Florida keys

Dwight Howard and LeBron James both face important seasons for their teams. US Presswire

The Sunshine State has represented the Eastern Conference in two of the past three NBA Finals. Save for a determined Chicago Bulls team, there is not much of a reason to believe that the trend won't continue. While both the Heat and Magic are in the upper echelon of the Eastern Conference, they are at vastly different stages of their championship hunt.

The Heat will be the favorite to return to the NBA Finals and are looking at another must-win season after being on the brink last year. On the other hand, the Magic must play through the distraction that Dwight Howard's impending free agency will be sure to cause. Either way, this is a pivotal year for both franchises.

Orlando Magic

The situation

There isn't a team with a single objective that's more pressing than the Magic's: re-sign Howard. It's the kind of move that will determine the fate of the franchise for the next 10 years. Everything else is for naught if it doesn't happen. Until it does, putting the proper pieces in place will be a crapshoot. The somewhat head-scratching midseason multiple player trades with the Suns and Wizards last season were not exactly successful and served only to further cloud the Magic's future.

Getting bounced by the Atlanta Hawks in the first round was an unexpected low point for the Magic in what was supposed to be a season in which they would contend for the conference finals. What is evident is the formula they have doesn't work. That's a tough position for a franchise to be in when it's trying to re-sign its make-or-break star.