Nobody in NBA circles talks about divisions, at least not with any great interest. Conferences, sure, because ultimately it's all about seeding for the postseason. Division champions have a say in that equation, but without a pennant race, so what?
Of course, I might have that perception because the Southeast Division, home to the Washington Wizards, has been non-competitive in recent years. Great at the top with the Miami Heat, blah in the middle with the Atlanta Hawks, eh with the Wizards and the Dwight Howard-less Orlando Magic, and brutal with the Charlotte Bobcats.
Well, there is reason to believe that not all will look as hideous this coming season. The improving Wizards have something to do with that perception, writes Royce Young with CBSsports.com:
"What's a little interesting, at least, about the division though, is that there's a bit of a power shift going on. The Heat obviously still reign, but the Wizards and Bobcats are trending up a tad with the Hawks possibly drifting back. The Heat and Hawks have finished one-two the past two season, with the Heat winning the division by six games in 2011-12 and 22 games last season. No one will challenge Miami in this division as again, nobody really did all that much, but what was maybe the weakest division in basketball last season finally has a bit of depth.
"Start with the Wizards who closed the 2012-13 campaign rather well, especially from when John Wall returned. They drafted Otto Porter Jr., a nice addition, re-signed Martell Webster, extended Wall (no distractions), signed Eric Maynor (quality signing) and should be much more healthy heading into the season. Are they playoff team? Don't know, but the fact we're even asking is a pretty significant leap."
It's conceivable the Heat, Hawks and Wizards all make the playoffs next season. Not so much with the Magic and certainly not the Bobcats, but both rosters are better on paper.
Force me to say playoffs or no playoffs right now for the Wizards and I'd lean yes thanks to their deeper roster, expected improvements from their young players like Wall and Bradley Beal, and others in the East fading the wrong way (Celtics, Bucks, 76ers).
But as Young notes, the real point is we can legitimately talk about Washington in the playoff mix without any major stretching of the situation. That indeed is a sincere improvement. Same goes for having reason to check out the Southeast standings.