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Gibberman: Southeast division preview

Orlando Magic
Last Season: 59-23

The Orlando Magic made a surprising run to the NBA Finals last year behind center Dwight Howard who took his game to another level. The self-proclaimed “Superman” still needs to refine his offensive game by developing a go to move.

The Magic and GM Otis Smith weren’t happy with just getting to the NBA Finals. They are trying to win it. That led to two of the more surprising moves in the NBA this off-season. The Magic let Hedo Turkoglu, who along with Rashard Lewis was the focal point of the offense, walk to the Toronto Raptors. Smith moved budding young star Courtney Lee and point guard Rafer Alston to the Nets for Vince Carter. Orlando hopes that Vince Carter will be the dynamic offensive force that can take them that one last step. Alston was replaced with former Miami Heat point guard Jason Williams who wasn’t in the league last season. Veteran point guard Anthony Johnson will also help fill the back up point guard role.

The Magic bulked up their bench by signing swing-men Matt Barnes and Brandon Bass. Bass has had a lot of success in limited minutes with the Dallas Mavericks last season and I feel if given a chance he could have a break out season. They also dished out some cash to keep back up center Marcin Gortat who played well filling in for Dwight Howard.

Atlanta Hawks
Last Season: 47-35

All-Star shooting guard Joe Johnson had a phenomenal regular season filling up the stat sheets every night and helping the Atlanta Hawks get to the playoffs for the second straight season. Surprisingly “JJ” struggled in the playoffs where his points-per-game dropped five points and field goal percentage fell from .437 to .417. The former Sun wants to earn himself a max contract this upcoming off-season. For that to happen, he is going to have to have more than just a successful regular season.

To help Joe Johnson in the back-court the Hawks traded for shooting guard Jamal Crawford. Crawford has never played on a playoff team, but throughout his career has shown a pension for hitting clutch shots. I see him taking his game to another level playing in meaningful games for the first time in his career. It will be fun to watch Mike Bibby, Johnson and Crawford run up and down the court.

The key to Atlanta’s season will be the play of power forward Josh Smith and center Al Horford. For the Hawks to take the next step, Smith will need to show that he has matured mentally and Horford must play more aggressively. If he could up his points-per-game from 11 to 15 that would be huge for Atlanta.

Miami Heat
Last Season: 43-39

The Miami Heat had a very quiet off-season doing virtually nothing to improve the supporting cast for Dwayne Wade. Wade is one of the top five players in the NBA, but he will have a lot of weight on his shoulders this season. The Heat’s number two and three players are Michael Beasley and Jermaine O’Neal, who are both supremely talented players with huge question marks. Beasley is a head case and O’Neal can never stay healthy.

Second-year point guard Mario Chalmers was a big surprise for the Heat last year as a rookie. Chalmers is a steady compliment to the explosive Wade and he also holds up his end of the bargain on the defensive end. Power forward Udonis Haslem has turned into one of the best role players in the NBA heading into his seventh NBA season. After that, there is not much their. They traded for Quentin Richardson, but “Q” hasn’t shown anything in a couple of years. If the Heat have any injuries, they will be in a lot of trouble.

Charlotte Bobcats
Last Season: 35-47

The Charlotte Bobcats are a decent basketball team, but they do not have any direction.
They have an old coach in Larry Brown who is coming to the end of his career and Michael Jordan running basketball operations. MJ has not done a good job.

The Bobcats aren’t good enough to be a legitimate contender in the East. They don’t have a young player that they can build the team around in the future and they aren’t bad enough to land a top five pick. They are stuck in-between which is the worst spot to be in. Once a general manager recognizes that a team isn’t in position to be a major player their job is to start the rebuilding process. I don’t see the Bobcats doing that because Micheal Jordan has too much pride to throw two to three seasons away and Larry Brown doesn’t want to start all over again. Charlotte will not start going in the right direction till both are gone.

The Bobcats traded center Emeka Okafor for Tyson Chandler who are very similar players. Chandler will rebound, block shots and get some easy buckets around the hoop, but he is a huge question mark with injuries. Gerald Wallace, Raymond Felton, Boris Diaw and Raja Bell are all nice players, but not good enough to be the best four players on a team. Second-year point guard D.J. Augustin gives them flexibility to trade Felton for help at another position. Augustin has the most potential out of anyone on the team. If first-round pick shooting guard Gerald Henderson from Duke is ready to play right away, that would allow Jordan to move Raja Bell who is in the last year of his contract.

Washington Wizards
Last Season: 19-63

The Washington Wizards under new head coach Flip Saunders is looking to have a bounce back season. The biggest win improvement in the history of the NBA was 42 wins by the Boston Celtics in 2007-08 when they won 66 games up from the 24 they won in 2006-07. Washington won’t do that, but they would be very happy with 25-30 extra wins.

One of the keys to the Wizards getting back to the playoffs will be the return of Gilbert Arenas to full strength. He has only played 15 games the past two season due to numerous knee surgeries. Arenas is back and early in the pre-season living up to his promise of being a team player.

“Agent Zero” has a lot of talent around him. The Wiz traded the fifth pick in the draft for immediate help. They got Randy Foye and Mike Miller from the Minnesota Timberwolves. Antwan Jamison and Caron Butler are still there giving the Wizards a very explosive offense. A starting line-up of Gilbert Arenas, DeShawn Stevenson, Mike Miller, Caron Butler and Antwan Jamison gives you a little bit of everything. They would be small, but stocked with tough perimeter defenders, good rebounders and a shooter at every position. If needed, they can bring in JaVale McGee or Andray Blatche when they feel they need a more conventional line-up. Guards Randy Foye and Nick Young will bring a scoring punch off the bench. Dominic McGuire a youngster, who got playing time with all the injuries last year, is an excellent role player. He works hard at the defensive end and is an excellent rebounder for a small forward.