by user Cpchrist
My season review continues today with the Southeast Division. As with the Atlantic and Central Divisions, I will look back on what we have learned about each team this past season, while also looking ahead to the coming year for those teams that failed to reach the postseason.
What We’ve Learned: The Hawks have some talent, but it all plays the same position. Their top 5 players are Joe Johnson, Al Harrington, Marvin Williams, Josh Childress, and Josh Smith. You cannot make a starting lineup out of that, unless you’re Pat Riley circa 1995 and you’re trying to build a team of 6-9 ball handlers, and even then it probably still isn’t a good idea. Johnson exploded this season, becoming a poor man’s LeBron, and actually made people forget the ransom the Hawks gave up for him. Al Harrington made himself some money, becoming the number one free agent this off-season (there’s no way Detroit lets Ben Wallace leave). Josh Smith regressed wildly, forgetting even how to dunk (remember the masking tape incident at the dunk contest?). Tyronne Lue was both the Hawks best and worst point guard, which means they have no point guard. Maybe passing on Chris Paul was a bad idea.
What Lies Ahead: The Hawks have to get a point guard. That should be their only concern. With a competent point guard this year, they probably would have been in the thick of the riveting race for the 8 seed or would have at least been there with Orlando building momentum for a run next year, and with Paul, they would have been battling the Cavs for home-court in the first round. Maybe they can work a sign-and-trade involving Harrington. I say go after Stephon Marbury. I’m sure Isaiah would love to add Harrington, just because he has talent—Isaiah’s only barometer to how good a trade is for his team—and Steph did play at Georgia Tech. If Marbury blows up and pouts and poisons the team, so what; the Hawks haven’t been relevant since 1997, and Marbury being Marbury won’t change that. But if the fourth trade of his career opens his eyes, and Stephon actually starts using his considerable talent to help a team, look out. The Hawks could be Detroit’s second round fodder come next year.
What We’ve Learned: Gerald Wallace is so underrated that he became overrated by the end of the year. Honestly, can you believe ESPN actually included him on their Defensive Player of the Year poll? I know he averaged over 2 blocks and 2 steals a game, but anyone playing on a team that gives up 101 points a game doesn’t deserve consideration. While the defense may have been lacking, the Bobcats did have a balanced offense with seven different players scoring over 10 points per game. Bernie Bickerstaff showed Larry Brown and Isaiah Thomas how starting two point guards is supposed to be done, employing the contrasting styles of Raymond Felton and Brevin Knight. Felton can get into the lane on anybody, even more so than Tony Parker, and Knight has piled up more meaningless assists over the past two seasons than Mark Jackson ever did. Emeka Okafor and Sean May made brief cameos before getting hurt for the year, making the jump shooting Primo Brezec the team’s only post presence. The Bobcats may have been bad, but at least they tried.
What Lies Ahead: The first disappointing season in Charlotte. Entering their third season of existence, the Bobcats will be expected to start making significant strides towards respectability. Unfortunately, the season will feel like year 2.5 of existence. Sean May will essentially be a rookie again, and Okafor and the rest of the team will have to adjust to each other. Raymond Felton will continue to ascend as a player, and should shake the nasty trend people have of being lumped in with Deron Williams when being compared to Chris Paul, but he may struggle initially as he will be asked to run the point full-time, as Knight will almost surely be moved. With the improvement shown by the Magic, and the possibility of the Hawks getting a point guard, the Bobcats may be left alone in the cellar.
What We’ve Learned: Dwayne Wade is even better than we thought, or at least he is until everyone starts talking about it. His late season swoon has to be at least a little troubling to Heat fans, especially since Shaq is about four years removed from being able to dominate a playoff series by himself. Antoine Walker proved that he has to be a worry-free gunner to be effective, which he can’t be on a team with Shaq and Dwayne, while Gary Payton looked painfully old. James Posey remembered that he was James Posey—bad three point shooter, spotty D, really just a body—while also making everyone forget the season he had two years ago for Memphis. The last of the Heat’s big off-season acquisitions, Jason Williams, has actually fit in nicely, seemingly taking Hubie Brown’s teachings to heart. Too bad he was hurt so often. Finally, Stan Van Gundy may or may not have been forced to resign by Pat Riley, but either way let’s all hope that Stan chooses not to follow his brother’s footsteps again (remember, Jeff quit on an underachieving squad in the middle of the season, too) and politely declines making what should be a reasonably exciting team an absolute bore (seriously, the JVG-coached Rockets should never be on national TV again). As for the playoffs, the Heat should beat whoever they face in the first round simply because the Heat are one of three East teams that could actually make the playoffs in the West. The second round should be a tough series with the Nets and whoever wins that will go on to get crushed by the Pistons.
What We’ve Learned: The Magic don’t give up. After looking like one of the worst teams in the league for four-and-a-half months, they went on a tear, going 15-5 starting with a 102-73 blowout of the Cavs on March 10, which die-hard fans (hi Mom) of my writing may remember I (kind of) predicted. Dwight Howard continued his maturation into a beast, and, following Amare Stoudamire’s frightening micro-fracture surgery, is now the best young big man in the league (with apologies to Chris Bosh). Jameer Nelson proved everyone right who thought that he should have never lasted until the 18th overall pick. Carlos Arroyo makes you wonder why he couldn’t stick in Utah or Detroit, and Deshawn Stevenson joined Carlos in their successful exodus from the land of Jazz. Tony Battie somehow tricked the Magic into extending his contract for four years, which is even more puzzling considering the presence of Howard and the acquisition of Darko. While Howard is undoubtedly the cornerstone of the franchise, it is Darko who has had everyone watching this team, wondering how he would do when finally given playing time. As it turns out, we know about the same. Darko will block shots, play relatively sparingly, and show glimpses of an offensive game that could exceed Dirk Nowitzki’s. The Magic also disappointed everyone by trading for Penny Hardaway and then cutting him before he could try to get coach Brian Hill fired again.
What Lies Ahead: The key is Darko. If he can get into shape and regain the fire that Chad Ford swears he had in Europe, Milicic and Howard could be the most effective twin towers ever erected. Whenever anyone discusses Darko, I get upset with their tone, sounding as if they have always wanted him to fail. What self-respecting NBA fan can honestly say that they wouldn’t love to see this kid fulfill the potential he shows for about 2 minutes a night, blocking shots, draining threes, posting up, and breaking his man down off the dribble? When they won’t be playing the Cavs next year, I will be a Magic fan, but even more I will be a Darko fan. Also, it’d be nice if Grant Hill could play at least one more full season before he retires. If Hill stays healthy and Darko develops, the Magic should be in the playoffs next year.
What We’ve Learned: Gilbert Arenas can ball. It’s kind of a shame he’s getting overlooked in the MVP talk, but it’s a deep field and he wouldn’t win anyway. Also, Gilbert is a little crazy. I saw him on the Sportscenter Hot Seat explaining that he picked the Wizards over the Clippers by doing the opposite of what a coin-flip told him to do. If you can understand that sentence, you’re probably as high as Gilbert Arenas. Other than Arenas, there is really nothing remarkable about this year’s Wizards. Antonio Daniels played like Antonio Daniels circa 1998, which is to say horribly, before rebounding to play like Antonio Daniels circa 2005, which is to say adequately. Antawn Jamison had another solid season, nearly putting up 20 and 10, while remaining one of the more underrated players in the league. Caron Butler played like he did his rookie year, providing a decent replacement for Larry Hughes. Brendan Haywood took up space, occasionally getting spelled by Etan Thomas, who took up more space due to his Predator haircut. Jarvis Hayes may have switched places with his twin, Jonas. We’ll never know. In the playoffs, the Wizards will play a tough series against the Cavs, and it wouldn’t be shocking if they advance. They will of course then get destroyed by the Pistons.
Tue 04/18/06, 7:23 pm EST