2009 NBA Preview: Southeast Division

This year, we’re doing a division-by-division preview with quick-hitting analysis for every team in the league. If a franchise is a legitimate championship contender, I’ll focus on what stars have to line up for a title run. If a team is a playoff “also-ran,” I’ll identify the weaknesses that have to be shored up via trade, free agency or draft over the next couple of seasons to make it a contender. If a team is likely to miss the playoffs, I’ll take a look at the salary cap, and provide a blueprint for how the team should proceed in the near future to get back in the postseason. At the end of each divisional preview, I’ll provide some (random) thoughts for the fantasy hoopsters out there.

For each division, I’ll pick the order of finish. You’ll also see the team’s league-wide preseason rank in parenthesis. Be sure to check back on Thursday for a preview of the Central Division and on Saturday for the Atlantic Division.

Orlando Magic (4)
The Magic were busy this summer, but did they get better? Only time will tell. Vince Carter, Brandon Bass and Jason Williams are in, and Hedo Turkoglu, Courtney Lee and Rafer Alston are out. Orlando fended off a strong run from the Mavs for the services of Marcin Gortat, and actually played Mark Cuban and Co. pretty well by stealing the up-and-coming Bass away in the process. It appears that Bass may start at power forward, which would move Rashard Lewis to small forward. Since the mismatches Lewis created at power forward were one of the Magic’s strengths last season, this may not be written in stone. Orlando also has the option of starting Mickael Pietrus at small forward and moving Lewis back to PF. But the biggest change to the lineup is the loss of Turkoglu and the acquisition of the 32 year-old Vince Carter, who will likely take over Turkoglu’s initiation of the offense. But keep in mind that the Magic made their playoff run without the services of All-Star point guard Jameer Nelson, and his return will be a significant boost to an already strong roster. The Magic didn’t just tinker with their Finals roster from last year, they made a pretty major overhaul, so it will be interesting to see how this group gels. Stan Van Gundy is one of the best coaches in the NBA, and the regular season should provide plenty of time for the Magic to work the kinks out. A deep playoff run is likely.

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2008 NBA Team-by-Team Preview

Ron Artest is a Rocket, Jermaine O’Neal is a Raptor and Mo Williams is a Cavalier. Richard Jefferson is a Buck and Corey Maggette is a Warrior. Baron Davis signed up to play with Elton Brand in L.A., but Brand bolted for Philly to play with AI2 instead. And Andrew Bynum is back from injury, trying to figure out how to co-exist with Pau Gasol and Lamar Odom. There, you’re all caught up on most of the big summer news from the NBA.

Want more? We’ve got you covered. Our team-by-team preview breaks down each franchise’s offseason movement and outlook, along with a player (or situation) to keep your eye on. We also ask “The Big Question” that is haunting each team as it enters the season.

For the last two weeks, We’ve been previewing each team from #30 to #1, posting three team previews per business day, starting with the league’s bottom feeders – we’re looking at you, Thunder – and finishing up with the cream of the crop. So who will be #1? The Lakers? The Celtics? Or will there be a surprise at the top of our preseason power rankings?

Click here to see the entire preview.

2008 NBA Preview: #12 Miami Heat

Offseason Movement: The team acquired two big names via the draft. Michael Beasley should play a ton of minutes right away and Mario Chalmers is a nice point guard prospect. The Heat also signed three-point specialist James Jones and signed Shaun Livingston to a two-year deal.
Keep Your Eye On: Michael Beasley, F
In many ways, the Heat’s playoff chances rely heavily on how quickly the talented scoring forward can adjust to the NBA game. He is averaging over 15 points and 48% shooting in preseason, so all signs point to a ROY-type season. Beasley can score from just about anywhere on the court and he and Dwyane Wade should provide a formidable one-two punch.
The Big Question: Can Shawn Marion and Michael Beasley co-exist?
Conventional wisdom states that Marion and Beasley play the same position so therefore one of them (Marion) has to go. But in today’s NBA, I see no reason why the two can’t play together on Miami’s frontline. Beasley is a player that has to have the ball in his hands. You run plays for him, you throw it to him in the post, whatever. Conversely, Marion is an energy player who gets most of his points on the break, on offensive rebounds or spotting up in the corner for a three-point shot. The Marion trade talk is already hot and heavy, and there are two things working against the Matrix sticking around in Miami – his age and his asking price. He’s 30, so does he really fit into Miami’s rebuilding plan? Is Miami really rebuilding or could they contend in the next 1-3 seasons? If so, it might be wise to hold onto Marion if the trio gels. If not, the Heat will almost certainly trade Marion, though finding a taker might be tough considering his asking price. A Marion for Lamar Odom swap makes a lot of sense for both teams. The other option is to let Marion go, which will free up a ton of cap space next summer.
Outlook: With Wade, Beasley and Shawn Marion, the Heat have a very scary lineup at the 2-3-4. If all three – but especially Wade – can stay healthy, and they can get decent play at center ant point guard, Miami will make some noise. I’m sure I will take some flack for picking the Heat to finish ahead of the Cavs, but I just like Wade’s supporting cast a lot more. It’s not that Miami is deeper, it’s just that Marion and Beasley are probably better than the next two guys on Cleveland’s roster. Honestly, things are so tight in the middle third of the league that it doesn’t really matter.

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