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: #10 Orlando Magic

Offseason Movement: The Magic were courting Corey Maggette for much of the offseason, but settled instead on Mickael Pietrus. With Jameer Nelson, Hedo Turkoglu and Rashard Lewis surrounding Dwight Howard, the team needed an athletic off guard who can defend and Pietrus has the potential to be that guy. I say “potential” because the 26 year-old never quite fit in with Golden State, but the Magic are gambling that it had more to do with Don Nelson than Pietrus’ limitations. He’s a good shooter from the corner, and if he can improve his handle, he could develop a nice attack-the-basket game. He has all the tools to be a stopper defensively, but has thus far shown a propensity to commit way too many fouls.
Keep Your Eye On: Jameer Nelson
With Keyon Dooling gone, Nelson will likely be asked to play more minutes than he did last season (28.4). In the playoffs, he responded well to increased PT, posting 16.2 points and 4.7 assists in 33.3 minutes. Nelson is not a traditional playmaker, but he’s a good fit for what the Magic are trying to do. The team needs shooters to give Howard the space to work down low, and Nelson can most certainly shoot it (42% 3PT last season). At 26, it’s going to be interesting to see if he makes the next step or if his game has already topped out.
The Big Question: Does Orlando have enough of a bench to compete with the East’s best?
I really like Orlando’s starting five, but the team projects to have Anthony Johnson, J.J. Redick, Keith Bogans, Tony Battie and Adonal Foyle anchoring the bench. Those names don’t exactly strike fear in the hearts of Eastern Conference opponents. With Nelson, Pietrus, Turkoglu, Lewis and Howard, the team can compete with any group of starters in the East, but it remains to be seen if the bench can hold its own with its counterparts.
Outlook: Good. Orlando has done a nice job of assembling a team that can compete in the East, but I wonder if/when the team will start to pay for the monster contract they gave Rashard Lewis two summers ago. Will it limit their ability to re-sign Turkoglu next year? If not, the team will be way over the cap and limited to mid-level exception-type players for the foreseeable future. If management is will to spend like that, fine, but if they’re going to start cutting costs to stay below the luxury tax threshold, they’re going to have to make some tough decisions. And the team can’t afford to lose a player of Turkoglu’s stature. If the team is going to make the leap and become one of the league’s best, it is going to have to re-sign its stars, draft really well from late in the first round and spend its mid-level wisely.

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