Deadspin's 2020-21 NBA Preview — Southeast Division: The heat is on, but not for every team

Deadspin's 2020-21 NBA Preview — Southeast Division: The heat is on, but not for every team

Illustration for article titled Deadspins 2020-21 NBA Preview — Southeast Division: The heat is on, but not for every team
Illustration: AP/Getty

The Southeast division of the NBA was like a really bad potluck. In most terrible potlucks there’s usually only one edible dish that’s holding it down for your meal and that’s the one you brought.

Last year, the Miami Heat were that one dish for this group. Everyone else in the division forgot that you have to add seasonings for most food to have flavor. A few teams even thought it would be okay to bring a fruitcake.

The Heat went to the NBA Finals as a fifth seed with one of the most dominant performances through the Eastern Conference playoffs that we’ve seen in a while. No other team in the division finished over .500.

The Orlando Magic made the playoffs by winning 33 games, and got bounced by the Bucks in the first round. The Washington Wizards barely got invited to the NBA bubble to finish the regular season. The Charlotte Hornets looked worse than Michael Jordan’s 3XL suits in the early 2000s and the Atlanta Hawks were so bad that Trae Young’s combined points and assists average were double the amounts of wins the team got.

The bright side is all of these bad teams have significant promise this season and the Heat have a young core with even more confidence and experience that could help them take the next step to an NBA title.

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Atlanta Hawks

Atlanta Hawks

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Cam Reddish, Trae Young
Illustration: AP/Getty

COVID Response: “If you think we’re going to be able to go back and do what we did before, that’s going to be a recipe for failure,” Atlanta Hawks CEO Steve Koonin told Front Office Sports. The Hawks will be similar to every other team in the league that didn’t make the NBA bubble and will have to adjust to the new protocols. The Hawks organization is well aware of the impact the virus has had on their community and has helped provide support to their arena employees, local healthcare workers, and people in need of meals throughout the Atlanta area.

Staying Away: The Hawks will only allow a small number of family and friends to attend their home games at the start of the season. Kroonin told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution that they expect to be open to about 10% capacity by January 18 (MLK Day). The 10% projection would mean that 1,700 people would be allowed to watch the Hawks in person.

Oh, He’s Here Now? The Hawks front office put in significant work this season to try to make their team better. They picked up veterans like Danilo Gallinari, Rajon Rondo, and Solomon Hill whose presence will add increased wisdom and more leadership to the talented young core. Just think about how much All-Star guard Trae Young can grow under the tutelage of Rondo. In addition, Atlanta also picked up nice young players like Bogdan Bogdanovic and Kris Dunn. Both can add offensive punch off the bench and Dunn has proven to be a good defensive player in the league. Lastly, Onyeka Okongwu, the Hawks’ sixth overall draft pick in the 2020 draft will at least add more length and athleticism to the squad in his first year.

Where’d He Go? The Hawks didn’t lose much in the off-season. Certainly the absence of the veteran leadership of Hall of Famer Vince Carter to retirement would be a blow to any franchise, but the addition of Rondo helps fill in that gap. The addition of the new guards will also help replace DeAndre’ Bembry and Jeff Teague who both joined other squads in free agency — Teague joined the Celtics and Bembry the Raptors.

What To Expect: Atlanta has a roster that is very talented and has a lot of promise. Watching Young try to score 40 points every night will always be exciting and John Collins will be an impact above the rim by grabbing boards and finishing plays. The key to this team will be if young wing players like Kevin Huerter, Cam Reddish and De’Andre Hunter can take the next step to become consistent impact players. This team should take its next step forward this season and compete for a playoff spot in the top-heavy Eastern Conference.

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Charlotte Hornets

Charlotte Hornets

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Charlotte Hornets
Illustration: AP/Getty

COVID Response: The Hornets were a team that wasn’t invited to the NBA’s Orlando bubble. They will likely have an adjustment period to the new NBA mandates surrounding COVID-19. However, as a fixture in their local community, the Hornets have tried to relieve the struggles of people in the Charlotte area during this difficult time. The organization has said it will grant a total of $325,000 through its foundation to emergency efforts surrounding the virus by the end of the year. Most of this funding has already been allocated to local nonprofits. The Hornets sports and entertainment team has also donated extra food to food banks and have committed their members to 1,000 total hours of socially distanced community service during this time.

Staying Away: The Hornets announced that they will not allow fans at home games during the 2020-21 season due to COVID-19. The organization says it consulted with the NBA, and both local and state officials to figure out a way for fans to attend games safely. If conditions around the virus change during the season, the Hornets will likely reconsider this decision.

Oh, He’s Here Now? The headline acquisition of the off-season was drafting LaMelo Ball with the No. 3 overall pick in the 2020 NBA Draft. Ball is a show-stopping talent and will electrify the city with his style of play once he gets comfortable playing at the NBA level. He’s already flinging behind the back passes in the preseason. The other eye-popping pickup was signing Gordon Hayward to a $120 million deal in a sign-and-trade with the Celtics. Jordan is notorious for overpaying players who are good but not elite and this will likely be another example of that. Even with Hayward averaging 25+ points a night, Charlotte will not be a contender, so why strap yourself into a commitment that large? The Hornets also picked up big men like Nick Richards from Kentucky and Vernon Carey Jr. from Duke with later picks in the draft.

Where’d He Go? The one notable departure from the Hornets was Nicolas Batum. The small forward was waived by the organization and was signed by the Los Angeles Clippers.

What To Expect: I expect the Hornets to be a team that will finish somewhere between 10th-12th in the East. If Charlotte has a magical season, I could see them being bounced in the first round of the playoffs, but their focus should not be on being competitive this year. Their focus should be on developing their young talent like Miles Bridges, P.J. Washington, Devonte’ Graham (who should have been named the Most Improved Player of the year last season) and Ball. They can get another lottery pick next season and continue to build a team that loves to get up and down the floor around Ball.

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Miami Heat

Miami Heat

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Jimmy Butler, Tyler Herro
Illustration: AP/Getty

COVID Response: The Heat are a team that will likely not be phased by the new NBA protocols surrounding COVID considering that they were one of the last two teams standing in the bubble last season. Now, with the players not being able to go to bars or clubs that could be a bummer for the Miami nightlife, but we are in a surging pandemic so you shouldn’t be trying to go to King of Diamonds anyway. Heat owners Micky and Madeleine Arison pledged $1 million for their employees’ and community’s needs in response to the pandemic through their family foundation. This pledge was in addition to the support the Miami Heat organization and American Airlines Arena said it would give it to its employees.

Staying Away: The Heat announced that they will not have fans at their games to start the season. This situation is extremely fluid depending on the spread of the virus and the effectiveness of the vaccine.

Oh, He’s Here Now? The addition of Avery Bradley was one of the most underrated free agency acquisitions of the off-season. The scrappy and defensive-minded guard will fit in perfectly with the Heat organization and take the pressure off Jimmy Butler to guard some of the best playmakers in the league. The Maurice Harkless signing will help give the team more shooting, and he serves as a long defensive player that they can try to fit into the rotation. They also drafted an athletic stud in Precious Achiuwa in the first round of the NBA Draft.

Where’d He Go? Losing Jae Crowder to Phoenix will be significant for the Heat. Crowder provided three-point shooting and tough defense that was pivotal during the Heat’s run to the Finals. Solomon Hill has given them timely minutes in the playoffs and now he is suiting up the Hawks and they also lost athletic playmaker Derrick Jones Jr, who was a long defender that could jump out the gym. Jones is now in Portland playing alongside Dame Lillard and C.J. McCollum. The additions of Harkless and Bradley should help take the place of these key contributors.

What To Expect: I look for the Miami Heat to compete for an Eastern Conference title again this season, but I think that’s the most you can expect out of this team. I don’t think they made enough moves to truly compete for an NBA title. The Lakers have gotten better, the Nets have gotten better and the Celtics have gotten better. It will be a struggle for this team just to try to get out of the conference finals, let alone win a title. The Heat have a bright future with young talents like Bam Adebayo, Tyler Herro, and Duncan Robinson but they are still one more star way from winning a championship right now. Butler will need more help.

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Orlando Magic

Orlando Magic

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Mo Bamba, Nikola Vucevic
Illustration: AP/Getty

COVID Response: The Amway center, where the Magic play their home games, was scheduled to be used as a medical equipment distribution center. The DeVos family, who own the Magic, pledged $2 million for hourly workers at Amway Center to help with COVID impact and cancellations of games. Magic big men Aaron Gordon and Mo Bamba even stepped in to help thwart food insecurity.

Staying Away: The Magic will let 4,000 fans into Amway Center for their games at the beginning of the season. The team says these fans will be physically distanced. This could be subject to change.

Oh, He’s Here Now? The Magic drafted Cole Anthony with the 15th overall pick in the NBA Draft. He’s an explosive guard that can provide good minutes behind Markelle Fultz. I’m not sure if he can be an elite guard in the league but if he works on knocking down his jumper consistently he can be formidable. They also picked up Dwayne Bacon, who is a versatile guard that proved he can score when given the chance to get his shots up in bulk.

Where’d He Go? The two biggest departures for Orlando were point guard DJ Augustin, who left to go play for Milwaukee, and Wes Iwundu, a shooting guard who is now with the Dallas Mavericks. Augustin is a serviceable backup NBA guard who was able to produce while he was with the Magic, but as the team continues to rise they did not need an aging point guard.

What To Expect: The Magic will be battling for one of the final playoff spots again this season. They have a ton of young talent like Gordon, Fultz, Bamba, and Jonathan Isaac. Nikola Vucevic will probably play at an All-Star level again this season, but it won’t be enough to make a huge difference. I see the Magic getting the sixth seed in the playoffs at best, and the ninth seed at worst.

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Washington Wizards

Washington Wizards

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Rui Hachimura, Bradley Beal
Illustration: AP/Getty

COVID Response: The Chefs of the Washington Wizards made meals for the frontline workers and healthcare responders that were sent to hospitals and COVID-19 testing sites. The Wizards were also part of a collective effort with the Washington Capitals to sell t-shirts to help raise money for frontline workers battling COVID-19.

Staying Away: The Wizards will play games with no fans to start the season. Yet, the situation will likely be fluid for them like every other team in the league.

Oh, He’s Here Now? The blockbuster trade of the off-season involved the Wizards acquiring former MVP Russell Westbrook in a trade with Houston. The addition of Westbrook alongside Bradley Beal should make the Wizards a threat. They also drafted Deni Avdija with the ninth overall pick in the NBA Draft. He could potentially give them a lift in their backcourt as a reserve, but we still don’t know a whole lot about him. The jury is still out. Lastly, they made a nice move to get Robin Lopez off the market and solidify some stability at their center position.

Where’d He Go? John Wall and a 2023 draft pick were dealt away in the trade with Houston for Westbrook. The five-time All-Star was not only the face of the Wizards, despite missing nearly two seasons with major injuries, but he was also a fixture in the Washington D.C. community. Wall was the only notable departure for the team. Jerian Grant left the Wizards in free agency and signed with Houston, and Ian Mahinimi and Gary Payton II are no longer on the roster.

What To Expect: The Wizards will be a team that will likely be around the fifth spot in the East. They will likely battle with teams like Indiana and Philadelphia for positioning among the middle of the pack. The intensity of the Westbrook and Beal tandem will produce more than 45 wins for this squad IF both can stay healthy. However, that is far from guaranteed considering both players’ injury history. If everything falls apart for Washington I could see them becoming a tenth seed. At best this team will make a conference semifinal appearance.

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