Tag:Tony Battie
Posted on: October 13, 2010 3:07 pm
 

2010-2011 NBA Atlantic Division Preview

2010-2011 NBA Atlantic Division Preview

As the phrase has long been applied to life is recited: for every action there is a reaction. Three teams in this division were greatly affected by free agency this summer, even though they all ended up empty handed when it came to their pursuit of any of the prized free agents this July. Two of the teams, though, plotted for two years with hopes of landing LeBron James, only to be spurned as he left for the Miami Heat. Another one of the teams had one of the prized free agents, and his leaving for the Miami Heat left them in freelance as well. Meanwhile, the three-time defending Atlantic Champions lost in the NBA Finals and had to react promptly. The loss of Kendrick Perkins did not help either in the NBA Finals or at the start of this season, and the Celtics looked to add to their list of established veterans for what feels like one last run at a championship. And then there’s the Philadelphia 76ers. After years of being an afterthought in the league, one of the league’s most prominent cities is taking huge steps towards relevance again. They reached back and hired Doug Collins to return to Philadelphia to help advance this process and it will be interesting to see how those new players mesh.

All in all, the Atlantic Division had a lot of turnover on most of the rosters and could see significantly new change among the production of three of the worst teams from last season in New York, New Jersey and Philadelphia. With all three of those teams now positioning themselves for victory and with Boston continuing to add players primed for one last run, the change could be even more evident in the coming seasons. But even though there’s a reaction for every action, the Celtics reacted accordingly to last year’s NBA Finals loss to the Lakers, and are still the team to beat in the Atlantic Division.

1) Boston Celtics
Incoming Players:
Avery Bradley, Luke Harangody, Semih Urden, Jermaine O’Neal, Shaquille O’Neal, Von Wafer, Delonte West
Outgoing Players: Rasheed Wallace, Tony Allen, Brian Scalabrine, Michael Finley, Shelden Williams
Team Report: The Celtics walk into this season as the clear favorites in the division and are among the favorites for an NBA Championship this season as well. The Celtics were up by 13 points in the 3rd quarter of last season’s Game 7 of the NBA Finals before conceding to the Lakers in a heartbreaking defeat. A lot has been made of their age in recent years, but they showed last postseason that they’re one of the few teams capable of flipping a switch on and off. Whether they would want to walk that tightrope again this season remains to be seen, but the players on the team don’t necessarily give any encouragement of a change of the times coming in Beantown.

Shaquille O’Neal and Jermaine O’Neal are the most high profile additions to the team. The two big men fit right into what the Celtics are looking for: smart, seasoned veterans willing to use what’s left of their ability to contribute to the ultimate goal of the team. Both come at an opportune time as well with the injury to Kendrick Perkins. Perkins injured his knee in Game 6 of last year’s NBA Finals and should be out until January. His loss will be greatly felt across the board in Boston, but the Celtics will hope it’s offset by the continued improvement from point guard Rajon Rondo. While it’s hard to argue that at least Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett aren’t more important to a championship for the Celtics, it’s also hard to argue that Rondo isn’t currently the team’s most talented player. Overall, the Celtics still enter this season with a chip on their shoulder and with a lot to prove. They also are the most stable of the rest of the teams in the division, and that’s why they’ll be winning the division title come next April.

2) New York Knicks
Incoming Players:
Larry Fields, Andy Rautins, Jerome Jordan, Timofey Mozgov, Kelenna Azubuike, Patrick Ewing, Jr., Raymond Felton, Roger Mason, Jr., Anthony Randolph, Amar’e Stoudemire, Ronny Turiaf, Shawne Williams
Outgoing Players: Earl Barron, David Lee, Chris Duhon, Sergio Rodriguez, J.R. Giddens, Al Harrington, Jonathan Bender, Tracy McGrady, Eddie House
Team Analysis: The Knicks have been bad for years now, it seems. Since 2004, the Knicks have regularly been among the worst teams in the league. A fantastic city and fan base has really been negated by the lack of overall production on the court and the turmoil that occurred off of it. However, after Isaiah Thomas left New York, Donnie Walsh was hired to clean the mess. He hired Mike D’Antoni, rid himself of some of the ridiculous contracts on the team, and built towards the famed 2010 NBA Free Agent class. The Knicks have been telling their fans to accept defeat the last two seasons, a hard sell to New Yorkers, because a great star was on the horizon. After whiffing on LeBron James and Dwyane Wade, the team signed Amar’e Stoudemire to a big max contract this offseason instead. It still may be a hard sell to New Yorkers that he was worthy of being the light at the end of the tunnel.

But the Knicks made other moves this offseason to reshape the roster. They brought in the extremely promising Anthony Randolph over in a trade with Golden State and hope that he can partner up with Stoudemire to create the ideal frontcourt for head coach Mike D’Antoni. But, for the first time since D’Antoni was hired in 2008, the pressure is now on for him to win in New York. After being patient with a struggling team the last two seasons, the Knicks were told they would be much better in 2010. It’s fair to say they will be much better, but it’s debatable if they’re a lock to make the postseason. D’Antoni has h is work cut out for him, as do the rest of the Knicks franchise.

3) Philadelphia 76ers
Incoming Players:
Evan Turner, Tony Battie, Craig Brackins, Spencer Hawes, Andres Nocioni, Darius Songaila
Outgoing Players: Samuel Dalembert, Rodney Carney, Willie Green, Jason Smith, Francisco Elson, Allen Iverson
Team Analysis: The Philadelphia 76ers traded Allen Iverson in 2006 and have been largely irrelevant since. Sure they’ve made the playoffs a couple times since that trade, but they’ve been no real threats among the NBA’s elite and the team really wasn’t in Iverson’s last years with the team either. So it seems a tad ironic now that the 76ers are building towards and selling hope; again at a time when Iverson is leaving. The 76ers brought Iverson back last season in an attempt to sell tickets and regain relevance, but it went for nothing as Iverson couldn’t stay on the court due to injuries and other factors and was a large non factor in the team’s horrendous 27-55 season. After only one season, Eddie Jordan was fired and the 76ers again went back to the drawing board.

The Sixers interviewed a lot of candidates and wound up with Doug Collins as the team’s new head coach coming into this season. Collins isn’t “new” by any means. He’s been a coach for three different franchises before and had mild success with all of them. His name is largely important because of his broadcasting gig with TNT moreso than what anyone remembers him doing as a coach. But Collins is a 76er at heart. He was drafted by Philadelphia and made an NBA Finals with the team in 1977. He wants, just as much as the rest of the city, for the 76ers to be relevant. How quickly that happens will largely land on the shoulders of second overall pick Evan Turner. Turner is a “do-it-all” type talent who led the Big 10 in scoring and rebounding last season. The Sixers will look to him to possibly spearhead a new era in Philadelphia. Andre Iguodala remains the man in Philadelphia, but for how long is anyone’s guess. How he and Turner mesh this season will go a long way towards determining how quickly Philadelphia can turn around in a shallow Eastern Conference. The 76ers are still a team with a lot of uncertainty, but they’ll take that as long as it can generate a lot of excitement.

4) New Jersey Nets
Incoming Players: Derrick Favors, Damion James, Jordan Farmar, Anthony Morrow, Troy Murphy, Travis Outlaw, Johan Petro, Joe Smith
Outgoing Players: Courtney Lee, Yi Jianlian, Chris Douglas-Roberts, Chris Quinn, Josh Boone, Trenton Hassell, Bobby Simmons, Keyon Dooling, Tony Battie, Jarvis Hayes
Team Analysis: The Nets were close to becoming, historically, the worst team in NBA history last season. A late season “surge” by the Nets helped them avoid the NBA’s futility mark and allowed the team to finish 12-70 last season. There wasn’t a lot to be happy about in Jersey last season, but at least there’s hope on the horizon for this upcoming season. The Nets have a new owner now in the hugely interesting and insanely rich Mikhail Prokhorov as their brand new owner, the impending move to Brooklyn (which seems like it’s been in the works forever) is finally going to happen by 2012, and they’ve introduced a new coach to the team in Avery Johnson. Johnson, who won an NBA Championship as a player with the Spurs and went to the NBA Finals as a coach for Dallas, will at least command the attention and respect of the young talent in New Jersey.

Speaking of that new talent, nobody is more promising on the team than the third overall pick in the draft: Georgia Tech PF Derrick Favors. Favors has drawn early comparisons to Dwight Howard in terms of body structure and athletic ability, but is still very raw and will be brought along slowly by the Nets. The team lacked a lot of fortitude last season, and it’s no guarantee that they’ll develop that toughness just from the presence of their new coach. But they will be better. Troy Murphy, Jordan Farmar, Travis Outlaw and Anthony Morrow all make great additions to the team. Will it be enough to make them a playoff team? Probably not. But after last season’s 12 win season, everything is looking up for New Jersey.

5) Toronto Raptors
Incoming Players:
Ed Davis, Solomon Alabi, Leandro Barbosa, Linas Kleiza, Julian Wright
Outgoing Players: Chris Bosh, Hedo Turkoglu, Marco Belinelli, Rasho Nesterovic, Patrick O’Bryant, Antoine Wright
Play Analysis: Although the Knicks and Nets cut salary and lost games on purpose to be players this offseason, the Raptors signed and traded for talent to please one player who was going to be on the market: Chris Bosh. Bosh, however, never was going to stay in Toronto and he now resides in South Beach. The Raptors didn’t respond as harshly as Cleveland did with LeBron, but they’re going to move along with life after Bosh anyways. The talent that the team acquired last season did not gel at all, and with more turnover this season as well, chemistry will still be a huge problem with this Toronto team.

With the selection of Ed Davis in the first round, the Raptors hope to have found Bosh’s replacement immediately. Davis is a North Carolina product who is a very solid offensive talent. However, they can’t expect him to replace Bosh’s production right away. Andrea Bargnani should be primed for a huge break out year for Toronto, but I feel like that’s been said for about three straight seasons. But the talent gap between him and the next best player on the team is huge. The Raptors deserve credit for not going into complete firesale mode without Bosh and trying to still compete even though they lost their best player. But the moves they made this offseason won’t do much to help the team make the postseason. Coaching, chemistry and defense were the biggest problems last year; they’re still problems this season.
Posted on: February 10, 2010 1:46 am
 

NBA Midseason's Acquisition Report

We're approaching the all star weekend in the NBA; the unofficial midseason point for NBA teams.  At this point, we all have a pretty good understanding and grip on what certain teams are going to be able to do and what a lot of teams are unable to do.  Lots of trades are being rumored to go down even though nothing looks concrete as of yet.  But why are teams in this situation?  A lot of them are where they are because of the moves they made this offseason.  Last year, I wrote a report on how the NBA's biggest offseason additions worked by the all star break.  Some, like the Mo Williams acquisition for the Cavaliers, worked.  Some, like the Jermaine O'Neal experiment in Toronto, flopped.  So we're going to give it a shot again.  Here's a look back at the biggest player movements during the offseason and how they've worked thus far in the 2009-2010 NBA Season.

Detroit Pistons sign Ben Gordon and Charlie Villanueva
Ben Gordon (30 Games, 16.1 PPG, 2.6 APG, 2.1 RPG, 83.8 FT Pctg., 32.3 3PT FG Pctg., 43.0 FG Pctg.)
Charlie Villanueva (46 Games, 13.8 PPG, 5.3 RPG, 80.6 FT Pctg., 32.8 3PT FG Pctg., 44.0 FG Pctg.)
Detroit Pistons record (17-32)
After trading away Chauncey Billups and his expensive contract for the expiring deal of a still relevant Allen Iverson last season, the Pistons fell off the face of the Earth and backed into the postseason only to get embarassed by Cleveland.  The Iverson experiment did not work at all in Detroit, and with all of this free cap space and coming off of a unfamiliar terrible season in Detroit, Joe Dumars felt the pressure to put that money to good use.  What he did was devote 55 million dollars over 5 years to Ben Gordon and 35 million dollars over 5 years to Charlie Villanueva.  These moves obviously have not worked.  At the time, it seemed like Dumars was simply making moves to make them and that's really come across as the season's progressed.  Gordon and Villanueva have not clicked with the regular Pistons in the rotation and are symbolic of a lackluster franchise.  With the money and length of the contracts given to those two players as well, things look even more damp for Detroit for the near future.  Gordon has struggled to stay healthy and both players have not only struggled with their shots, they've struggled to find any consistent groove either off of the bench or in the starting lineup.  Grade: F

Cleveland Cavaliers trade Ben Wallace and Sasha Pavlovic to the Phoenix Suns to acquire Shaquille O'Neal
Shaquille O'Neal (46 Games, 11.8 PPG, 6.8 RPG, 1.6 APG, 1.2 BPG, 51.5 FT Pctg., 55.8 FG Pctg.)
Cleveland Cavaliers record (41-11)
Coming off another "close but not close enough" season for the Cleveland Cavaliers, the franchise entered another offseason of "what big name player can we acquire to throw on the wall and see if it will stick?"  During last year's terrific run, Cleveland was rumored to acquire Shaquille O'Neal at the trade deadline but balked on the move.  After watching Dwight Howard destroyt the team in the Eastern Conference Finals, they basically admitted that they let the fans down by not making the move last year, by making the move this offseason for Shaq.  Early in the season, Shaq really struggled to get acclimated in the lineup for Cleveland and fans really criticized the move.  But here as of late, Shaq has really improved his play on the court and his presence as a player on the court is invaluable, regardless of what numbers he is putting up.  Not to mention, he's got a very valuable expiring contract as well.  Ever since the Cavaliers lost Mo Williams and Delonte West to injury, Shaq has been asked to do a lot more and has valiantly responded with some strong numbers during the Cavs' current winning streak.  Time will tell if this works out in the postseason, this move was made only for a championship and anything short of that makes this another failed attempt.  But so far this season, Shaq's played well and the Cavaliers team looks great.  Grade: B

San Antonio Spurs trade Bruce Bowen, Kurt Thomas and Fabricio Oberto to the Milwaukee Bucks to acquire Richard Jefferson
Richard Jefferson (49 Games, 12.1 PPG, 3.6 RPG, 2.1 APG, 69.2 FT Pctg., 34.9 3PT FG Pctg., 44.9 FG Pctg.)
San Antonio Spurs record (29-21)
Given the team's rapidly increasing age and history problems, the Spurs looked at last season's first round exit as a sign of declining production in San Antonio.  So they entered the offseason aggressively and immediately traded three spot starters, one who had won 3 championships with the team (Bowen) and one who started for the team's 2007 championship (Oberto) to pick up an all star player in Richard Jefferson.  At the time, it looked ingenious.  Given the age of the players the Spurs gave up, they picked up a younger player who was in his prime, coming off averaging at least 18 points a game in 5 of his last 6 seasons with the Nets and Bucks.  However, Jefferson's lack of a consistent jump shot and inability to produce offensively in a half court system have really made his defeciencies as a problem shine.  With the Spurs struggles this season, he's largely become a scapegoat and his sharp decline in production is a large reason why the Spurs have struggled against some of the league's best teams.  He's managed to stay healthy, but he's left a lot to be desired offensively and defensively and has not made any difference on a rapidly aging Spurs team.  The four time champions may be ready to deal Jefferson already.  Grade: D

Boston Celtics sign Rasheed Wallace and Marquis Daniels
Rasheed Wallace (46 Games, 10.0 PPG, 4.2 RPG, 1.2 APG, 1.2 SPG, 80.0 FT Pctg., 29.4 3PT FG Pctg., 40.3 FG Pctg.)
Marquis Daniels (20 Games, 5.8 PPG, 2.0 RPG, 1.9 APG, 57.1 FT Pctg., 47.6 FG Pctg.)
Boston Celtics record (32-17)
After last season's dissapointing laundry list of injuries, the Celtics put up a strong effort against the eventual Eastern Conference Champion Orlando Magic before going down in 7 games.  Largely the team missed Kevin Garnett not only for his leadership, but also because he was their most effective offensive big man.  Glen Davis stepped in admirably and did a great job (which earned him a new contract with the Celtics as well) but the Celtics still needed depth in the worse way.  Enter Rasheed Wallace and Marquis Daniels.  Wallace was to be that forward/center off the bench who can stretch the court with this three point shot, step in and play defense and who could play alongside either Garnett or Kendrick Perkins, or could even play alongside both of them in big sets for the Pistons.  Wallace's offensive production has really dissapointed this season and almost 40% of his shots are three point field goal attempts.  Given that he's shooting under 30 percent from long distance, it doesn't seem like such a good idea to camp out at that three point line for Wallace.  But he's done that for the last few seasons and you have to expect that from him.  Because of the injuries to Garnett and Big Baby this season, Wallace has been invaluable as that extra big man and has really played a lot more than Doc Rivers probably expected to play him.  Daniels was supposed to finally be that guard off of the bench for the Celtics who could spell Paul Pierce.  Given Pierce's big minutes last season and the team's lack of a true backup for him, a lot was expected of Daniels and he's struggled to stay on the court due to injuries.  I'll leave the jury out on him and only give this grade based on the Wallace acquisition.  Grade: C

Los Angeles Lakers sign Ron Artest
Ron Artest (48 Games, 11.8 PPG, 4.5 RPG, 3.1 APG, 1.1 SPG, 68.5 FT Pctg., 40.1 3PT FG Pctg., 42.8 FG Pctg.)
Los Angeles Lakers record (40-13)
When Trevor Ariza and his agent, someone the Lakers brass wanted no part of after their negotiations with Andrew Bynum, demanded more money, the Lakers immediately turned their back on Ariza and went after Houston Rockets defender/headcase/Kobe Bryant enemy Ron Artest.  Long one of the most controversial yet colorful characters in the league, Artest looked like an immediate upgrade in terms of player talent over Ariza (in a move of fate, Ariza would sign with the Rockets).  Artest has really struggled to find a role in the triangle offense and looks as if he's lost a step or two defensively for the Lakers but he's played well as of late and this move was made entirely for the postseason.  With that being said and with the Lakers record showing no problems, the Artest struggles haven't had any drastic affect on their record.  I'll still give Artest room to grow.  Grade: C+

Orlando Magic trade Rafer Alston, Courtney Lee and Tony Battie to the New Jersey Nets for Vince Carter and Ryan Anderson
Vince Carter (45 Games, 16.6 PPG, 4.4 RPG, 2.8 APG, 85.2 FT Pctg., 33.2 3PT FG Pctg., 39.6 FG Pctg.)
Orlando Magic record (35-17)
Even though Carter's numbers are down across the board, that had to be expected with the move to the defending Eastern Conference Champion and incredibly deep Orlando Magic.  What wasn't to be expected was Carter's low shooting percentage and lack of involvement in the execution of the offense.  When point-forward and primary playmaker Hedo Turkoglu became a free agent, the Magic thought he wouldn't be worth the money he'd command and immediately made a move to acquire Carter from the eager to shed talent New Jersey Nets to be the team's replacement for Turkoglu.  Statistically speaking it looked like a major upgrade, but Carter struggled, and so far really hasn't been able to become the playmaker that Turkoglu was for that Eastern Conference Champion squad.  Nor, with his shooting percentage, has he been able to be a more effeceient offensive player than Turkoglu.  The team and Carter really hit a bump in January with Carter shooting 29 percent from the field for the month.  But here of late, especially with a 48 point outburst on national television last night by Vinsanity, things look as if they're turning around for Orlando and Vince Carter.  Given the progress they've made as of late, I'm going to be generous with his grade.  Grade: B-

Atlanta Hawks trade Acie Law and Speedy Claxton to the Golden State Warriors for Jamal Crawford
Jamal Crawford (49 Games, 17.6 PPG, 2.9 APG, 2.4 RPG, 85.3 FT Pctg., 37.2 3PT FG Pctg., 46.0 FG Pctg.)
Atlanta Hawks record (32-17)
The Hawks steady incline continued last season with the team going from making the postseason for the first time in nine years back in 2008 to winning the team's first postseason series in ten years in 2009.  So in order to continue taking those steps forward, the Hawks looked at their fantastic starting five and deemed it necessary to give a drastic upgrade to the bench.  After Crawford's struggles in Golden State last year and him openly being told he was not going to be welcomed back by the Warriors, the Hawks saw a player ripe for the picking and immediately acquired him in a trade after the draft.  Given the team's really cheap price for Crawford (in terms of what had to be sent to Golden State), the Hawks have made out like bandits in this deal.  Crawford has not only been the best sixth man all year long, he's been incredibly efficient scoring the basketball and has even been a player Atlanta looks to in the clutch.  Furthermore, he's come through in the clutch plenty of times for the Hawks.  With the team making strides in their record as well, this move has really paid dividends.  Whether or not it gets them past the Conference Semifinals to that natural step up to the Conference Finals is still to be seen, but so far this move has worked otu great for the Hawks.  Grade: A

Toronto Raptors acquire free agent Hedo Turkoglu in four-team trade
Hedo Turkoglu (47 Games, 12.4 PPG, 4.5 RPG, 4.3 APG, 78.4 FT Pctg., 38.3 3PT FG Pctg., 40.3 FG Pctg.)
Toronto Raptors record (28-23)
After getting a lot of publicity and praise during the Magic's run to the NBA finals last season (funny seeing how Orlando's run to the Conference Title really impacted a lot of these moves), Turkoglu entered an offseason in which he was, undoubtedly, going to get paid.  After the Magic basically said "thanks for your services but you're expendable" and traded for Vince Carter, a return was ruled out.  After a rumored deal with the Portland Trail Blazers was announced, it looked like a match made in heaven for a Portland team looking to take that next step.  Then, out of nowhere, Turkoglu was announced to be taking huge money from the Toronto Raptors, a team with a boisterous Turkish population significant enough to make Turkoglu want to move on in.  Turkoglu was the centerpiece of a lot of moves the Raptors made this offseason.  Early on in the season, the team and Turkoglu were dreadful and to this day, although he and the team have made strides, Turkoglu really hasn't looked comfortable in Toronto's offensive system and sometimes looks confused on what he's being asked to do.  Time will tell if Turkoglu and Toronto can continue to make the strides they've made lately but, all things considered, they've underachieved this season.  But with the progress they've made, I'll give them a break.  Grade: C

New Orleans Hornets and Charlotte Bobcats swap Emeka Okafor for Tyson Chandler
Tyson Chandler (25 Games, 6.6 PPG, 7.0 RPG, 1.2 BPG, 72.0 FT Pctg., 50.0 FG Pctg.)
Charlotte Bobcats Record (24-25)
Emeka Okafor (52 Games, 11.1 PPG, 9.4 RPG, 1.7 BPG, 59.3 FT Pctg., 52.7 FG Pctg.)
New Orleans Hornets Record (27-25)
After a falling out with Bobcats coach Larry Brown, Bobcat original Emeka Okafor and his large contract were likely to be moved last offseason.  After putting the team over the luxury tax and being unable to remain healthy all season, largely hurting the team's chemistry and production, the Hornets and fan favorite Tyson Chandler looked likely to part ways as well.  And then this trade happened.  What was basically a straight up swap of centers really worked towards what both teams wanted.  Chandler had an expiring contract of great value and was a hustle, defense, athletic big man that Brown wanted on his team.  Okafor was cap relief for this season (although not for the long term) and someone who played all 82 games for the Hornets to take onto their team.  Both players have really struggled with their new teams.  Chandler's been booed by the Charlotte fans, has not been able to stay healthy (again) and hasn't produced when he's been on the court.  Okafor hasn't duplicated numbers he was expected to add on to playing with Chris Paul.  Because the Bobcats are in the Eastern Conference, it's likely they'll still make the playoffs but Okafor may not be enough to get the Hornets into the postseason in the West; especially with the injuries to Chris Paul.  So what was largely an odd trade made this offseason, neither team has really suffered or benefitted as a result of it.  Although the Hornets are probably ecstatic that they have a center who can play every game.  Grade for the Hornets and Bobcats: C

Posted on: September 29, 2009 2:19 pm
Edited on: May 3, 2010 2:45 am
 

NBA 2009-2010 Southeast Division Preview

The NBA: where amazing happens.  Don’t believe me?  Well then you get watch the propaganda spewed out by David Stern with his commercials during the NBA Playoffs.  Or, if you want more concrete evidence, watch the Orlando Magic’s meteoric rise to the NBA Finals last season.  Given no credit during preseason predictions last season, the Magic went from being an “above average” team to now being the defending Eastern Conference Champion.  But the Magic did not make it without problems.  The credibility of their coach came into question at the first quotable reference from Shaquille O’Neal.  The offensive game of Dwight Howard was critiqued at every level.  Hedo Turkoglu was criticized, loved, and then all but disowned by the Magic fan base and organization.  So even though the Magic are the defending division and conference champion, they enter this year with new players, a new mentality but with the same goal as everyone in this division: win the NBA Championship.

The southeast division isn’t the most star studded division to take the court but they’re a solid bunch all with hopes of duplicating Orlando’s success from last season.  Miami went from winning 15 games, to riding Dwyane Wade back to the postseason last year.  Washington, playing all of last year without Gilbert Arenas, will look to do the same thing this season.  Meanwhile, a team like Atlanta hopes to take the big step forward that Orlando took last season while a team like Charlotte is full of talent, but still trying to find its identity in hopes of making the first postseason appearance in franchise history. 

With new players, returning players and everything in between, this division has a whole new feel to it.  However, as solid as it is, it’s not crowded at the top.  Orlando enters this season as the team to beat in this division but you have four hungry and capable teams rounding out the division.  From two to five, the division is really tight and could really fluctuate.  There should be no doubt, however,  that this is Orlando’s division to lose. 

This is how I predict the Southeast Division will turn out for the 2009-2010 season.

1. Orlando Magic – Last season’s run for Orlando was a sight to behold.  Dwight Howard captured hearts and accolades with his performance all year and is now established as the unquestioned best center in the league.  Things looked bleak as far as a run in the playoffs was concerned when Jameer Nelson was lost for the season.  But the Magic pulled off a terrific trade for Rafer Alston and made the NBA Finals.  Stan Van Gundy was mentioned as one of the best coaches in the NBA, but when he got into a public exchange of words with Shaquille O’Neal, he was accused of being a “master of panic” and immediately Van Gundy was under intense scrutiny.  Every mistake, every play was overly scrutinized in the postseason and every time that Van Gundy’s Magic lost a game, he was immediately blamed for it.  Even Marcin Gortat, the backup center for the team, came out and criticized the coach in a newspaper published in his native country during the postseason.  Somehow, Van Gundy was still able to rally his troops to upset victories in series against the defending champion Boston Celtics and the indestructible Cleveland Cavaliers before losing to the Los Angeles Lakers (another loss he was blamed for).

The Magic enter this season without Hedo Turkoglu, who has been the big floor manager for them for both seasons of the Van Gundy regime.  Once he left for the money in Toronto, the Magic jettisoned the often criticized Rafer Alston, backup big man Tony Battie and promising rookie Courtney Lee to bring in Florida native Vince Carter and Ryan Anderson.  This gives the Magic a new dimension that Turkoglu really couldn’t bring and that’s athleticism.  Now, not only will the team be able to shoot the long distance shot, they can also run the floor better and really push it out in transition.  A healthy Jameer Nelson and the NBA return of Jason Williams, signed to be a backup here in Orlando, will also help matters in terms of pushing the tempo.  The Magic are blessed with solid depth at every position across the board and should use that to their advantage all season long.  With the new addition of Matt Barnes, they can start he or Mickael Pietrus at the three and Vince Carter at the two.  Barnes and Pietrus both give the Magic incredible defensive effort and three point shooting, so either can be used for different matchups.  With big men like Brandon Bass and Marcin Gortat on the bench, the Magic are one of the few teams that has premium big men at their disposal.  This may help Rashard Lewis avoid having to play bigger men for extended minutes during the game. 

All in all, the Magic enter this season with a swagger that was missing going into last season’s Eastern Conference Champion team.  Time will tell if the addition of Vince Carter is an upgrade over Hedo Turkoglu or if the chemistry will be missing with Turkoglu gone.  But there’s no denying that the talent is there, the experience is there and the mentality is there.  Now they just need to take that last step to get the job done.


2. 
Atlanta Hawks – Pigs may not be able to fly.  Dogs may not able to speak English and Tony Romo may not be able to win a playoff game.  But another miracle is taking place right before our eyes, consistency is residing in the Atlanta Hawks franchise.  Not that they hadn’t been consistent before; if you include consecutive last place finishes consistency.  But with Mike Woodson entering his fifth year at the head coaching spot and with the Hawks fresh off not only their second straight postseason appearance but their first playoff series victory in ten years, the Hawks display promise, direction and, dare I say it, consistency.  The acquisition of Joe Johnson has a lot to do with that, as he’s given the Hawks a solid first option for the last four seasons and has stepped up continuously when the team has needed it.  The acquisition of Mike Bibby also has done a lot, as it’s given the Hawks leadership and experience when they had none of it outside of Johnson prior to Bibby arriving.  But, when you show promise expectations arrive, and now it’s time for the Hawks to start showing that they can take a new step in the right direction.  Al Horford really proved to be key for the Hawks last year, and there’s no doubt that his injury played a big factor in why the Hawks were so outmatched against Cleveland in the Semifinals.  He needs to stay healthy and continue to improve his game as the Hawks are a much better team when he’s being assertive and looking for possessions.  The Hawks also missed Marvin William in the postseason, as the guard and forward was beginning to play a huge role in the team’s development.  But his injury also derailed the team’s momentum. 

Josh Smith enters the season with no contract problems, no questions about his game, this is going to be his team sometime in the near future.  He’s still prone to taking too many jump shots, but Smith has really evolved his game the last few seasons and stepped up his performance in the postseason.  That was crucial to the Hawks winning that playoff series against Miami.    Coming off the bench, the Hawks have two solid big men in Zaza Pachulia and free agent signee Joe Smith.  Gone is Flip Murray from last season’s squad, but they upgraded the sixth man-combo guard role with the acquisition of Jamal Crawford.  Crawford, if he openly accepts this diminished role, should flourish being the first option off the bench with no other assignment other than to score.  He and Maurice Evans are a solid offensive duo on any squad and really give the Hawks options past the starting five. 

It’s hard to tell if any further progression will be made in Atlanta this season, but the seeds are in place for this team to grow and evolve.  Staying healthy and staying hungry are huge keys for the team and how they start the season will speak wonders about what should be on the horizon in Atlanta.


3. 
Washington Wizards – Last season was disastrous in our nation’s capital.  Washington had injuries to everyone on the roster outside of Antawn Jamison, got their coach fired and watched an abysmal season get worse until it mercifully ended with 63 losses.  But there’s a new feeling of refreshment in Washington and it has everything to do with players on the team getting healthy, and not the turnover from last season’s squad.  Gilbert Arenas has played all of 15 games the last two seasons and his scoring and ability to give the team options in the clutch was sorely missed last season.  He had another knee surgery after signing his big free agent contract last offseason, but the Wizards seem determined to give him, Caron Butler and Jamison one more run at a championship.  The biggest setback to this is that the Wizards never showed any kind of elite potential when all three were on the court together in the first place, and Butler, himself, has missed an average of 19 games a year since arriving to Washington.  But the Wizards are still optimistic and the arrival of Flip Saunders should help fuel that optimism.

Although his reputation has taken a beating, Flip Saunders really has shown an ability to exceed during the regular season, something the Wizards must first do before approaching any talks of winning a championship.  He has a sound feel for the game on the offensive side of the ball and should be able to find a way to maximize the talent on the roster.  Having options like Randy Foye and Mike Miller on the bench should only help matters in Washington, as their thin bench last year became almost laughable.  Nick Young will either settle into the starting two guard role or will go back to the bench this year, something that will also help with the depth of this squad.  Brendan Haywood also is returning from injury this year for Washington, and he and newly acquired Fabricio Oberto give the Wizards solid big man depth as well. 

The pieces are in place in Washington for another postseason run by the Wizards.  Healthier players, new players and a new coach have helped ease the memory of last season’s disaster.  The optimism is legit, as the prospects of a playoff appearance are good for the Wizards.  But talks of a championship, or a run at the Finals, seem a bit premature.  Especially with all the growing they’ll have to do this year.
 


4. 
Miami Heat – It’s amazing, but it seems so long ago that Shaquille O’Neal was manning down the center position in Miami and the Heat were winning championships.  Amazingly, it’s only been three seasons.  But the Heat hit bottom hard when the injury bug bit start guard Dwyane Wade and they seemed to be a franchise heading nowhere in a hurry.  Wade stayed healthy last season, though, and followed up his spectacular play in the Summer Olympics with an MVP-Caliber season and leading the Heat to a postseason appearance.  The biggest problem in Miami, though, was that Wade seemed to be doing it all by himself.  Michael Beasley took a long time to develop and then crumbled this offseason.  Mario Chalmers was solid all season as a starting point guard, even as a second round rookie, but still heard rumors about being replaced all offseason.  Even a flirting session with free agent Allen Iverson didn’t seem to do much to give Wade hope that help was on the horizon, so it’s hard to imagine the Heat believing they can be any better than they were last season. 

One reason for optimism is that Wade is in the prime of his career and all the young players (and head coaches) on the team are a year older.  Last season’s run at the playoffs did a lot for the franchise but they did nothing to truly expand on it.  Jermaine O’Neal is still going to be the team’s starting center and will have his first full year with Miami while doing it.  But his inconsistent play and continued battle with injuries don’t do much to ensure he’ll be there for the entire ride.  And instead of improving the backup big men on the team, the Heat opted to resign both Joel Anthony and Jamaal Magloire.  Daequan Cook and Chris Quinn give the team three point shooters off the bench and Udonis Haslem continues to man down the power forward position for this squad, but there wasn’t much excitement last year even during the team’s postseason push.  All of the attention and praise went to Dwyane Wade and his MVP Chase.

If the Heat are to take any steps forward, the maturation process with Chalmers and Michael Beasley will really have to take fruition.  Or else they’ll be stuck in the middle of the pack just as they were last year.  Having to do everything by himself could cause Wade to burn out and that could only spell doom for Miami.


5. 
Charlotte Bobcats – The Charlotte Bobcats are a hard team to figure out.  They have one of the greatest coaches in NBA history on the bench.  They have the best player to play the game as an executive and talent scout, and they have a solid bunch of role players, veterans and young players on the squad to really make up a solid team.  However, there just seems to be no reason for excitement in Charlotte.  The environment there didn’t change much this offseason when the Bobcats traded Emeka Okafor to the Hornets for Tyson Chandler.  Chandler has a long history of injuries and inconsistent play, although he’s just as good as Okafor at the center position.  If he can stay healthy, it will really do wonders for this squad and it’s ability to run the floor.  But chances are he won’t be able to do that.  In order to make a run at the postseason, the Bobcats acquired veteran role players Raja Bells, Boris Diaw, Vladimir Radmonovic, and DeSagana Diop.  But it didn’t pay off as the team narrowly missed the postseason and is now stuck with bloated contracts from all four players. 

They recently brought back Raymond Felton, who watched his job go to rookie guard D.J. Augustin.  Augustin did a lot off the bench for the Bobcats before fading down the stretch last season.  With some proper conditioning, he can really give the Bobcats hope to be that point guard of the future.  Gerald Wallace looks to have a bounce back season after struggling with injuries all of last season.  With Okafor gone, Wallace is now the only original Bobcat on the squad and is the unquestioned leader of the team.  If he can stay healthy it’d do wonders for the team on the court and in the locker room.  The addition of Ronald Murray will do a lot of the Bobcats as he can be the team’s sixth man and help alleviate some of the pressure off of Augustin coming off of the bench.  Nazr Mohammed teams up with Diop to combine a solid big man trio in Charlotte giving them pretty good depth at basically every position.

It’s hard to explain the problems in Charlotte.  Looking at the roster, there may not be any.  But the organization still has a long way to go in terms of creating a positive environment that players will want to compete in, and believe they can win in.  That’s on the horizon but not quite there in Charlotte. 

Posted on: March 26, 2009 4:25 pm
Edited on: March 26, 2009 4:25 pm
 

2009 NBA Playoff Preview: Orlando Magic

Previous Previews:
Western Conference:
Los Angeles Lakers - http://www.cbssports.com/mcc/blogs/
entry/5993128/14206197

Eastern Conference:
Cleveland Cavaliers - http://www.cbssports.com/mcc/blogs/
entry/5993128/14152907

Boston Celtics - http://www.cbssports.com/mcc/blogs/
entry/5993128/14220509

Well now that teams are clinching divisions and spots in the postseason I thought it would be cool to go ahead and preview each team that is going to be a part of the 2009 NBA Postseason. I will do one for each team as they clinch a playoff spot and since we already have teams that have clinched, we will start with them. Now we will continue with the team that as of last night clinched the Southeast Division: the Orlando Magic.

Strengths
The success of the Orlando Magic begins and ends with Dwight Howard.  He's easiley the best center in the league and his ability to move seamlessly across the court and finish around the basket forces opposing defenses to focus on the paint instead of where the Magic's biggest strength lies.  Because when you're focussed on stopping Howard from easy dunks at the basket, you leave Rashard Lewis, Courtney Lee, Rafer Alston and Hedo Turkoglu with fantastic looks from beyond the three point line.  Normally, you'd allow teams to beat you with jumpers but it's actually a preferred method of success for the Orlando Magic.  They have players in the starting lineup and options off of the bench in there specifically to knock down jump shots and they are very effecient doing so.  They lead the league in three pointers made and let that provide the fire for an explosive offense.  Furthermore, the Magic have different options as to who can run the offense and who can bring the ball up the court, so it adds a bit of unpredictability to who is going to start the play.  And with Lewis playing power forward, the Magic are normally much more athletic than their opposition.  With Howard being a freak of nature at the center position, it allows the Magic to couple their effecient shooting with fantastic movement and athleticism. 

Dwight Howard also provides an imposing force around the basket on the defensive end of the floor and that discourages a lot of the opposition from coming to the basket.  Couple that with the fact that Mickael Pietrus and Courtney Lee are more than capable man defenders, and the Magic are adequate on the defensive end as well.

Weaknesses
Since it's fair to give Howard the brunt of the praise, it's only fair to note that the team's biggest criticism is that they can't score inside.  Dwight Howard is great around the basket, but is below average shooting anything four feet away from the basket.  In a seven game series, teams can clog the paint and rotate players around the basket, which may force Howard to step away from the basket.  He's not a fantastic passer either, so if he's not beating his opponent to the basket then the Magic may struggle to get points in the pain which would make for an overreliance on jump shots.  And the Magic shoot enough jump shots as it is.  Obviously, when you rely on the three point shot as much as Orlando does it's a "live by the three die by the three" scenario.  In games where the Magic can't hit them, teams can easily pull away from the Magic and force them into holes.  They're good at coming from behind, but you don't want to make it a habit in the postseason.

Also, even though the team is very effecient on offense, their lineup that exploits defensive mismatches puts them at a disadvantage on the defensive end of the floor.  The Magic lack interior toughness and whoever Turkoglu is guarding will give his team an advantage when the Magic are on defense.  Lewis, at 6'10", has the height to play the power forward position but isn't strong enough to guard an opposing team's power forward and also is less than stellar at rebounding the basketball.  And the bench doesn't provide any tough interior players that can come in and spell Dwight Howard or provide defense aside from Tony Battie.  And Stan Van Gundy isn't going to give Tony Battie many minutes in the postseason.

Why They Will Win It
Dwight Howard is the best center in the league, and when you have a great center you deserve to be in the conversation as far as the NBA championship is concerned.  The Magic are among the best teams in the league and have played at a high pace all season long.  You keep waiting for them to have a tough stretch shooting the basketball, and even though they'll have games where they struggle, they've been effecient beyond the three point line.  They're incredibly tough to stop on offense and are a great home team.  Dwight Howard alone will give this team a chance every single game because regardless of how much they are mistmatched on other areas of the floor, he creates the biggiest mismatch on either side of the basketball.

Why They Won't Win It
Dwight Howard, for all of his talent, may keep them in a game with his presence but doesn't command the ball in crunch time.  Hedo Turkoglu assumed the go-to guy role last season but this year his shooting percentage is down and the team shouldn't be as confident with him taking the big shots this year.  The team's lack of toughness is going to hurt them against teams like Boston and Cleveland, because every team has to be able to play gritty basketball when called upon.  Dwight Howard sometimes dissapears in tough situations and that's a problem for Orlando, as he's their only hope inside the paint.

Conclusion
The Magic are too overreliant on the three point shot to win a championship.  They can win a few playoff series but defeating Boston or Cleveland in a seven game series is an incredibly tall task for this team.  Dwight Howard, for all the talent he has, still lacks a killer instinct and until he develops that, the Magic will rely on three point shots in close games and that will plague this team deep in the postseason.  They deserve their record and whatever seed they receive, they just are undermanned against really physical teams and that's going to cripple them in a crucial game during a crucial series.

Coming up next: the Atlanta Hawks

 

 
 
 
 
The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com