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Super early look at Wizards' competition next season in NBA's East

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Super early look at Wizards' competition next season in NBA's East

The ride involved different twists and turns, but the result remained the same. The Washington Wizards finished fifth in the Eastern Conference during the regular season. They were also among the last four playoff teams left in the East, the often mocked half of the NBA.

Considering the continued promise with John Wall and Bradley Beal, the frontcourt depth headlined by Marcin Gortat and Nene plus the wing options with Otto Porter and - assuming he stays - Paul Pierce, there's good reason to believe the Wizards maintain that status if not improve.

However, any forecast for next season can't just focus on Washington. They also can't overlook what should be a deeper crop of viable teams. Here's a super duper early look at the entire Eastern Conference including key decisions coming up this offseason.

Atlanta - The Hawks dominated the regular season and reached the Eastern Conference finals for the first time in franchise history. They also have starting forwards - and Wizards killers - Paul Millsap and DeMarre Carroll entering free agency this summer. Losing Millsap in particular likely knocks Atlanta down a rung. Keeping the core and adding a first rounder (15th overall from the Nets) keeps them at very high perch.

Cleveland - The NBA offseason story involves the decision of one Kevin Love. Does the power forward 1) opt into the final year of his contract and wait for a big pay day when the salary cap jumps in 2016 or 2) bolt immediately do to frustration over his limited role alongside LeBron James and Kyrie Irving as relentless rumors have suggested. The Cavaliers have eight players in various stages of free agency, including James. He's not going anywhere and ultimately that's all that matters. Love might.

Chicago - Nobody seems to believe Tom Thibodeau returns. Despite his defensive coaching prowess, perhaps change is for the best considering the Bulls' recent postseason flameouts. Jimmy Butler is a restricted free agent, but the Bulls will match any offer. Forward Mike Dunleavy and backup point guard/Derrick Rose injury Aaron Brooks are the main unrestricted free agents. There is more than enough talent here. We'll see if a new coach can put them over the top.

Toronto - Talk of blowing of the Raptors popped up immediately after the Wizards blew them out in the postseason.  Rotation options Tyler Hansbrough, Amir Johnson and Lou Williams, the NBA's sixth man of the year, are free agents. The DeMar DeRozan-Kyle Lowry backcourt is one of the best in the league. Now the Raptors need to find scoring punch up front.

Milwaukee - The Bucks went from cellar dwellers to sixth in the East in just one season under coach Jason Kidd and that was largely without injured rookie forward Jabari Parker. The forecast is nothing but sunshine considering the young roster headlined by Giannis Antetokounmpo, Parker and Michael Carter-Williams. Khris Middleton might be the NBA' most underrated players, but the swingman will draw plenty of interest as a restricted free agent.

Boston - The roster lacks high-end building blocks, but the Celtics have some interesting pieces - Isaiah Thomas, Marcus Smart -, an absurd amount of future draft picks and a coaching star in Brad Stevens.  Impressive they made the playoffs considering a general rebuild theme. Now we'll see if general manager Danny Ainge remains in that mode of turns cap space and some of those picks into immediate help.

Brooklyn - Brook Lopez holds a massive player option for next season. Even if the scoring big man stays put, the Nets are headed the wrong way and with no clear way out. This is the most likely playoff team not to be one next season. Forward Thaddeus Young might also leave in free agency.

Part two: Lottery teams on the rise?

[RELATED: Wizards regroup with eye to future]

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NBA offseason grades: With Kawhi Leonard, Raptors shined most in Atlantic Division

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USA TODAY Sports

NBA offseason grades: With Kawhi Leonard, Raptors shined most in Atlantic Division

Here is a look at how the 2018 NBA offseason went for teams in the Atlantic Division...

Toronto Raptors, B+

2017-18 finish: 59-23, 2nd round of playoffs
In: F Kawhi Leonard, G Danny Green, C Greg Monroe
Out: G DeMar DeRozan, C Jakub Poeltl, C Lucas Nogueira

The Raptors had one of the more consequential offseasons of any NBA team this year. First, they fired Dwane Casey, the 2017-18 NBA Coach of the Year, following a season in which they won 59 games. Then, they pulled off the biggest trade of the summer, a deal that featured two perennial All-NBA players. They let go of DeRozan and brought in Leonard in return. If they hadn't parted with DeRozan and Casey, they may have gotten an A. But it's hard to tell how much better they will be following the deal and Leonard does bring with him some concerns based on his quadriceps injury and the fact he has only one year left on his contract. The Raptors do, however, also get points for re-signing point guard Fred VanVleet.

Boston Celtics, C

2017-18 finish: 55-27, conference finals
In: C Robert Williams, G Brad Wanamaker
Out: C Greg Monroe

One year ago, the Celtics flipped nearly their entire roster and brought in Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward. This year, they mostly stood pat and didn't add much of anything in free agency or trades. Their biggest acquisition was Williams, who they took 27th overall in the first round of the draft. The Celtics will hope they improve from within. They re-signed Marcus Smart and Aron Baynes, and should get Irving and Hayward back from injuries. They should have plenty of talent to compete for an NBA Finals berth, but as far as this offseason goes, they didn't do much.

Philadelphia 76ers, D+

2017-18 finish: 52-30, 2nd round of playoffs
In: F Wilson Chandler, C Mike Muscala, G Zhaire Smith, G Landry Shamet
Out: G Marco Belinelli, F Ersan Ilyasova

Where do we begin? This summer was about as dramatic and bad as it could get for the Sixers. First, they had to fire their general manager because of a burner Twitter account scandal. Then, they struck out miserably in free agency with LeBron James and Paul George, and in trade talks for Leonard. After that, Smith - their first round pick - hurt his foot. And along the way, Ben Simmons has been dating a Kardashian, flirting with the curse that has claimed many pro athletes before him. Philly did re-sign J.J. Redick and Johnson, and the Chandler trade was nice, but all in all it was an offseason that fell way short of the Sixers' expectations. That said, they can still get way better next season based solely on their young players taking another step.

New York Knicks, B

2017-18 finish: 29-53, missed playoffs
In: F Mario Hezonja, F Kevin Knox, F Noah Vonleh, C Mitchell Robinson
Out: F Michael Beasley, G Jarrett Jack, F Kyle O'Quinn

It's been a while since the Knicks had an offseason to write home about and this one is no exception. There was nothing they did that would flirt with an A-grade. However, the early returns on their draft are excellent. Knox and Robinson were both standouts in the Summer League and offer fans a little bit more hope about the team's future. As long as Kristaps Porzingis can return this season safe and sound from his ACL tear, the Knicks could take a step forward in 2018-19.

Brooklyn Nets, C+

2017-18 finish: 28-54, missed playoffs
In: F Ed Davis, F Kenneth Faried, F Jared Dudley
Out: F Dante Cunningham, G Nik Stauskas, C Jahlil Okafor

The best news about the Nets' offseason is that their trade with the Celtics, the one that stripped them of years of first round picks, is finally over. Next year, the Nets will have a first round pick. This summer, they once again didn't add any major pieces in the draft, but seemed to make some smart moves in free agency. The Davis deal is solid and Faried may benefit from a change of scenery. More baby steps for Brooklyn.

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NBA offseason grades: Wizards, Magic highlight Southeast Division

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USA TODAY Sports

NBA offseason grades: Wizards, Magic highlight Southeast Division

Here is a look at how the 2018 NBA offseason went for teams in the Southeast Division...

Washington Wizards, B+

2017-18 finish: 43-39, 1st round of playoffs
In: C Dwight Howard, G Austin Rivers, G Troy Brown, Jr., F Jeff Green, C Thomas Bryant
Out: C Marcin Gortat, F Mike Scott, G Ty Lawson, G Tim Frazier, G Ramon Sessions, F Chris McCullough

Given the circumstances of their salary cap situation, the Wizards did quite well for themselves this summer. They shook things up by trading Gortat and actually got something solid back for him in Rivers. They then filled Gortat's spot with an eight-time All-Star in Howard and did so at a bargain price, the taxpayer mid-level exception. They also added Green at a nice price and Brown, who acquitted himself nicely in the Summer League. Whether the Wizards made a major leap forward is debatable, but the potential is there for them to re-install themselves as contenders in the East. The possibility things go wrong is also there, but all in all, a strong summer for the Wizards.

Atlanta Hawks, B

2017-18 finish: 24-58, missed playoffs
In: G Jeremy Lin, C Alex Len, G Trae Young, G Vince Carter, G Kevin Huerter, F Justin Anderson, F Omari Spellman
Out: G Dennis Schroeder, C Mike Muscala, C Dewayne Dedmon, G Malcolm Delaney, G Isaiah Tayor

The Hawks did a nice job with the draft by picking up an extra first round pick just to move back two spots (from third to fifth) in their trade with the Mavericks. They added Young with the fifth pick and then got Huerter later on at No. 18. The Len signing at two years and $8.5 million looks like a bargain and they added a nice mix of veteran free agents and young players to develop. It will probably be a few years before the Hawks are back in the playoffs, but they seemed to take a step forward this summer.

Miami Heat, D

2017-18 finish: 44-38, 1st round of playoffs
In: F Duncan Robinson
Out: G Dwyane Wade, G Wayne Ellington, F Luke Babbitt

The Heat had one of the least impactful summers of any team in the NBA. The biggest addition they have so far, and this is true, is Robinson. They didn't make any draft picks and struck out in free agency. What they did do is let go of Wade, Ellington and others. The only way the Heat improve year-over-year is if their young guys like Bam Adebayo or Justise Winslow take a big step forward. 

Charlotte Hornets, C+

2017-18 finish: 36-46, missed playoffs
In: C Bismack Biyombo, F Miles Bridges, G Devonte' Graham
Out: C Dwight Howard, G Michael Carter-Williams, G Treveon Graham

New Hornets GM Mitch Kupchak quickly turned the franchise into a different direction this offseason by trading Howard to the Nets. They then added Biyombo in a deal with the Magic and acquired Bridges through the draft. There isn't a lot to love or hate about the Hornets' offseason, so they fall in the middle of the grading scale. The real question now is what they do with Kemba Walker, who has just one year left on his contract.

Orlando Magic, B+

2017-18 finish: 25-57, missed playoffs
In: C Mohamed Bamba, C Timofey Mozgov, F Justin Jackson, F Jarell Martin, G Jerian Grant
Out: G Mario Hezonja, C Marreese Speights, G Arron Aflalo

The Magic had a strong summer. The re-signed forward Aaron Gordon, a rising young player, and drafted Bamba, who has the tools to become an All-Star and a dominant defensive force. They had some questionable moves, like trading for Mozgov, but the future looks a lot brighter for the Magic than it did just a few months ago.

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