John Wall and Bradley Beal have the Washington Wizards poised to repeat as the division champs in their second season under coach Scott Brooks. And with the Miami Heat ascending and the Atlanta Hawks finally completing their tear down of a one-time Eastern Conference finals team, the land beneath the Wizards is wide open for the Heat and Charlotte Hornets to battle over (while the Orlando Magic and Hawks fight to stay out of the basement).
2. Miami Heat
Team On The Rise
Miami Heat -- Goran Dragic is coming off a MVP performance after leading his Slovenian team to the EuroBasket title and Dion Waiters is healthy and has a new contract. They join with Hassan Whiteside and a matured supporting cast on what should be coach Erik Spoelstra’s best team since LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh last wore Heat uniforms.
Team On The Decline
Atlanta Hawks -- It didn’t take long -- two seasons, to be exact -- for the Hawks to clear out four All-Stars in favor of a complete rebuild just in time for the arrival of new general manger Travis Schlenk. Philips Arena isn’t the only thing in need of an extreme makeover in Atlanta.
John Wall, Washington Wizards -- One of the league’s truly elite point guards and two-way players, Wall shoved his way into the MVP conversation last season and will remain in that mix until further notice.
Player On The Rise
Dennis Schroder, Atlanta Hawks -- Schroder was handed the keys to the car last season in Atlanta, his first as a full-time starter, and was up to the task. A big summer leading the German National team at EuroBasket showed that his 2016-17 season was no fluke.
Erik Spoelstra, Miami Heat -- He’s no longer the baby-faced, boy genius handpicked by Pat Riley to coach the Big 3. He’s the elder statesman in the division and the only championship (head) coach in the Southeast Division.
Coach On The Hot Seat
Mike Budenholzer, Atlanta Hawks -- No one is questioning Bud’s coaching ability and he has that Coach of the Year hardware on his shelf. But the Hawks relieved him of his team president duties over the summer and have gutted the roster he guided to 60 wins and the conference finals just three seasons ago. This will be his most challenging season, yet.
Malik Monk, Charlotte Hornets -- The sweet-shooting former Kentucky star steps into a ready-made spot as a floor-stretcher for the Charlotte Hornets. His stroke (40 percent 3-point shooter in his only college season) and versatility make him an ideal running mate for All-Star point guard Kemba Walker, who will welcome the help.
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