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2007-08 NBA Preview: The Southeast Division
By RAUL SMITH, MOP Squad Sports Staff Writer
Oct 15, 2007 - 3:47:28 AM

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It’s that time of year once again, sports fans.   Baseball’s NLCS and ALCS are underway, football is very much in full throttle, and the NHL has kicked off, leaving one major sports league left to get started…the NBA!


And much like last year, I will once again take a stab at predicting how the NBA season will go in 2007-08.   So with that said, here is a look at the NBA, division-by-division, team-by-team, courtesy of MOP Squad Sports columnist Raul Smith.


Today, I wrap up the Eastern Conference with a look at the Southeast Division, which could be argued as the weakest division this side of the Northwest Division.


Atlanta Hawks

Head coach : Mike Woodson is in his fourth season as head coach of the Hawks.

Last year’s record : 30-52, which earned this team fifth and last place in the Southeast Division and, obviously, a trip to the lottery.

MVP Candidate : an emerging star in his own right, it will be up to Josh Smith to steer this ship out of the Titanic-esque course it has followed for so many years.

Here’s the lowdown : it has now gotten to a point where I feel sympathy for Hawks fans.   Yes, ownership is trying to once again to stir interest in the team by unveiling a new logo, new team colors, and new uniforms.   Personally, I say to that, “Thank God!”   I don’t know if I could watch another highlight reel on Sportscenter with those ugly yellow alternate unis again.   Anyway, obviously, that has generated little to no buzz in the A-T-L.   Because let’s face it, the fans want a winner for once.   And to be perfectly frank, management has once again come up short in delivering that to the fans.   The mass collection of wasted talent is back once again, with exception to Royal Ivey and Esteban Bautista.   The Hawks had a golden opportunity with the third overall pick in the draft to finally solve either their point guard problem or their center problem.   Instead, the Hawks did what the Hawks always do: take a forward.   In this case, Al Horford from Florida is the unfortunate soul.   They now have nine forwards on their roster…NINE!   That’s over half of their roster!   Yes, Speedy Claxton is back after missing most of last season with injury, and Lorenzen Wright should provide assistance at the center position, but having nine forwards on your roster is like having five shoot-first-pass-second point guards on your roster; it just doesn’t work well.

Player to watch this season : someone who is not a forward, the eleventh overall pick in the draft, Acie Law from Texas A&M should help provide quality minutes at both the 1-guard and 2-guard positions.


Charlotte Bobcats

Head coach : Sam Vincent is in his first season as head coach of the Bobcats.   He has no prior head coaching experience in the NBA.

Last year’s record : 33-49, which was good enough for fourth place in the Southeast Division, but not good enough for a playoff berth.

MVP Candidate : the Rookie of the Year from three years ago, Emeka Okafor will look to bounce back after missing most of last season due to injury; for the Bobcats to go anywhere at all this season, and especially after Sean May got injured, Okafor will need to return to his ROY form from three years ago.

Here’s the lowdown : once again, the Charlotte Bobcats showed last season why they are still an expansion franchise looking to get its footing set in the NBA sand.   Part of the reason for that was the injury to 2004-05 Rookie of the Year Emeka Okafor, who was built up by the Bobcats as their leader.   Now, with Okafor back, Bernie Bickerstaff replaced by Sam Vincent, and the team focused, they look to build upon the lessons from last season.   However, roster changes and injury have already taken a toll.   Brevin Knight is no longer a viable backup point guard option for the young but hungry Raymond Felton, the team traded for Jason Richardson, who will now have to settle for a backup guard role behind defensive power Gerald Wallace, and Sean May is already injured to the point where he will miss the entire season.   Will this team overcome the negative effects already trying to rip it apart, or will it continue its occupancy near the bottom of the Southeast Division?

Player to watch this season : with Knight no longer on the Bobcats’ roster, it’s all up to Raymond Felton to carry the team from the point guard position.   Sure, Jeff McInnis is a nice backup point guard, and will provide quality relief minutes for Felton, but the team clearly sent the message with the release of Brevin Knight that the time for Raymond Felton to shine is now.


Miami Heat

Head coach : the legendary Pat Riley is in his eleventh season as head coach of the Heat and his twenty-fifth season as a head coach in the NBA.

Last year’s record : 44-38, which was good enough to earn this team the Southeast Division title and a 4th seed in the Eastern Conference Playoffs.   However, they would get embarrassed and swept in the first round by Chicago 4-0.

MVP Candidate : with Shaquille O’Neal’s age starting to take its toll on his body, the team must solely rely on the services of fifth-year guard Dwayne Wade, who will look to help this team bounce back from its down season.

Here’s the lowdown : two years ago, the Miami Heat were on top of the basketball world.   They had just won the NBA Championship in a gritty series against Dallas.   Today, the Miami Heat is a franchise riddled with question marks after the team seemingly settled for just that one championship.   The veterans are said to not be as hungry anymore, and the team is nowhere near the same as it was when they won the championship.   Key role players like Eddie Jones, James Posey, Jason Kapono, and Gary Payton are no longer around.   Shaquille O’Neal’s body is starting to feel the effects of aging.   Alonzo Mourning is also starting to feel the effects of aging.   Jason Williams and Antoine Walker are rumored to no longer be as hungry now that they have their championship ring.   And management is also taking some tough criticism after making free agent acquisitions like the Lakers’ Smush Parker and former teammate of Shaq’s in Orlando, Anfernee Hardaway.   Dwayne Wade is still around, but he also went through some struggles last season because of injury.   Will we see the old Miami Heat from 2005-06 re-emerge, or has the championship hunger died for good and will the sweep at the hands of the Bulls linger within this team?

Player to watch this season : how well Shaquille O’Neal’s body holds up will most likely determine how well Miami’s season holds up.   Dwayne Wade may be the MVP, but Shaq is still their best option at the center position.


Orlando Magic

Head coach : Stan Van Gundy is in his first season as head coach of the Magic.   He previously spent four seasons as head coach of the Miami Heat.

Last year’s record : 40-42, which was good enough for third place in the Southeast Division and the 8th seed in the Eastern Conference Playoffs.   Like most 8th seeded teams do, they got swept in the first round by the Detroit Pistons 4-0.

MVP Candidate : the runner-up for the 2004-05 Rookie of the Year, Dwight Howard has quickly emerged as the captain and MVP for the Orlando Magic, averaging career-highs last season in almost every major statistical category while leading the Magic to their first playoff berth since 2003.

Here’s the lowdown : last season was a franchise-changing season for the Orlando Magic, as they witnessed their first playoff berth in four years, along with the emergence of Dwight Howard, who they selected with the first overall pick back in 2004.   Howard catapulted his game to All-Star status last season in helping the Magic to their best season in years.   Now, to build upon that, the Magic turned to the free agent market this offseason.   Loaded with cap space, they made a sign-and-trade deal with Seattle for free agent forward Rashard Lewis.   However, this move cost Orlando both their veteran leader in Grant Hill and a backup center in Darko Milicic.   However, with the youth and explosiveness of Lewis and the low-post dominating presence of Howard, the Magic look poised to build upon their 40-42 record from last season.

Player to watch this season : with all the talk about their two forwards, many people forget about Orlando point guard Jameer Nelson.   Yes, he suffered through some hard times, and my thoughts and prayers go to his family in these difficult times, but sometimes, inspiration and strength can come from going through times like these.   If that’s the case for Jameer Nelson, I just have two words for the other four teams in the Southeast Division: look out!


Washington Wizards

Head coach : Eddie Jordan is in his fifth season as head coach of the Wizards and his seventh season as a head coach in the NBA.

Last year’s record : 41-41, which was good enough for second place in the Southeast Division and the 7th seed in the Eastern Conference Playoffs.   However, without their star player Gilbert Arenas, they didn’t stand much of a chance and got swept by the Cleveland Cavaliers in the first round 4-0.

MVP Candidate : as if there was any doubt, there is no longer doubt that Gilbert Arenas is the true MVP of the Wizards.   The team will go as he goes.

Here’s the lowdown : last season was a good news/bad news season for the Wizards; good because they finally returned as a force to be reckoned with in the East, but bad because the minute everybody started catching on to Washington, Gilbert Arenas went down with an injury that would force him out for the remainder of the season, setting the Wizards up for a 4-0 sweep at the hands of the Cleveland Cavaliers in the first round.   However, the Wizards feel really good about their chances this season.   “Agent Zero”, as Arenas is affectionately known, is back from his injury feeling better than ever, most of their key role players are back, and the team added the sixteenth overall pick in the draft in Nick Young from USC, who will provide good relief minutes for starting 2-guard DeShawn Stevenson.   The Wizards, however, still lack a quality center; they did attempt to resolve this matter by acquiring 13-year veteran Tony Massenburg.   Unfortunately, Massenburg is not as good as Brendan Haywood.   Etan Thomas will most likely miss the entire season shortly after having open-heart surgery, so that should thin out the center position even further.   Thankfully, the Wizards aren’t the only team in the league without a quality center, so they should be able to mask this shortcoming with everything else and prove to be a real threat for the Southeast Division crown.

Player to watch this season : rookie Nick Young will be a very key component to this Wizards team.   Look for him to contend for the Sixth Man of the Year award rather than Rookie of the Year honors.


Overall, here’s a look at where I think each team will rank at the end of the season:


1.) Washington Wizards: Gilbert Arenas will not let this team suffer a similar fate to last season.   Expect big things from Washington this season.

2.) Orlando Magic: while the frontcourt duo of Howard and Lewis will do some damage, they will miss out on the division title in the last week of the season.

3.) Miami Heat: old, decaying careers are starting to weigh this team down; time to move on.

4.) Charlotte Bobcats: even if Sean May wasn’t injured, this team still wouldn’t be nearly talented or good enough to contend with the others in this division.

5.) Atlanta Hawks: new logo + new unis + new colors + another forward = Titanic-esque disaster waiting to hit that iceberg.


Now, as I officially wrap up the Eastern Conference, here is my prediction for how the playoffs will set up:


1.) Detroit Pistons: regardless of what happens in the postseason, it’s still Detroit’s conference in the regular season; everybody else is just paying rent.

2.) Boston Celtics: the Garnett-Allen-Pierce trio will make just enough of a difference to bring the Celtics to the 2nd seed for the first time in what would seem like forever.

3.) Washington Wizards: Gilbert Arenas will win the MVP award.   Mark that down right now!

4.) Cleveland Cavaliers: LeBron James will finish second in MVP voting to Agent Zero.   Mark that down also.

5.) New Jersey Nets: Jason Kidd and Vince Carter won’t be teammates for much longer, but as long as they’re still together, they’ll do as much damage as they can.

6.) Chicago Bulls: Scott Skiles may still have work left to be done…or perhaps the Bulls need to make a couple of major changes to their roster.

7.) Orlando Magic: the addition of Rashard Lewis makes all the difference for Orlando, while Dwight Howard emerges into a true MVP candidate.

8.) Toronto Raptors: the surprising Raptors will beat out Milwaukee by a single game for the eighth and final Eastern Conference Playoff spot.


That’s a wraup of the Eastern Conference.   Tomorrow, I start to look at the Western Conference, with the Pacific Division being my first target.


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