Last season, the Atlanta Hawks won the Southeast division by a landslide. They won a franchise-record 60 games, the second-best record in the league, and started the playoffs as the No.1 seed in the East. Only one other team from their division was able to qualify for the post-season, and they met in the second round.
Washington finished the regular season in fifth place, but led by a rejuvenated Paul Pierce, the Wizards sent the higher-seeded Raptors packing in a surprisingly short series (4-0). In the second round, they had no answer for Atlanta’s team-oriented passing game, resulting in a first conference final for the Hawks in more than 50 years. Their season ended there, however, as Lebron James and the Cavaliers proved too much for the Hawks’ injury plagued starting line-up.
After going to the finals for four straight years, the Miami Heat would remarkably not be able to even make it to the playoffs. The loss of James, who returned to Cleveland, and a number of injuries were too much for the Heat. Only two players on their roster played more than 70 games; Wade missed 20 games and Bosh was out for more than half of the season. Healthy again, the Heat have every reason to be optimistic this season. They improved their bench, adding Amar’e Stoudemire and Gerald Green, and snatched Winslow in this summer’s draft. Last season’s revelation, Hassan Whiteside, will be playing for a big contract this year and we will finally see how the Dragic-Wade backcourt will pan out. If they remain injury-free this season, the Heat will be a dangerous outsider in the East.
The Charlotte Hornets had a disappointing year as well, mainly because their new star, Lance Stephenson, was disastrous all season. GM Cho did not waste any time this offseason and offloaded Stephenson to the Clippers. The Hornets were dreadful on offense again last season, finishing near the bottom of the league in points per game and shooting percentage. They needed scoring badly, but played the market without overpaying by adding Batum, Hawes and Lin to the roster. In addition, there is hope that their first-round pick, Frank Kaminsky, turns out to be the offensive weapon they so desperately need. Kemba Walker and Jefferson are still the first two options for the Hornets, but this year they will be getting more help from the wings. It is unlikely the Hornets will reach the playoffs this year, but expect them to be still in the mix come March.
Orlando Magic have been in rebuilding mode the last few years, winning only a combined 68 games in the past three regular seasons. They were looking for a big free agent, without success, so they invested in the talent they already had on their roster, namely Tobias Harris. The team is still very inexperienced, with only three (role) players with more than four years under their belt. The young guys will get another year to develop, as success is not expected this season. The biggest change in Orlando is the coaching staff, where new head coach Scott Skiles will try to implement his competitive winner’s mentality into the young group. Oladipo has shown he can become the cornerstone of the franchise and together with double-double machine Nikola Vucevic and Harris, they will be looking to stay in playoff contention as long as possible.
The Washington Wizards finished last season in fifth place in the East with a record of 46-36, their best regular season in 36 years, but for the second consecutive time, the lost in the second round. Bradley Beal is coming of age and will become a free agent next year. There is a sense in Washington that they might be able to lure Kevin Durant to the capital next year. That will be the main news item all year long, as Washington will have plenty of cap room as well as a good core with John Wall, Beal, Gortat and Otto Porter. They lost their locker room leader though, as Pierce opted for the Clippers this offseason. It will be hard for the Wizards to do better than last season, as some of the other teams in the East are healthy again while their own roster has not been upgraded. Nevertheless, Wall will have an entire year to show the 2013-14 MVP why he should come back to his hometown.
After a record-breaking 2014-15 campaign, the Atlanta Hawks’ loss against the Cavaliers in the Conference Finals is not something to be ashamed about, so the key for the Hawks this offseason was to keep their roster intact. Eventually, their best defender, DeMarre Corroll got his big contract in Toronto, so they brought in Tim Hardaway Jr. and some championship experience with Tiago Splitter. Nevertheless, Atlanta’s roster is still virtually the same as last year. Repeating last year’s success will be hard to do, though, but the Hawks remain one of the main candidates to represent the East in June.