Southeast Division 2020-21 NBA Season Preview: Should Heat go all in?

Miami Heat forward Jimmy Butler reacts after scoring against the Indiana Pacers during the 2020 NBA playoffs. (Ashley Landis/AP)

The NBA is back, and Sportsnet is breaking down everything you need to know about each of the 30 teams in the lead-up to tipoff on Tues., Dec. 22.

Today, we look at best- and worst-case scenarios for the Eastern Conference’s Southeast Division. (Teams are listed in the order in which we believe they’ll finish in the 2020–21 standings.)

Miami Heat

2019–20 finish: 44-29, first in Southeast, lost in NBA Finals.

Major additions: Avery Bradley, Maurice Harkless.

Major subtractions: Jae Crowder, Derrick Jones Jr.

Best-case scenario: Coming off a somewhat surprising run to the Finals that saw them fall in six games to the Los Angeles Lakers, a best-case scenario for the Miami Heat will be to get back to the championship round and finish the job. With that said, and as talented as they may be with that core of Jimmy Butler, Bam Adebayo and the emergence of Duncan Robinson and Tyler Herro, when you look around at the competition in the East you have to wonder how feasible another run to the Finals might be for Miami. So, a more realistic high-water mark for this squad this season would probably be a conference finals appearance.

Worst-case scenario: We’re going to go out on a limb here and say barring devastating injury to a player like Butler or Adebayo, the Heat are assured of making the playoffs. Outside of falling short of their own likely championship expectations, the Heat need to realize that this is a team with a lot of young talent that will grow over time, and no matter how tempting it might be to trade for a player like James Harden, who could help put them over the top, to do so at the expense of any of their young studs would be a mistake.

2020–21 season prediction: 39-33, fifth in the East.

Washington Wizards

2019–20 finish: 25-47, fourth in the Southeast, didn’t make the playoffs.

Major additions: Deni Avdija (R), Robin Lopez, Russell Westbrook.

Major subtractions: John Wall.

Best-case scenario: Say hello to Russell Eastbrook. The decade-long marriage between Wall and Washington came to an end when he was traded to Houston for Westbrook, who, while not likely to be the triple-double machine he once was, still remains one of the most dynamic guards in the NBA. The pairing of him and the ascendant Bradley Beal should prove interesting to say the least. What’s more, sophomore forward Rui Hachimura has already shown growth with a strong pre-season debut. There’s little doubt Washington is better than before, but how much is the question. For now, the Wizards would just be happy with a playoff appearance.

Worst-case scenario: Everyone should know that the best player on the Wizards is Beal. Emphasis there is on the “should.” Westbrook, for all his talents, has never really been one to not assert himself as “the man” on any NBA team he’s been on. And while Washington’s talent alone should see it reach the play-in tournament, the team will need to establish a a pecking order, which means Westbrook will need to take a backseat to Beal or else this experiment will blow up in the Wizards’ faces.

2020–21 season prediction: 37-35, eighth in the East.

Atlanta Hawks

2019–20 finish: 20-47, fifth in the Southeast, didn’t make the bubble.

Major additions: Bogdan Bogdanovic, Kris Dunn, Danilo Gallinari, Onyeka Okongwu (R), Rajon Rondo.

Major subtractions: DeAndre Bembry, Vince Carter, Alex Len, Jeff Teague.

Best-case scenario: The Atlanta Hawks went big this off-season with the free-agent signings of Bogdanovic, Gallinari and Dunn. Trae Young is an all-star calibre player and this season we’re going to find out just how ascendent he can be with legitimate help around him. Unfortunately for the Hawks, the rest of the East has gotten tougher. But because of the play-in tournament format that will see the No. 7-10 seeds compete at the end of the regular season for the final two playoff spots, Atlanta will have a chance to snap their post-season drought, and that’s really all they can ask for. Get into that tournament and see what happens.

Worst-case scenario: The Hawks were clearly sick of the rebuild they were in and, in a sense, accelerated things with their big off-season. You always have to commend teams for going for it after some years of futility. But if, for example, the old injury bug bites Gallinari hard, and Bogdanovic and Dunn don’t work out to expectation, then Atlanta will be stuck with stuck with some expensive, ineffective players on long, expensive deals. They have to at least reach the play-in tournament or this season will end up a failure.

2020–21 season prediction: 35-37, ninth in the East.

Orlando Magic

2019–20 finish: 33-40, second in Southeast, lost in first round.

Major additions: Cole Anthony (R), Dwyane Bacon.

Major subtractions: D.J. Augustin, Wes Iwundu.

Best-case scenario: The Magic are a nice team, but they’ve remained, essentially the exact same for the past two seasons and, as you can see from the additions they made this off-season, they still aren’t much different. Essentially, the Magic have been hoping for a sizeable leap from one of — or, ideally, both — Jonathan Isaac and Aaron Gordon. But Isaac is expected to miss all of this season recovering from knee surgery, and Gordon is starting to feel like a player whose actual basketball skills will never match his raw athleticism. Orlando’s good enough to reach the play-in tournament, but not much beyond that.

Worst-case scenario: Honestly, Orlando is in such a basketball purgatory that there really isn’t a worst-case scenario for the franchise. If the team makes the play-in tournament and gets into the playoffs, great! Another first-round exit awaits it. On the other hand, if they fail to reach the playoffs it won’t impact the club’s draft position much, anyway, as they're unlikely to fully bottom out.

2020–21 season prediction: 33-39, 10th in the East.

Charlotte Hornets

2019–20 finish: 23-42, third in the Southeast, didn’t make the bubble.

Major additions: LaMelo Ball, Gordon Hayward.

Major subtractions: Willy Hernangomez.

Best-case scenario: The Hornets went from one albatross contract in Nicolas Batum to another with the free-agent signing of Hayward. As head-scratching as the contract was, the addition of Hayward and the drafting of No. 3–overall pick Ball does make this team better than before. Last season, Devonte’ Graham took a monster step, establishing himself as a rising star in the league. Now the Hornets need to find a way to make themselves somewhat relevant again, and the best thing they’d be able to do for themselves is make a push for the play-in tournament.

Worst-case scenario: The Hornets can’t afford to have another futile season that will see them destined for another high lottery pick. At some point, in order to learn and develop young talent, you have to start winning some games. And even though it’s unlikely Charlotte makes the playoffs, they still need to take baby steps in order to progress towards eventually becoming a winning franchise.

2020–21 season prediction: 31-41, 11th in the East.

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