NBA Teams’ New Year Resolutions: Southeast Division

Statistically, the Southeast Division has been the weakest division in the NBA so far. Their leader, the Miami Heat, is just sporting a .500 record, while the Washington Wizards have been one of the most disappointing teams in the league.

Still, the Southeast teams have plenty of upside if they make the right moves and their young players develop into the excellent All-Stars they were projected to be. However, don’t expect them to make some noise anytime soon.

Miami Heat (19-19) – Start moving those contracts

It will be the last leg of Dwyane Wade’s celebrated career, and it has been widely-documented so far. But hidden behind Wade’s one last dance is the Heat’s book of excessive lucrative contracts, given to players who arguably play the same roles and the same positions on the team.

Tyler Johnson is owed $38M until the 2019-20 season, while James Johnson will carry $29M with him until next year. The return of combo guard Dion Waiters just emphasized how clogged the Heat’s rotation is on the wing. With the emergence of Justise Winslow on the point guard position and the continuous development of two-way player Josh Richardson, Miami should be aggressive in pursuing a trade for the team’s other perimeter players.

With the 2019 free agency just around the corner, time is running out for the Pat Riley and the Heat front office to create the necessary cap space to be a player in the summer.

Charlotte Hornets (19-20) – Make Kemba happier

While Kemba Walker has been hinting that staying in Charlotte is his priority when he becomes an unrestricted free agent in the summer, there’s no denying that a shot at the Larry O’Brien trophy will still be the greatest denominator. Right now, the Hornets don’t even come close to making any damage in the playoffs. With a 19-20 record, they aren’t even sure if they will continue playing in April.

However, there’s still hope for optimism as reports have it that the team is pursuing trade negotiations for small forward Nicolas Batum, who has a massive contract guaranteed until the 2020-21 season. But that’s not the only bad contract in the Hornets roster as they also have the lucrative salaries of average role players like Bismack Biyombo and Cody Zeller.

This will be a trying year for Michael Jordan and the Hornets front office, especially if they still don’t have enough assets to pitch to Kemba come summer time. The hot take in here is to clear house, forget about the playoffs this year, and make a play for a big name in the impending free agency.

Orlando Magic (17-22) – Unclog frontcourt mess

Halfway through the season, the Orlando Magic hasn’t been bad as what people predicted them to be. With head coach Steve Clifford at the helm, they have surprised and beat powerhouse teams like the Boston Celtics, the Philadelphia 76ers, and the Toronto Raptors. With a 17-22 win-loss card, the Magic can make the playoffs even without a legitimate point guard.

But that’s not a good thing moving forward, and holding auditions for a probable future starting point guard could be something that Orlando could pursue. Unfortunately, the Magic doesn’t have enough valuable trade assets to do that so the only recourse is to let go of one of their combo bigs.

With versatile power forward Aaron Gordon playing his most productive season thus far, the Magic could view Jonathan Isaac and rookie Mohamed Bamba as possible trade baits. If the team could get a young budding point guard in return, it would help them convince center Nikola Vucevic to stay when he becomes an unrestricted free agent this offseason.

Washington Wizards (16-24) – Figure out who to retain between Wall and Beal

The circus surrounding the Washington Wizards will not stop anytime soon unless they make a roster move headed in the right direction. Combo guard Bradley Beal is getting better as a ball-handler and playmaker each game, and his improvement obviously conflicts with John Wall’s need to have the ball in his hands. It’s already a failed marriage, something that the Wizards front office shouldn’t just ignore.

People have been saying and predicting how difficult it will be for Washington to move the injured Wall and his massive contract in exchange for a big returns. The secret to solving this problem is for Washington not to expect too much from other teams to field in excellent assets for Wall. If they still stand adamant on the prospect of getting big returns, then maybe a deal with Beal as a centrepiece could be something they could pursue.

If the Wizards try that approach, they would obviously be letting go of any playoff chances this season in hopes of getting lucky in this year’s draft. A core of a healthy Wall, an All-Star caliber player they would get in the Beal trade, and a promising Top 5-draft pick will be a dynamic start to a rebuild.

Atlanta Hawks (12-27) – Just continue developing the young guys

In terms of this current season, there’s really nothing much for the Atlanta Hawks to do at this point. Sitting with a 12-27 record, they are poised to land a lottery pick in this year’s draft, and a strong chance of barging into the Top 3 picks in hopes of drafting one of the Duke’s celebrated trio.

If you watch a Hawks game this season, there’s a positive atmosphere that envelopes the team. Even if they are a cellar-dwelling bunch of young aspirants and role players, first-year head coach Lloyd Pierce has developed a tough mindset within the team, something that is very important in a rebuilding NBA team.

Amidst the criticisms of the Trae Young-Luka Doncic draft day swap, Young hasn’t been as bad as people perceive him to be. Doncic is just having a marvellous season, but one could not just take away Young’s obvious potential to be a potent point guard in the league. He is averaging 15.4 points and 7.4 assists in his rookie year, and a couple more years of development and experience will definitely put him in All-Star conversations.

A sports aficionado ever since he first held a basketball, Paul was a student athlete in school and college. Today, he teaches English in university by day and a freelance sportswriter by night.

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