Saturday 19 August 2017 / 10:02 AM

NBA SEASON PREVIEW: SOUTHEAST DIVISION

The NBA season is right around the corner, with the season kicking off on October 25. We will be previewing the league over the course of the next three weeks to get you ready for the season.

Today, we’ll be previewing the Southeast division, which was the most competitive in basketball last year. Three teams were logjammed in the middle of the standings of the Eastern Conference, the Hawks, Heat, and Hornets finishing with the same record.

We got to see the Hornets and Heat in the first round of the playoffs, and it went exactly as close as expected, with Miami eking out a come-from-behind win on the back of Dwyane Wade in Game 7.

As teams turned their attention to the offseason, especially in that division, the organizations made efforts to separate themselves from a jumbled bunch. And after all the crazy moves and shuffling of the offseason, have we gotten any clearer of a picture on the Southeast? Who really is the top team in this muddled division now?

1. Charlotte Hornets

Charlotte was the team in the division that everyone thought looked like they had the most to lose in the offseason, with most of the core of their team needing new contracts going into the offseason. It was widely known that Charlotte would have to make some sacrifices, and it certainly did.

The Hornets chose to move on from Courtney Lee, who got way more than the Hornets could pay from the Knicks. Gone also is second-team leader, and fan favorite, Jeremy Lin. Lin was a coup for the Hornets last season as he reestablished his career. Also gone is former face of the franchise Al Jefferson, who took his talents to Indiana after the Hornets made it clear that he wasn’t in the future.

The Hornets were able to retain Nic Batum, who will become the new face of the team, and Marvin Williams, who has seen his career take off in the purple and teal. These two were arguably the two biggest cogs in the renaissance last year, along with Kemba Walker. They added some pieces to offset some losses, bringing in Marco Belinelli to replace Lee and familiar faces Ramon Sessions and Brian Roberts to replace Lin. They’ve also taken a flier on Roy Hibbert, who is fighting to restart his career.

But the biggest addition to the Hornets will be something they already had in the return of Michael Kidd-Gilchrist. MKG’s return could propel the Hornets’ defense back to one of the top in the league, and may improve the team more than it hurt in the offseason.

The team lost a solid amount in free agency, but appear ready to rely on in-grown talent to replace them. And they should get better, but it may not offset the depleted talent they lost in free agency. But Charlotte looks to be the best of the division, but with things as tight as they are, that may not mean much.

2. Atlanta Hawks

The Hawks had some serious changes in the offseason, some by choice and some not. They decided on their point guard of the future, shipping Jeff Teague to Indiana and settling in on Dennis Schroder as the presumptive leader of the offense. It’s a bold move, but certainly not one that wasn’t expected. The team now relies on the spry young guard, and all that comes with him. He’s not nearly as polished offensively as Teague, but defensively he will be an improvement. However, losing him off the bench massively depletes the second unit.

The rest of the roster remained relatively intact, minus the complete shift in center. Al Horford bolted for Boston, and the Hawks snatched up Houston’s Dwight Howard to anchor the position. Pairing Howard with Millsap will do some good for Howard offensively and defensively. Howard may provide the rim protection that the Hawks have lacked, but Horford fit this system much better.

Kent Bazemore is also the recipient of a massive new contract, so it looks like he’ll be the starting SF from here on out. Kyle Korver is also back for another go round. But there’s question as to what Schroeder will do as a starter, and Howard is a big drop-off from Horford in numbers, but maybe he can revitalize himself in a more structured system. There’s a lot of questions, but this team is talented.

3. Washington Wizards

Though Washington wasn’t the cream of the southeast last season, they still have two of the most talented players in the division in John Wall and Bradley Beal. The loss of Nene hurts on both sides of the ball, and it’ll be a trial by committee to figure out who will anchor the defense. But he was already on the decline, and the addition of Markieff Morris has allowed them to become more of a run-and-gun team. They didn’t add much to the roster in the offseason, and will mostly rely on what they have to make the jump.

But the biggest problem for the Wizards wasn’t the depth of the roster, it’s staying healthy. The Wizards were plagued with injuries to both Wall and Beal last season. And the key to competing again in the Southeast may simply be their two top players just staying healthy. Adding Trey Burke and Ian Mahinmi certainly gives depth, but let’s not make a mistake here: the Wizards need Wall and Beal.

With Beal and Wall on the floor, the Wizards are a deadly and young team. They were one of the top seeds in the East just a couple of seasons ago, and it’s entirely possible to see them compete for the division title – if they remain healthy. The roster is talented enough that, if healthy, they should be a playoff team. But anything more than that is a considerable stretch.

4. Miami Heat

Miami featured a competitive veteran unit last season, and provided a real scare to the conference’s number two seed. But the team looked slow and blitzed against younger and faster teams like Charlotte and Toronto. They won’t have to worry about that much this season, with a big chunk of that veteran presence gone. The team has doubled down on a youth revolution, but not entirely by choice.

The obvious one missing being Dwyane Wade, but the Heat also lost Joe Johnson and Luol Deng, who were heroes in saving the Heat against Charlotte. The team was heavily invested in veteran leadership on a team that they felt was a player away from a championship. Instead, they’ll turn to unproven players like Tyler Johnson and Justice Winslow, who show a lot of upside but it will take some time to get them into NBA quality starters. Winslow showed promise last season, but it’s a stretch to say he can produce like Johnson.

The team still has Goran Dragic and Hassan Whiteside to lead the team, but is anyone confident in that duo’s ability to lead the roster? It was easy to defer last season, but quickly being depended on as leaders is a way different situation.

And the biggest loss is the absence of Chris Bosh. With him out, the team has a big question mark at three of their five positions, and not a lot on the bench. It could be a rebuilding year in Miami.

5. Orlando Magic

The Magic appear to once again be hitting the reset button, firing Scott Skiles and replacing him with Frank Vogel. Vogel will bring a defensive focus, and should do some great things for the young players on the team. The Magic also appear to be doubling down on the post. They’ve traded Oladipo to the Thunder in exchange for Serge Ibaka, and then also added Bismack Biyombo to an already crowded frontcourt. The frontcourt is massively overstaffed, with quality players at each position.

There’s talent everywhere, though, but seeing this team gel early would be a far stretch. The Magic are toying with new pieces right now, and I think them competing may be a little while away. The Magic lack an offensive focus, and don’t have a dominant scorer on the team. Plus the risk on Ibaka is high, as well as his price tag. Dishing away Oladipo for what could be a one-year rental seems precarious.

But this season will give Vogel a chance to see what he has, and find out which players he can focus on. He’ll have plenty of big men to choose from, and three capable guards. Unfortunately, it may take time for them to really know where they stand.

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About the author

Austin Albertson

Austin is CBS' senior NFL and NBA analyst, bringing you commentary on everything between the lines and inside the hashes, from the film room to the scoreboard.

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