Cohen: Magic's Main Competition for Playoff Spot in 2014
September 3, 2013
Josh Cohen’s Analysis: Shortly after being named the general manager of the Magic, Rob Hennigan decided it was best to refurbish the roster and gradually transition back into being a championship contender. This meant trading Dwight Howard for a slew of budding young talent, clearing salary cap space and building through the draft.
Though it’s rational to assume this upcoming season will be another rebuilding campaign, it’s not impractical for Orlando to soar up the standings more rapidly. If the young core including Nikola Vucevic, Maurice Harkless, Tobias Harris, Victor Oladipo and Andrew Nicholson progress more swiftly, perhaps the Magic could challenge for a postseason spot.
It’s a constant debate around the league, especially for this season with a highly touted draft class likely on the horizon. Is it more advantageous to be a low playoff seed or be in the draft lottery with a chance of landing a potential franchise savior?
If Orlando is in the running for a playoff berth this season, there will be some stiff competition around it. We know Miami, Indiana, Chicago, Brooklyn and New York are locks to advance to the playoffs and other clubs, including Cleveland, Detroit and Washington, are expected to make big strides this season. CLICK NEXT for an evaluation of the teams the Magic will be battling with for a playoff spot in 2014.
Cohen’s Analysis: Much of Cleveland’s success comes down to the health of Kyrie Irving, who has dealt with an assortment of injuries in his first two seasons in the league. He has had foot problems, a broken hand and fractured bone in his face and other nagging grievances.
Also Andrew Bynum, who the Cavs signed to a two-year deal this summer despite his knee issues, will be a critical component to Cleveland’s aspirations. Bynum had evolved into an All-Star center in L.A. with the Lakers before his injury-riddled campaign in Philadelphia.
If Anthony Bennett, the first overall pick in the 2013 NBA Draft, Tristan Thompson and Dion Waiters rapidly develop, the Cavaliers should be a playoff caliber team this season.
Cohen’s Analysis: It was an active summer in Detroit, which added Josh Smith and Brandon Jennings. It also watched Andre Drummond show off his progress at Summer League.
If Drummond and Greg Monroe coexist, if Smith adjusts to being a steady small forward and if Jennings becomes more of a playmaker rather than a scorer, the Pistons should not only make the playoffs but also challenge the Pacers and Bulls for the division crown.
There are other newcomers in Detroit, including new head coach Maurice Cheeks and rookie guard Kentavious Caldwell-Pope.
Cohen’s Analysis: It’s still very cloudy and indeterminate what the Celtics are trying to accomplish this season. By trading Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce to Brooklyn this summer, we know they are no longer a title contender. However, if Rajon Rondo and Jeff Green are healthy, they shouldn’t spiral all the way to the bottom of the barrel either.
Will Boston eventually trade Rondo, who is still recovering from a torn ACL he suffered last January? Are the C’s hoping to enter the sweepstakes for next year’s loaded draft class? How will rookie head coach Brad Stevens do in the big leagues?
We will learn more about this team by Christmas. If Celtics GM Danny Ainge can have his wish, he probably wants Rondo to prove he is still a franchise superstar but his team loses enough to be in position to grab one of those prized prospects in next year’s draft.
Cohen’s Analysis: It sure seemed like a blockbuster win for the Raptors after acquiring Rudy Gay in the middle of last season. He appeared poised to transform into a franchise superstar before gradually he and his new team came back to life.
It’s murky whether Toronto is striving for a playoff spot or still wants another year to renovate. It found a willing trade partner for the battered and unreliable Andrea Bargnani. If Summer League is a sign of things to come; Jonas Valanciunas could evolve into the best center in the Eastern Conference.
The Raptors have enough talent to be a playoff team this season. But after several straight failed seasons, it’s hard to have trust they will finally break though in 2014.
Cohen’s Analysis: My head is still spinning about the decision to sign Al Jefferson this summer. And that actually is praise to Big Al, who is good enough to help Charlotte win an extra seven to 10 games this season but not good enough to catapult the Bobcats to the playoffs.
It’s extremely unlikely that the young core including Cody Zeller and Kemba Walker will be potent enough to give Charlotte enough firepower on offense. And the defense, which was ranked worst in the Eastern Conference last season, doesn’t appear to be improved.
Cohen’s Analysis: What was the purpose of signing Paul Millsap? Why did Atlanta suddenly seem desperate after failing to land Dwight Howard in free agency?
Last year after trading Joe Johnson and deciding not to offer Josh Smith a max contract it appeared the Hawks were willing to be patient. But that tolerance didn’t last long. They pursued Monta Ellis, though he opted for the Mavericks, added Millsap and Elton Brand and still have Al Horford and Lou Williams on the roster.
It just seems Atlanta is too good to secure a top five draft pick but not well rounded enough to advance to the playoffs.
Cohen’s Analysis: I am a big proponent of Milwaukee’s decision to blow up the roster. Fine as sidekicks, Brandon Jennings and Monta Ellis weren’t strapping enough to take the Bucks to the next level.
There will not be many wins in Milwaukee this season. But with two solid young pieces including Larry Sanders and Brandon Knight and a high draft pick for next year on the horizon, there is far more flexibility for the Bucks than before this summer started.
Cohen’s Analysis: Most believe Washington will finally break through this season and sneak into the playoffs. After returning from his knee injury in January, John Wall was stellar and finished with a career-best average of 18.5 points per game. He also shot 44 percent from the field, a career high, and seemed far more stifling defensively.
Most think Bradley Beal will have a breakout second season and if Nene stays healthy and if Otto Porter can step in right away and contribute, the Wizards may be on the verge of snapping a five-year drought of not qualifying for the postseason.
Cohen’s Analysis: Most believe Philadelphia will end up with the worst record in the league this season. The Sixers traded Jrue Holiday for a recovering Nerlens Noel, who tore his ACL during his freshman season at Kentucky, did not make any attempt to bring Andrew Bynum back and are planning to start Michael Carter Williams, a rookie point guard with some unambiguous limitations.
While it was uncanny for Philly to replace one injury-riddled big man with another, it’s probably a logical move to start from scratch and hope to hit the jackpot in next year’s draft lottery.