MIAMI: (1st in Southeast, 3rd in East, 8th in NBA)
This roster reminds me a lot of the end times of the most recent Laker dynasty: the big man, a great guard, the once-good, and the could-be role players. The competition in the East makes things simpler and presumably Shaq is hungrier (to compete, he’s noticeably slimmer). Dwyane Wade isn’t quite the talent Kobe Bryant is, but he’s a better teammate. I still think Wade would benefit from significant minutes at the 2, but he’ll undoubtedly be on the court with Eddie Jones and Wesley Person at crunch time.
O’Neal is so much better than every center in the East not named Ben Wallace, that the revolving door of mediocrity at power forward (Chrissy Laettner, Udonis Haslem, and Malik Allen) shouldn’t matter too much. Michael Doleac has found a job suitable for his talents and Dorrell Wright will allow Gerald Wallace a look into his past whenever the Bobcats are in town.
ORLANDO: (2nd in Southeast, 7th in East, 19th in NBA)
The Magic are very similar to the Knicks, but with a slightly more sensible distribution of talent, especially if Grant Hill can contribute significantly. It would be nice to see him play again though unlikely he’d be more than a shadow of his former self.
The small lineup possibilities could be entertaining, if Johnny Davis chooses to go that way. With Dwight Howard a ways away and Tony Battie and Kelvin Cato qualified to pass for centers in the East, I expect to see Pat Garrity and Hedo Turkoglu spend a lot of time at the 4.
If they’d taken Emeka Okafor they could have challenged for the division this year. I’m just saying.
WASHINGTON: (3rd in Southeast, 9th in East, 21st in NBA)
My thinking is that if you know you aren’t going to contend, get young and run. High scoring games will pique the interest of the community, the players get a chance to develop in a fun system (and, if they aren’t developing to your liking their numbers may create an inflated trade value), and your coach seems like a good guy for whom to play. Add a good late-lottery pick, a couple of decent free agent signings, mix in defensive responsibilities, and you can start trying to win. I encourage the Wizards to go this route.
The Wizards have a bunch of interesting, enigmatic players. Even their role players (Anthony Peeler, Michael Ruffin, and Etan Thomas) are personal favorites of mine. The only known quantities on the roster are Gilbert Arenas and Antawn Jamison (and Brendan Haywood, but not in a good way). I don’t know who should play alongside Arenas (Larry Hughes, Steve Blake, Jarvis Hayes, or Juan Dixon) and no one has any real idea how good Kwame Brown and Jared Jeffries are.
If Eddie Jordan lets them run and rewards those who play well, they could contend for the last playoff spot in the East. If he restricts the rotation, shuttling guys between the 8th spot and the end of the bench, it’ll be another wasted season in the capitol.
And, please Wizards, give Billy Thomas the last roster spot, at least until Blake is healed. Thank you.
ATLANTA: (4th in Southeast, 14thin East, 29th in NBA)
This is a bad team, but by design. Depending on who Billy Knight gets for Antoine Walker, they might even be fun to watch late in the year. The problem I see long term (and there’s no point in discussing this bunch in the short term) is that their four best young players play the same two positions. I assume this is designed to create a position of strength from which to make future deals, but they’re gambling that all four can develop simultaneously in competition with each other.
I also assume Kevin Willis was signed so that Herb Brown would have someone with whom he can hang out.
CHARLOTTE: (5th in Southeast, 15th in East, 30th in NBA)
I know things are tough for an expansion team, but this group will be difficult to watch. Okafor is the only real candidate to be on the first good Bobcats team. I guess Melvin Ely and Theron Smith might stick around as role players as the organization adds real NBA content to the roster.
Gerald Wallace and Primoz Brezec could be useful as trade bait over the next couple of years, but I don’t see either ever providing a meaningful contribution to a good team.
If everything goes right, they get to draft some combination of Chris Paul, Nemanja Aleksandrov, Marvin Williams, Martynas Andriuskevicius, Sergio Rodriguez, Rudy Gay, and Greg Oden the next two summers.