Kia Season Preview 2016-17
2016-17 Season Preview: Southeast Division
A reshuffling at the top of the division could be in order with the offseason changes in to both the Miami Heat and Atlanta Hawks. All-Stars like Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh in Miami and Al Horford and Jeff Teague in Atlanta are no longer wearing those uniforms. The top spot appears to be wide open after six straight seasons of either the Heat or Hawks owning the crown. Uncertainty reigns throughout the division, with new faces taking over in critical positions for the Hawks, Heat, Orlando Magic, Charlotte Hornets and Washington Wizards.
Team On The Rise
Charlotte Hornets — The Hornets invested heavily in their own free agents (Nic Batum, Marvin Williams) and are betting on coach Steve Clifford’s penchant for coaching up his big men to work wonders for former All-Star Roy Hibbert. Kemba Walker’s continued evolution as one of the league’s top playmakers/scorers is the key to the Hornets’ plans to rise.
Team On The Decline
Miami Heat — Swapping franchise building blocks like Dwyane Wade (Chicago) and Chris Bosh (failed physical) for Hassan Whiteside and Goran Dragic is not necessarily a recipe for instant success. The Heat’s Big 3 era is officially over.
Paul Millsap, Atlanta Hawks –There isn’t a player in the division more talented than Washington’s John Wall. But Millsap is the most accomplished (based on recent results) and the best player on the best team to start this season.
Player On The Rise
Aaron Gordon, Orlando Magic — With a suddenly crowded frontcourt rotation in Orlando, Gordon will have to scrap for everything he gets. But he’s got star potential and should flourish in new coach Frank Vogel’s system.
Mike Budenholzer, Atlanta Hawks — No coach in the division has squeezed more out of his team the past three seasons than the 2015 Coach of the Year. He’s cultivated a culture that the Hawks are banking on as they shift into a new era.
Coach On The Hot Seat
No one — Budenholzer, Clifford and Erik Spoelstra are all firmly entrenched in their respective positions. Scott Brooks (Washington) and Frank Vogel (Orlando) are in their first seasons, so they’ll have a honeymoon period that lasts at least until the All-Star break.
Taurean Prince, Atlanta Hawks — The Hawks are always on the lookout for players with the versatility and seasoning that Prince, the No. 12 pick from Baylor, brings to the party. A 6-foot-7 small forward with range and the ability to defend at a high level, Prince is in the DeMarre Carroll mold.
Sekou Smith is a veteran NBA reporter and NBA TV analyst. You can e-mail him here and follow him on Twitter.
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