The Miami Heat have been the kings of not only their own division, but also the entire Eastern Conference the last four years. They have won their division and made it to the Finals each of the past four seasons. But, with the departure of LeBron James and the many additions to the teams chasing them, how will the Heat fare in their own division this year?
We want to take a look at four opponents in the Heat's Southeast Division, the moves they have made, and the likelihood that someone else will be hanging a division banner the following season.
Last Season: 23-59
The Magic brought in several new players to mold their young roster. They drafted both Elfrid Payton and Aaron Gordon to run alongside Victor Oladipo. They also signed Ben Gordon and Channing Frye to help with a veteran presence, while they said goodbye to Jameer Nelson.
The Magic, although seemingly better, still are a little off from being in contention for a playoff spot. They don't seem to pose any real threat to the Heat, except when they play them. Nikola Vucevic always finds a way to tear them up on the glass. It won't be easy competition for the Heat, but the Magic will be fortunate to sniff 35 wins this year.
Last Season: 38-44
The Hawks didn't make very much noise in free agency, but boy did they show well in the playoffs, pushing the Pacers to the brink. They'll gain Al Horford back in the front court, but they lost Lou Williams. The Hawks seem primed to try to get closer to a .500 team.
It seems likely the Hawks will again be a team flirting with the playoffs. There will be other teams knocking on the door to get back in and they will have the work cut out for them. The Hawks don't pose any real threat to the Heat in regards to competition -- they'll be a good team, but nothing a healthy Heat should worry about. And Luol Deng will have some fuel to his fire when they face off.
Last Season: 43-39
This is where things get interesting. Obviously the Heat took Josh McRoberts from Charlotte, but they gained Lance Stephenson and Marvin Williams through free agency and Noah Vonleh in the draft. They have a legitimate playoff team and are expected to be right in the thick of it.
The Heat would be wise to take the Hornets seriously. Al Jefferson and company seem ready to try and scrap for a top seed in the East. Now, they have a few games of postseason experience for their players, and they gained better players. The Hornets are probably going to end up 5-7 in the East, but could sneak up even more if they get things together.
Last Season: 44-38
The biggest threat to the Heat staying on top of the Southeast is going to be the Washing Wizards. They finished with the fifth seed last year, and advanced to the second round. They swapped out Trevor Ariza for Paul Pierce -- so make what you want out of that exchange.
Either way, John Wall, Bradley Beal, and Marcin Gortat are looking to get all the way up to the third seed this year, which would effectively put them ahead of Miami. I'm not sold on the fact that the Wizards are a better team than the Heat, but that doesn't mean they won't have a better, more consistent regular season than the Heat. I see it entirely possible that the Wizards could finish with the third best record in the East behind Cleveland and Chicago.
There's so much intrigue when looking at the Southeast Division. The Heat should be looked at as a slim favorite, but it's really an uncertain guess as to how this team will gel, and how fast. We also are hoping Dwyane Wade can stay healthy and that they can stay hungry.
If the Hornets and Wizards get off to fast starts, it may be hard for the Heat to keep pace, but we all probably believe that the Heat are the best team in this division. One of the most important things that could change this equation will be what type of star does John Wall blossom into this season? And what type of leadership and star role can Lance Stephenson burden for a season? Those questions could very well help determine which of these teams comes out on top.
So what do you think? Do the Heat have the inside track for the Southeast Division crown?