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Southeast Division Preview

Miami Heat

The Good News: Charles Barkley recently said that LeBron James has the chance to be a better player than Michael Jordan. He’s right. There’s never been a basketball player who can do everything on the court as well as LeBron can. Since he teamed up with two other future Hall of Famers, Miami has a 23-7 record in the playoffs when all three players are in the starting lineup.

The Bad News: Chris Bosh can survive at the center position against 99% of the NBA’s big men; Dwight Howard is the other 1%. The NBA’s best center was always the biggest threat to a Heat dynasty; now there’s a good chance they see him in the NBA Finals. They have almost no legitimate size behind Bosh, something they will have to address at the deadline.

Real Talk: If Oklahoma City ends up overtaking Miami in the next few years, it will be because of how both teams treat the back end of the draft. There was no reason for the Heat to deal the No. 27 overall pick, not when Arnett Moultrie’s athleticism at 6’10 230 would have been a great addition to their frontline. I’d rather replenish my team’s talent base with elite 19-year olds than elite 39-year olds.

Atlanta Hawks

The Good News: With Joe Johnson traded to the Nets, Atlanta will be able to unleash Josh Smith, who is playing for a contract at the end of the season. Smith is an excellent passer at 6’9 240 and he’ll have the chance to play with the ball in his hands while surrounded by some of the best shooters in the NBA -- Kyle Korver, John Jenkins, Anthony Morrow -- an excellent shooting big in Al Horford and solid complementary scorers in Lou Williams. Devin Harris and Jeff Teague.

The Bad News: Marvin Williams never lived up to his No. 2 overall selection, but he was a solid two-way starting small forward at 6’9 235. Smith is better suited to playing at power forward, and there’s a glaring hole at the 3, as Atlanta doesn’t have any other 6’7+ wings who can match up with NBA small forwards. Their frontcourt depth in general is pretty dire, as they have next to nothing behind Smith and Horford.

Real Talk: There shouldn’t be a more active team on the waiver wire and exploring the D-League and international free agents than the Hawks. Larry Drew will be giving minutes to some fairly marginal big men -- Ivan Johnson, Keith Benson, Mike Scott, Anthony Tolliver, Damion James -- so they have no reason not to look under every rock for players like Gustavo Ayon or Greg Stiemsma.

Washington Wizards

The Good News: There won’t be a more athletic backcourt in the NBA than John Wall and Bradley Beal. They’ll be worth the price of admission alone, as they both have the type of turbo-athleticism that can leave older defenders helpless. There are a lot more professionals in the Washington locker room than in previous years, which will help the Wizards contend for the playoffs in 2013.

The Bad News: Beal isn’t ready to be a lead option offensively, which means any lingering after effects of Wall’s knee injury will have dire consequences for the Wizards offense. I was dubious of Jan Vesely’s ability to transition offensively in the halfcourt and he was not much of a threat to score as a rookie, with a per-36 minute scoring average of only 8.9 points.

Real Talk: The Washington front office keeps being blinded by veteran names, picking up Emeka Okafor and Trevor Ariza a few years after dealing the rights to Ricky Rubio for Mike Miller and Randy Foye. Okafor isn’t a more effective player than Kevin Seraphin and he’s going to cost the Wizards $20 million over the next few years. Ariza’s shooting touch has completely abandoned him, making him next to useless offensively.

Orlando Magic

The Good News: The Magic have kept enough competent veterans around -- Jameer Nelson, JJ Redick, Arron Afflalo, Glen Davis, Al Harrington -- to put a professional product on the floor. Tearing down and rebuilding through the draft is the best course of action for a small market team, but there’s no reason to be as awful as Charlotte was last year. Orlando will lose enough games to have a Top-5 pick, but they won’t embarrass themselves in 2013.

The Bad News: This is going to get worse before it gets better. The Magic have a couple of young big men who may have something -- Nikola Vucevic, Andrew Nicholson, Justin Harper -- but they remain 3-4 lottery picks away from being a good team. Orlando fans are better off watching Kentucky, UCLA and Indiana this year than their own team.

Real Talk: I was intrigued by Harper, their second round pick in 2011, after he helped lead Richmond to the Sweet 16. He’s an athletic 6’10 225 forward who can play both forward positions and shoot lights out from beyond the arc (45% from the 3 in college). He’s not the rebounder Ryan Anderson is, but he could carve out a long career as an oversized shooter who is solid defensively.

Charlotte Bobcats

The Good News: Even Michael Jordan would have had a hard time messing up the No. 2 and No. 31 picks in a draft as deep as 2012. Charlotte wound up with two excellent rookies in Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Jeff Taylor. At 6’7 225 and 6’7 235, they’ll give the Bobcats an excellent defensive duo on the wings while MKG’s slashing and Taylor’s shooting will be a good combination on the offensive end.

The Bad News: The Bobcats are still a long, long way from respectability. Charlotte had the worst rated offense in the NBA last year and they will have a very difficult time generating enough offense to win games in 2013. This isn’t the Big East; Kemba Walker really doesn’t need a green light to shoot the ball, but there aren’t many other options on this roster. Someone needs to tell Byron Mullens he’s not Dirk Nowitzki and the Bismack Biyombo/Brendan Haywood tag team at center couldn’t average 15 points a night in an open gym.

Real Talk: There are serious flaws with any system that incentivizes the Bobcats behavior over the last few seasons. The NBA, at the end of the day, is an entertainment business and there’s nothing very entertaining about a team as incompetent as Charlotte has been. If you’re a casual basketball fan, how could you ever justify going to the game if the Bobcats are in town? The best thing about college basketball is that this type of thing could never happen in the NCAA. Imagine trying to recruit after going 0-16 in conference play.

 

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