By Zach Lang
With the NBA pre-season in full swing, here is a preview of the NBA Southeast.
The NBA has experienced an interesting offseason, allowing players to make big bucks due to the salary cap increase. The Atlanta Hawks were subject to this curse as starting small forward DeMarre Carroll left the team in free agency to sign a 4-year, 60-million-dollar deal with the Toronto Raptors (ESPN). However, the Hawks are looking to start the season revitalized after finishing first overall in the Eastern Conference last season. The team now has new jerseys with a brighter red, black, and gold colors and electric green highlights. Their stadium has a matching court floor, yet to be publically revealed other than a small glimpse given in the latest NBA 2K16 video game trailer. This team, despite losing Carroll, has the man power to regain a top spot in the East this year. Someone will have to fill the defensive void Carroll left, but with veterans like Al Horford and Kyle Korver, alongside new additions Tim Hardaway Jr. and Tiago Splitter, this team has great potential and the sky’s the limit for this high soaring team.Embed from Getty Images
The Charlotte Hornets are looking to bounce back after a dreadful first year with the renewed Hornets nickname. The trade block has been buzzing with deals from the team, shipping Lance Stephenson to the Clippers and receiving shooting guard/small forward Nicolas Batum from the Trail Blazers for former starting shooting guard Gerald Henderson and Forward Noah Vonleh (ESPN). Other key moves were signing free agent point guard Jeremy Lin, who is hoping to revitalize the “Linsanity” that gave him his fame. SF Michael Kidd-Gilchrist recently signed a 4 year, 52-million-dollar extension, a steal for the Hornets considering his worth to the team and the salary cap spike that is expected in the next couple of years (ESPN). With Gilchrist in the starting lineup for the past two years, the team has had a record of 62-55 compared to the 14-33 record without him. Center Al Jefferson is prepping for the season by losing weight, approximately 20 pounds thus far (ESPN). Overall, this team has potential to make an impact this year if the floor spreads well. One downfall for the team in 2015 was 3-point field goal percentage, but this new roster adds fresh shooters to the mix. How these players will mesh on the floor this year is a guess to anyone, but they could be an underdog threat.
New Eastern Conference powerhouse Washington has had an interesting offseason, one with a more negative tone. The team lost starting SF Paul Pierce to free agency as he signed a deal with his hometown Clippers. His void was quickly filled by the addition of SF Jared Dudley, who is coming off of back surgery recovery. For a team with consistent action at the guard position, the small forward spot has been a dice roll for the past 3 years now. With Trevor Ariza and Paul Pierce filling the starting role the last two respective years, Dudley is the third new starting SF in three years and could spell trouble. Pierce was the veteran presence the team needed, as noted by many players including starting PG John Wall. He was the man to finish games through, coming in clutch in the playoffs with a handful of last second shots to secure wins. Now, without him, the young frontcourt will have to lead this team in the fourth quarter. PG John Wall now has the reigns to the team, and the All Star needs to prove his total value to this club. The same goes for starting SG Bradley Beal, who has had an immediate positive impact since being drafted third overall 3 years ago. Although contract extensions between him and the Wizards have stalled, he should have no problem making his claim to an expensive deal to keep him in Washington after this upcoming season.Embed from Getty Images
Miami was a huge sleeper this offseason, failing to bring in any outside players from the free agent market or the trade block. The Heat signed Goran Dragic to a 5 year, 90-million-dollar deal, their top priority. He was acquired last season before the trade deadline from a Phoenix Suns team that was overflowing at the point guard position. Now it is entirely possible that longtime Heat PG Mario Chalmers could be traded to reduce the team’s salary, as Miami is already paying an extensive luxury bill tax. Other than Dragic, the team made no significant signings. Chris Bosh will be returning to the team after sitting out a good portion of the end of the season for blood clots.Embed from Getty Images
Orlando missed out entirely on free agency, signing no big names whatsoever. F Paul Milsap elected to stay with the Atlanta Hawks, passing on the extended max offer presented to him the Magic. The team struggles to look for an identity since losing Howard years ago, failing to make the playoffs since the 2011-2012 season. Young PG Elfrid Payton, improving SG Victor Oladipo, and SF Tobias continue to lead this unheard of team, hoping to make an impact. Despite Payton’s impressive rookie numbers and Harris’ points per game, the team itself is almost non-existent. Unless this business can get its hands on a strong, popular player, this club is going nowhere. A veteran is needed to guide these young guns, but instead they are playing in a tough league against opponents built for success. Change needs to come soon in Orlando if they want to do anything in an already weak Eastern Conference.