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: #16 Washington Wizards

Offseason Movement: The Wizards big move this offseason was to re-sign Gilbert Arenas to a huge contract (six years, $111 million). By doing so, they were able to keep their core of Arenas, Caron Butler and Antawn Jamison together. It was a risky signing for the team given all the problems he has had with his balky knee.
Keep Your Eye On: Gilbert’s knee
Simply stated, if the Wizards can keep Arenas, Jamison and Butler healthy, they’re probably a playoff team. If they lose any one of those players for an extended period of time, they’ll struggle to make the postseason.
The Big Question: Was the Arenas signing the best thing for the Wizards?
One school of thought would to let Arenas and Jamison go (via free agency or trade) and build around the much more affordable Butler. But he’s 28, and by the time the Wizards were “rebuilt,” he’d be past his prime. The Wizards pretty much had to sign Arenas and Jamison and hope that another player or two (Andray Blatche, Nick Young, JaVale McGee, etc.) can emerge as a quality starter or role player. The Wizards aren’t going to have any salary cap room for a while, so they may be regretting this summer’s moves in two or three years when they’re still a .500 team and in cap hell.
Outlook: If all goes well, the Wizards will be safely in the playoffs. They’ll eventually lose in the first or second round. If a star gets injured for any length of time, they’ll miss the playoffs. Wash. Rinse. Repeat.

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