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NBA

Divisional Rankings: Does the acquisition of Jimmy Butler push the Miami Heat to the top of the Southeast?

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Southeast Division rankings [NBA.com illustrations]

The dust has settled on a hectic free agency period and rosters are beginning to shape up for the 2019-20 season.

Each day, we'll take a look at a different division and rank the teams based on where we believe they'll finish at the end of the season.

Did your favourite team improve or take a step back this offseason? Did they change up their roster for the better, miss in the draft and free agency or just choose to run things back with a similar team from the previous season?

DIVISION RANKINGS: Northwest | Southwest | Atlantic | Pacific | Central

Take a look at how each team stacks up with their division rivals - today, it's the Southeast Division.

1. Miami Heat

2018-19 record: 39-43, tied for 2nd in the Southeast

Projected 2019-20 record: 44-38

The Miami Heat were in playoff pursuit until the final week of the 2018-19 season before falling just short, finishing tied for ninth in the Eastern Conference.

Franchise icon Dwyane Wade retired, but they wasted no time filling that role, acquiring Jimmy Butler via a three-way trade that sent Josh Richardson to the Philadelphia 76ers.

The Heat are now the favourites to win the Southeast division - arguably the weakest division in the NBA this upcoming season. With a slashing duo of Butler and Goran Dragic, opposing backcourts will be forced to bring their A-game on defence trying to stop these guys in transition.

Miami has one of the most talented young centres in the NBA today in Bam Adebayo, who had an extremely impressive sophomore campaign. Should Adebayo take another step forward in Year 3, the Heat could be a serious threat in the East.

They acquired another shooter in centre Meyers Leonard, who was fantastic in the Portland Trail Blazers' run to the Western Conference Finals last season. Kelly Olynyk and James Johnson provide more experienced frontcourt depth and the Heat seem to have struck gold with their 2019 first-round pick.

Rookie Tyler Herro out of the University of Kentucky was a standout performer in Summer League, proving exactly why he was considered by many as the best shooter in this year's draft class.

The Heat should have no issues returning to the playoffs in 2020 with the combination of this talented roster and playing in a weaker division.

2. Orlando Magic

2018-19 record: 42-40, 1st in the Southeast

Projected 2019-20 record: 42-40

The Orlando Magic were one of the biggest surprise-teams of the 2018-19 season, largely in part to the career year of All-Star centre Nikola Vucevic.

Vucevic was rewarded for his monster season in carrying the Magic to the playoffs by receiving a four-year, $100 million deal to stay in Orlando on the first day of free agency.

In re-signing Vucevic and sixth man Terrence Ross, the Magic elected to run it back with nearly the exact same roster as last season - a roster than took Game 1 off of the eventual NBA Champion Toronto Raptors in the opening round before falling in five games.

Their only new additions are veteran forward Al-Farouq Aminu and 2019 first-round pick Chuma Okeke, an athletic and defensive-minded forward. Orlando is overloaded at the forward position with the likes of Aminu, Okeke, Aaron Gordon and Jonathan Isaac. Their guard depth is lacking, but Ross, DJ Augustin and Evan Fournier are all viable options for a winning team, as we saw last season.

There are two X-factor pieces that could take Orlando to the next level this upcoming season - Mo Bamba and Markelle Fultz.

Bamba, the No. 6 pick in the 2018 NBA Draft, missed nearly half of his rookie season with a tibia fracture. Fultz, the No. 1 pick of the 2017 NBA Draft, only appeared in 19 games with the 76ers last season before being traded to Orlando. A mysterious shoulder injury prevented him from ever taking the court with the Magic, and his timetable to return is still unclear, but that's two top-10 picks that could potentially make an impact to help Orlando reach new heights.

Like this past season, Orlando should be battling for a bottom playoff spot in the East in 2020.

3. Atlanta Hawks

2018-19 record: 29-53, 5th in the Southeast

Projected 2019-20 record: 39-43

The Atlanta Hawks showed some serious promise toward the back end of last season. Rookie point guard Trae Young made a legitimate late push for Rookie of the Year and second-year forward John Collins proved he has the talent to become a star in this league.

Add to it that rookie shooting guard Kevin Huerter showcased his ability as a marksman from beyond the arc and you have a young core that looks promising for the future.

This offseason, the Hawks added to that young core with a successful 2019 NBA Draft. With three picks, they landed three very intriguing future pieces in forward DeAndre Hunter, guard/forward Cam Reddish and centre Bruno Fernando.

MORE: How the 2019 NBA Draft transformed the Hawks into the East's brightest future

They still have centre Alex Len and defensive-minded forward DeAndre Bembry. They added a veteran 3-and-D guy in Allen Crabbe and took a swing on talented forward Jabari Parker in free agency, a player who is still trying to find the right spot to succeed in the league.

In need of another solid centre, the Hawks traded for Golden State Warriors' centre Damian Jones to round out the roster and finished free agency by trading for the expiring contract of Chandler Parsons.

Atlanta strikes me as this upcoming season's version of the 2018-19 Sacramento Kings - a team loaded with young talent who will impress us very often and be competitive night-in and night-out, but ultimately just miss the playoffs due to inexperience.

Should their rookies start strong out of the gate with Collins and Young taking another step forward, don't be shocked if they sneak their way into the postseason.

4. Washington Wizards

2018-19 record: 32-50, 4th in Southeast

Projected 2019-20 record: 27-55

The Washington Wizards' 2018-19 season was derailed by the Achilles injury to their star point guard John Wall. Wall is not expected to return at any point of the 2019-20 season, taking the year off to fully recover.

However, one certified superstar emerged in Washington this past season in shooting guard Bradley Beal. Beal was one of the best players in the NBA and continued to compete all season long despite his team standing far out of the playoff race.

Beal's supporting cast didn't have any major improvements over this offseason, but there are a few interesting storylines for the Wizards this upcoming season.

22-year-old centre Thomas Bryant was great toward the back end of the season, showing he could be an asset to this team's future. Washington rolled the dice, taking a chance on former All-NBA guard Isaiah Thomas, who will likely be their starting point guard in 2019-20. They drafted enticing forward Rui Hachimura who perfectly fits the archetype of a successful stretch-forward in the NBA today.

The Wizards also added role players like Ish Smith, CJ Miles, Mo Wagner and Davis Bertans.

Saying this isn't the NBA's most talented roster would be generous, but there are definitely a number of players trying to prove their worth, which could make the Wizards an entertaining watch in 2020.

5. Charlotte Hornets

2018-19 record: 39-43, tied for 2nd in the Southeast

Projected 2019-20 record: 22-60

It's going to be a long season in Charlotte after their franchise player Kemba Walker elected to go to the Boston Celtics. In return, the Hornets got the Celtics' backup point guard Terry Rozier, who should be poised for a career-year in Charlotte.

Rozier's playing time took the biggest hit of anyone on Boston's loaded roster that couldn't quite figure things out. After leading the team to the Eastern Conference Finals in 2018, Rozier took a back seat with Kyrie Irving returning to the starting role.

He'll now get the opportunity he's long-awaited as the best player on this limited Hornets' roster.

As for the rest of Charlotte's roster, they'll need big minutes - and improvements - from second-year forward Miles Bridges and third-year guard Dwayne Bacon. Bridges had a solid rookie season whereas Bacon didn't get much of an opportunity until the end of the season, where he strung together multiple impressive games.

The team will desperately need centre Cody Zeller to stay healthy. They'll also have plenty of playing time available for 2019 first-round pick PJ Washington.

The Hornets are in a rebuilding phase for the near future, so come for the Scary Terry show and stay for Bridges high-flying dunks.

The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA or its clubs.

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