SOUTHEAST

December 05, 2011

MIAMI HEAT(58--24)

What they've got

The troika of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh is back, with the benefit of a season of mental bumps and ego bruises under their belts. Valuable role player Udonis Haslem is healthy after missing most of last season with a torn ligament in his left foot.

What they need

Paging a point guard, any point guard. Incumbent Mike Bibby won't be re-signed, and president Pat Riley is not sold on restricted free agent Mario Chalmers as a starter; a play for J.J. Barea (Mavericks) is a possibility. Joel Anthony is better in a reserve role, so the Heat will be looking for a veteran free-agent center who's interested in making a title run.

Bottom line

The expectations will be ratcheted up after Miami survived a shaky start to win the Eastern Conference. If the Heat can acquire a capable playmaker, an offense that jelled toward the end of last season could become frighteningly efficient.

ORLANDO MAGIC(52--30)

What they've got

Center Dwight Howard—for now. The Magic will once again surround the league's most dominant force in the paint with three-point bombers Gilbert Arenas, Hedo Turkoglu and J.J. Redick. Point guard Jameer Nelson can opt out after the season and should be motivated to earn another big contract.

What they need

Orlando overpaid for Arenas and Turkoglu last season, leaving G.M. Otis Smith with little cap flexibility. But if Arenas (who makes $19.3 million) or Turkoglu ($10.6 million) is amnestied, Orlando could pursue free agents Caron Butler (Mavericks) or Mike Dunleavy (Pacers) to fill the void on the perimeter.

Bottom line

The Magic can win, but can it win enough to convince Howard to re-sign? The first month will be telling: If Orlando isn't playing like a title contender, the pressure will be on Smith to move Howard by the trade deadline rather than watch him walk as a free agent.

ATLANTA HAWKS(44--38)

What they've got

All-Star guard Joe Johnson will be eager to rebound from a poor shooting season (29.7% from three-point range). Center Al Horford, 25, had career highs in points (15.3) and field goal percentage (55.7%) while Kirk Hinrich, a midseason acquisition from the Wizards, solidified the point guard spot.

What they need

The 6'10" Horford is a better fit at power forward, so the Hawks could take a flier on free agent Aaron Gray (Hornets) or 36-year-old Erick Dampier (Heat). Free-agent supersub Jamal Crawford will be looking for big dollars, and with no suitable replacement for him on the market, Atlanta may have to pay the price to keep him.

Bottom line

The Hawks got over the proverbial hump when they ousted longtime nemesis Orlando in the first round last season. But Atlanta has middle-of-the-pack talent in a conference that's loaded at the top. Losing Crawford would be devastating—and could lead to a shake-up that would start with G.M. Rick Sund unloading mercurial forward Josh Smith.

CHARLOTTE BOBCATS(34--48)

What they've got

Draft-day acquisition Corey Maggette is a proven scorer on a team that badly needs one. Shooting guard Gerald Henderson more than doubled his scoring output after the All-Star break last season (14.4 ppg), and D.J. Augustin and rookie Kemba Walker from UConn are appealing options at point guard.

What they need

The Bobcats have few options at center, so free agent Kwame Brown must either be re-signed or replaced. They were 29th in offense (93.3 points per game) and sorely need a low-post presence—free agents Kris Humphries (Nets) and Carl Landry (Hornets) are possibilities—to take the pressure off the perimeter players.

Bottom line

Charlotte has talent, just not enough, so coach Paul Silas will have to create ways for his players to score. First-round pick Bismack Biyombo's contract in Spain could keep him from playing this season. If Walker develops quickly, Augustin could become trade bait.

WASHINGTON WIZARDS(23--59)

What they've got

Second-year point guard John Wall (16.4 ppg, 8.3 apg) is a superstar in the making, and he will have an intriguing rookie to work with in first-round pick Jan Vesely, a 6'11" forward. Andray Blatche and JaVale McGee give the Wizards a talented, if inconsistent, front line.

What they need

Time, really. There is a supply of solid young talent (Wall, Vesely, second-year shooting guard Jordan Crawford) that will need the freedom to learn on the fly. The bench could use a boost if guard Nick Young is not re-signed, but Washington won't make a move that will eat into its cap space beyond this season.

Bottom line

The Wizards will improve on last season's 23 wins, though likely not by much. Coach Flip Saunders will try to develop Wall & Co. so they are in a position to be competitive a year from now. Staying in the playoff hunt through March would be a successful season.

PHOTOGREG NELSON (JAMES) PHOTOGREG NELSON (HENDERSON) PHOTOBOB ROSATO (HOWARD) PHOTOBILL FRAKES (JOHNSON) PHOTOJOHN W. MCDONOUGH (WALL)

SCOUT'S TAKE

"I'm expecting to see the old Chris Bosh. He looked lost the first couple of months last season, but when he accepted that he was the third banana, he thrived."

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)