By Chris Mannix
August 16, 2010
Offseason Grades: Southeast Division

Welcome to the NBA's new glamour division. The Heat, the source of much of the fascination with the Southeast, are poised to begin what could be a historical period. The Magic are banking on Dwight Howard and his band of jump shooters to get them back to the Finals. The Hawks are hoping a change at the top will help them take the next step. The Bobcats are coming off the first playoff berth in franchise history. And, oh yeah, there's some kid in Washington named John Wall who might be worth watching.

C+ Atlanta Hawks

Scott Cunningham/NBAE via Getty Images

Welcome back, Joe
Yes, Joe Johnson's (pictured) six-year, $119 million deal was excessive, but where would the Hawks be without him? All the progress Atlanta had made over the last five seasons would have been flushed had a player of Johnson's caliber left.

New coach, new attitude
Mike Woodson did a terrific job taking the Hawks from doormats to playoff participants, but their locker room had gotten stale on his watch. Enter Larry Drew, a cheap (his reported $1.3 million salary is the lowest in the league) and familiar (he's an ex-Woodson assistant) alternative who plans to run a more balanced offense that will emphasize the low-post play of undersized center Al Horford and forward Josh Smith.


No true center
Dwight Howard continues to stand as a big roadblock in the Hawks' quest for playoff success. After a brief flirtation with Shaquille O'Neal, the Hawks elected to re-sign Jason Collins, leaving them once again without a proven pivot to battle Howard in the paint.

No real point guard
Maybe the speedy Jeff Teague is the answer. He's going to have to be, because Mike Bibby's defensive decline will force Teague into a bigger role. A solid summer league (15.6 points, 4.8 assists) is a positive sign, but it's still unknown whether Teague can handle the likes of Rajon Rondo, Derrick Rose, Jameer Nelson, John Wall, Brandon Jennings and Devin Harris on a nightly basis.


After five years of regular-season improvement, the Hawks need to finally have a strong playoff run. Unfortunately, they may not have the talent to do it this season.

D+ Charlotte Bobcats


Brown's back
The hometown tug of Philadelphia and the lure of Los Angeles were expected to pull Larry Brown out of Charlotte, but "Next Town" Brown will be back on the Bobcats' sideline this season. Before his arrival in 2008, the 'Cats had never won more than 33 games. Last season, as most of the younger players took to Brown's teachings, the Bobcats earned a playoff spot and won a franchise-record 44 games.

Official restraint
Credit Michael Jordan for putting the kibosh on the deal that would have sent Tyson Chandler (pictured) and Boris Diaw to the Raptors for Jose Calderon and Reggie Evans. Evans is a nice rebounder but Calderon isn't the answer at point guard and he has a monstrous contract to boot.


Puzzling transactions
The Bobcats replaced Raymond Felton (who signed a two-year, $16 million contract with the Knicks) with the oft-injured Shaun Livingston, and they shipped Chandler and former first-round bust Alexis Ajinca to Dallas for Erick Dampier, whose value is in his non-guaranteed $13 million contract. The leaves unproven D.J. Augustin or Livingston as the starting point guard and -- assuming Dampier is waived or traded -- journeymen Nazr Mohammed and DeSagana Diop in the middle.

Thomas' paycheck
Tyrus Thomas could turn out to be a quality player -- he averaged 10.1 points and 6.1 rebounds after being acquired from Chicago last season -- but the Bobcats are paying him ($40 million over five years) like he already is one. Thomas has never been the most motivated player, and a boatload of guaranteed money won't help that cause.


Even Brown's wizardry won't help Charlotte overcome its offseason losses.

A Miami Heat

Gregory Heisler/SI

The biggest three
Pat Riley and the Heat had perhaps the most productive offseason in NBA history, landing the biggest free agents on the market: LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh (all pictured). The trio of MVP candidates (including back-to-back winner James) gives the Heat the most star-studded roster in the league.

Filling out the rest
Getting James, Wade and Bosh was a coup, but Riley deserves equal credit for the supporting cast he put together. Riley persuaded two-time All-Star center Zydrunas Ilgauskas to take the veteran's minimum, picked up sharpshooter Mike Miller on the cheap and talked Udonis Haslem into taking roughly $14 million less than he could have received elsewhere to stay in Miami. Throw in Joel Anthony, Jamaal Magloire and Carlos Arroyo, along with Juwan Howard, James Jones and Eddie House, and the Heat look like a complete team.

Keeping the coach
Speculation was rampant that, with a restocked roster, Riley was bound to take over coaching duties again. He still may, but for now the responsibility of running this team belongs to Erik Spoelstra, an excellent young coach who guided a Heat team with an abundance of free agents and only one star (Wade) to the fifth seed in the conference last year. No question, Spoelstra deserves at least one season to try to make this thing work.


Who will run the show?
If there is one chink in Miami's armor, it's the lack of a proven point guard. Arroyo and Mario Chalmers were part-time starters last season, but neither is considered a lock to start this year -- not with James available to share ball-handling duties with Wade.


The Heat are hungry and incredibly talented. Chemistry issues may be the biggest obstacle to their challenging the 1995-96 Bulls' NBA record of 72 wins.

C Orlando Magic

Fernando Medina/NBAE via Getty Images

Moves at a minimum
With the core of the team -- Howard (pictured), Jameer Nelson, Rashard Lewis and Vince Carter -- under contract, the Magic's top concern was bringing back the supporting cast. To that end, they matched Chicago's three-year, $19 million offer for J.J. Redick and brought in another deep threat in Quentin Richardson to offset the loss of Matt Barnes.

Drafting well
Finding gems at the bottom of the draft isn't easy, but Orlando may have nabbed two of them. In the first round (No. 29), the Magic scooped up Kentucky's Daniel Orton, a center who could eventually make Marcin Gortat expendable. In the second round (No. 59), they picked up Connecticut's Stanley Robinson, a defensive-minded swingman whom several scouts believe has a game more suited to the professional ranks.


Bye, bye Barnes
Barnes' production (8.8 points, 5.5 rebounds) is replaceable but his intangibles will be hard to duplicate, especially by a rookie in Richardson.

Still no power at power forward
Any list of the Magic's weaknesses includes a lack of bulk next to Howard: The spindly Lewis will still get the lion's share of minutes at power forward. A better season from Brandon Bass, who averaged only 13 minutes in 2009-2010 in the first year of a four-year, $18 million contract, would help.


The Magic continue to revolve around Howard's defense and everyone else's outside shooting. If both are clicking, they are still a legitimate threat in the East.

B- Washington Wizards


We got Wall
As painful as L'Affaire Arenas and the stripping down of the roster was last season, the addition of No. 1 pick Wall (pictured) could make it all worth it. Fast, explosive and dynamic, Wall is just the type of franchise player the Wizards can build around for the next decade.

Looking good, McGee
Center JaVale McGee has packed on seven pounds, developed his post game and spent time training with Team USA for the FIBA World Championships. Though he was cut from the final squad, his experience playing against and being around some of the league's top players should only enhance McGee's game for this season.

Bringing back Howard
It could be months before we know if Josh Howard can come back from the torn ACL he suffered last season, but the Wizards could have done worse than re-signing Howard to an incentive-laden deal. At his best, Howard is an All-Star-caliber swingman who can score and defend well on the perimeter.


Bringing back Arenas
The Wizards can pay all the lip service to Gilbert Arenas that they want -- if they could have found a taker for the remaining four years and $80 million on his contract, Arenas would be gone. On paper, an Arenas-Wall backcourt looks scary. But will Arenas be willing to share the ball (and the spotlight) with a rookie?

Down goes Blatche
The roller-coaster ride that is Andray Blatche continues. He broke his foot in June, an injury that has cost the starting forward the entire offseason. When in shape and motivated, Blatche is a gifted scorer and rebounder (he averaged 22.1 points and 8.3 rebounds in 32 games after the All-Star break last season). Problem is, he is rarely both those things at the same time.


They're still missing many pieces and Arenas is more of a liability than benefit at this point. A playoff run may not be in the cards for this season, but with Wall running the show, a postseason trip may not be too far off.

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