Southeast Division Offseason Review
By: Devin Zanskas
Over the past several seasons, the Southeast Division hasn’t experienced the most success. The Miami Heat’s Cinderella run during last season’s NBA Bubble postseason was a sight to behold, but they persevered despite being the first fifth seed to win an eastern conference championship. Otherwise, the Southeast hasn’t held a top four seed since the Washington Wizards won 49 games four years ago. There are many factors that explain this division’s lack of success. Generally, each of these teams have had bright spots, even in the worst times, to keep them mediocre at worst. However, that mediocrity may be the precise root of there being no enormous leap taken by anyone in the Southeast. The Hawks have had Trae Young, but not much of a supporting cast until this year. The Hornets have had tantalizing young talent in Miles Bridges, Malik Monk, Devonte Graham, and Terry Rozier, who are finally joined by a transcendent rookie in LaMelo Ball. The Heat have Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo, but haven’t been able to put together incredible regular seasons due to injuries and the Health and Safety Protocol. The Magic had two-time all-star, Nikola Vucevic, but much more potential than production around him. Lastly, the Wizards have been led by Bradley Beal’s rise into one of the best scorers in league, but they haven’t had much room to build around him throughout the years given John Wall’s huge contract.
Atlanta made as many moves as just about anybody this offseason, including the acquisitions of Danilo Gallinari, Bogdan Bogdanovic, Solomon Hill, and Onyeka Okongwu. Clint Capela also played the first games of his Hawks tenure this year, after being traded there at last season’s trade deadline. However, they barely rank in the bottom third of ESPN writer, John Schumann’s, December 3rd continuity rankings, as their young core of Young, Collins, Hunter, Reddish, and Huerter remain intact. The Hawks luck turned around when they made Nate McMillan the interim head coach, but their fortune may have more to do with their improved health. The Wizards made the biggest trade of the offseason by moving their franchise cornerstone, John Wall, for an equally large contractual commitment in Russell Westbrook. The difference is Westbrook made an All-NBA team within the past year, can carry a team on his back as well as anyone, and is one more triple double away from passing Oscar Robertson for the most triple doubles in NBA history.
One of the most scrutinized additions of the offseason was the Hornets signing Gordon Hayward to a 4-year, $120 million contract. Any fan would be lying if they said they didn’t question the signing at first, but most reasonable observers would eventually acknowledge that this is a result of the increased price small markets pay to attract talent. Even so, no one could’ve predicted that Hayward would contribute to the Hornets at a near all-star level before his right foot sprain, averaging 19.6 points per game. The tone Hayward set before his absence helped the Hornets maintain the eighth seed as of today. The Heat and Magic are top five on the continuity rankings, as their most important offseason moves involved re-signing the likes of Jonathan Isaac, Markelle Fultz, and Goran Dragic. Although, both teams made some of the most noise at the trade deadline, acquiring or moving on from other notable players such as Nikola Vucevic, Aaron Gordon, Evan Fournier, Victor Oladipo, and Nemanja Bjelica. Even though both teams are on different paths, they are each moving in a clear direction toward the promise land.