A similar theme that occurs throughout the Southeast Division involve a hopeful push through the NBA Playoffs, and although some teams have better probabilities than others, all five teams have a high amount of optimism invested. The fans behind NBA’s two stories Florida teams are no strangers to this type of confidence; with the latest offseason moves that the Orlando Magic and the Miami Heat involves themselves in to stay competitive, the month of October can be draining for those who invest in pure speculation. However, there are silver linings for both storied franchises that can keep them on the better end of this ambitious division.
Orlando Magic (ended 2015-16 11th in Eastern Conference, 35-47)
Recently, Orlando has found its footing in the past few years, finding somewhat of a success in its youthful core, a steadily improving center in Nikola Vucevic, as well as a slight increase in television exposure after Aaron Gordon’s infamous Dunk Contest performance during All-Star Weekend. There were definite pieces within last year’s roster that could have assisted in a Playoff opportunity, but the Magic still struggled to show improvement record wise as they finished on the low end of the Eastern Conference and missed the Playoffs for the fourth year in a row.
While other teams competed for the championship in May, Orlando was securing their head coach position – a position that the players knew had to be upgraded after their difficulties with former coach Scott Skiles. Once Skiles resigned on May 12, they quickly regrouped with Frank Vogel; a coach that was not only adored by his players, but a coach who had a successful run with the Indiana Pacers’ attempts at reaching the NBA Finals. A month later, the Oklahoma City Thunder formed a plan to convince Kevin Durant to stay, trading their storied defensive enforcer Serge Ibaka to Orlando for Victor Oladipo, Ersan Ilyasova and Domantas Sabonis. This ended up backfiring once Durant chose to leave for Golden State, and this trade could have accounted for Brandon Jennings’ quick departure for New York City, but as Oklahoma found a gem in the 2013 Draft’s second pick, Orlando felt like they added an anchor who can improve the Magic’s defensive culture under Vogel.
Free Agency was kind to the Magic front office once they began to double down their strengths, but one could view the contracts given as questionable. They became the team to bite on Bismack Biyombo after his impressive Playoff stint against the Indiana Pacers and the Miami Heat, earning $72 million after four years, they signed Jeff Green for a $15 million dollar year after some less than stellar performances on the Los Angeles Clippers and they kept Evan Fournier for a five year, $85 million price tag. Further additions of Jodie Meeks, DJ Augustin and others show that Orlando is willing to let go of some youth to make room for veterans that can flourish under Vogel’s “Playoff or bust” mentality, but it’s almost a catch 22 for the Magic from a fan’s perspective. If they do excel past 35 wins and make the Playoffs, it’s commendable, but a 7th or 8th Seed damn near guarantees a loss to the East’s top tier. If they don’t make the Playoffs, it can be viewed as a disappointing fifth year that they cannot sneak their way into the easier side of the NBA Playoffs – and there’s not much that feels worse than being a catch 22 in the NBA.
Miami Heat (ended 2015-16 3rd in Eastern Conference, 48-34)
A team with the veteran experience that the Heat had last year still found their way on the negative end of fan perspective, but as their national broadcast appearances decreased, they stood atop of the Southeast Division. Their sights on the Eastern Conference Finals were blurred and eventually blinded after two seven-game series with the Charlotte Hornets and the Toronto Raptors, but as Toronto moved on to face Cleveland, the worst had yet to appear for the Miami organization.
As the Heat front office prepared for a stretch of an attempt at Kevin Durant this summer, all sports outlets within the South Florida market began to weigh the worst-case scenarios that could await the Heat if this was successful or not. If Durant were to sign, it guaranteed a loss of one of the following two: a promising center who finally came into his strengths to shine in Hassan Whiteside, or undoubtedly the most storied player in team history in Dwyane Wade. The Durant plan backfired, which led general manager Pat Riley and head coach Erik Spoelstra to begin constructing with the pieces they had available. The first order of business began with delivering Whiteside a max deal, turning a star that never thought he would see a million dollars into the $98 million man he is now. However, this led to a fall out that shocked the NBA as a whole as Wade found comfort, and possibly a higher sense of worth by joining the Chicago Bulls. Communications between Wade and the Heat front office still seem to be jumbled as both parties tell their renditions of the story that led to the move, but regardless, fans found difficulty in preparing for a season without their thirteen-year hero.
Miami quickly resigned the young Tyler Johnson by matching Brooklyn’s offer sheet of $50 million over four years, but other departures illustrated a difficult outlook into next season – veteran Luol Deng made his way to the Los Angeles Lakers, Joe Johnson headed over to the Utah Jazz, Gerald Green left the bench for Boston and Amare Stoudemire went to the Israeli Premier League to join Hapoel Jerusalem. This influenced a few pick ups from various teams to build upon the roster and hopefully assist with the Heat’s storied shooting, but as the puzzle pieces fell into place and fans became truly invested in the young core Miami built upon, there were still unanswered questions in regards to its number one offensive threat in Chris Bosh. After a few months of conflicting views from both parties, assumptions came to an end once Bosh did not pass his physical after large complications with blood clots that sidelined him throughout last season and the season before. This led Riley with the decision of moving forward from Bosh, clearly not prepared to take the risk of watching the star risk life on a nightly basis by playing under blood thinners. Although Bosh will receive the remainder of the money owed to him in his $118 million contract, the fact that he does not want to end his career in this manner has made this divorce as messy as it’s been. Nevertheless, the Heat fan base has found tranquility in their new young core, but there are still plenty of questions that exist before one can make a solid decision on their position in the Southeast Division, let alone the Eastern Conference.