team wasn’t left in complete shambles with the departure of Howard, but they definitely are not the same team that we have grown accustomed to the past several years. The Magic will be in the playoff picture, but I see them being one of the first two teams out.
Say hello to the surprise team in the Eastern Conference this season. That is after John Wall comes back at the end of November. My guess is when the Bobcats took MKG second, the decision makers for the Wizards literally jumped and screamed with excitement that they had the guy they wanted in Bradley Beal. Beal is a freak of a SG. He’s undersized for his position, but still led his team in rebounding last season at Florida. He was my favorite player going into the draft last year and dramatically helps the Wizards right away. In addition to Beal, the Wizards also landed Trevor Ariza and Emeka Okafor this summer. Those two guys going along with last season’s trade deadline acquisition of Nene and Jan Vesely’s explosive athleticism will make them one of the better frontcourts in the East and possibly the NBA.
The top and bottom of this division are pretty clear cut with Miami and Charlotte. The 2-4 spot should be interesting to see how it shakes out. I can’t see the Magic continuing their success without Howard. The Wizards and Hawks are the only two teams in the division with a reliable C. Here are my standings. Next time I’ll put the playoff teams in order 1-8 and give you my pick for who will represent the East in the Finals.