As the Heat compiled its conglomerate of superstars, the built around the edges. The Magic added Quentin Richardson and Chris Duhon, and declined to re-sign its defensive stalwart, Matt Barnes.
Orlando still has what Miami does not — all-around depth and a natural All-Star center in . While Miami cheered its additions, Orlando shrugged. The summer established a from central Florida down south among , Miami’s president; Orlando Coach Stan Van Gundy, the former Heat coach; and Magic General Manager Otis Smith.
Miami opens its home schedule against Orlando on Friday, a meeting further anticipated after a slick court forced the cancellation of their preseason game last week at Tampa’s St. Pete Times Forum.
“I feel that we have just about as good a chance as everyone else, if not better,” Smith said in a recent telephone call.
Among the teams expected to impede Miami, only Orlando, Boston and Chicago are looked upon as serious challengers.
“I don’t know if Miami has anyone that can handle the size of those two teams,” Steve Kerr, a TNT analyst, said of Boston and Orlando. “But they are so athletic and they are going to be so dynamic and fast.”
The added depth in the off-season for a run at a third finals appearance in four years, and Rajon Rondo will take another step toward making the team his own. But age is becoming an annual concern. The core of Ray Allen, , Paul Pierce, and averages 34.2 years old with 14.6 years of experience. As a group, they have logged more than 200,000 minutes in the regular season and the playoffs.
The conference will be deeper and more on par with the Western Conference after the additions of two of the league’s better power forwards, Carlos Boozer and Amar’e Stoudemire.
In the Central Division, the and the will benefit most from James’s departure. The Bulls should be better defensively under Coach Tom Thibodeau, and they will add an interior presence once Boozer’s broken right hand heals. The Bucks can add to a strong showing last season under the dynamic point guard , the inclusions of Corey Maggette and Drew Gooden, and the return of center Andrew Bogut from a late last season.
Meanwhile, Indiana and Detroit will be improved if their stars can stay healthy. The ’ Danny Granger played only 62 games last season, and the ’ Tayshaun Prince and Richard Hamilton were bothered by various ailments throughout the season.
The reached the playoffs last season but may take a step back after losing Raymond Felton and Tyson Chandler. The will seek to mold John Wall and into a winning backcourt. The Hawks are chasing a playoff breakthrough with the same core after re-signing Joe Johnson, but under a different coach, Larry Drew.
The and turned to contingency plans after failing to woo James, Bosh or Wade. The Knicks signed Stoudemire to a five-year contract for $99.7 million and will rely on a heavy offensive dosage from him in trying to reach the playoffs for the first time in six years. The Nets hope to shrug off last season’s dismal year behind the emerging center Brook Lopez and to have Devin Harris return to his All-Star status after reuniting with Avery Johnson, his coach in Dallas.
Cleveland and Toronto are trying to carve new identities without their superstar defectors, a job that could lead to challenging seasons. James’s former sidekicks Mo Williams, J. J. Hickson and Antawn Jamison will need to become the ’ main parts. The retooled themselves by trading Hedo Turkoglu, a vast disappointment in his lone season as a Raptor, to the . Andrea Bargnani, a former No. 1 overall selection, will lead a more balanced offense.
Doug Collins returned as a coach, taking control of Philadelphia. The drafted Evan Turner second over all, but they will have to get past a shaky preseason if they are to challenge for one of the East’s last playoff spots.