Central Division Preview

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CLEVELAND CAVALIERS

Offseason Summary – The Cavs managed to dump Ben Wallace who had a truly abysmal playoffs, pick up Shaquille O’Neal, Jamario Moon, Anthony Parker, and rookie Daniel Green out of North Carolina. They also lost Joe Smith, Sasha Pavlovic, Wally Szczerbiak, Lorenzen Wright, Trey Johnson, and Tarence Kinsey. I mean no disrespect when I say this, but it looks like Cleveland did a great job trimming the fat at their stacked positions and bringing in solid depth to cover their needs. The end result of Delonte West playing Mad Max this summer hasn’t been determined, and they will miss him if he becomes unavailable whether as penalty or for his own good.

Probably Starters

PG Mo Williams
SG Delonte West
SF LeBron James
PF Anderson Varejao
C Shaquille O’Neal

Key Reserves

SG Anthony Parker
C Zydrunas Ilgauskas
PG Daniel Gibson
PF J.J. Hickson
SF Jamario Moon

The Cavs had the best record in the league last year and they have all the pieces in place to repeat that feat. Their depth is good, especially up front. They may miss Joe Smith’s ability to step away from the rim, but with the option to swing LeBron to the 4, where he creates impossible mismatches, they should be able to cover the loss easily while giving meaningful minutes to Hickson and Darnell Jackson. The addition of Shaq on offense should really cause some headaches for opposing coaches. Defensively their best squad may actually be Mo, West, Moon, LeBron, and Varejao. Thanks to LeBron they will always be versatile, explosive, and committed to passing and teamwork. Definitely contenders once again.

CHICAGO BULLS

Offseason Summary – This summer, the Bulls lost Ben Gordon, their most explosive scorer. They picked up Jannero Pargo to fill the role of scoring tweener guard off the bench. Chicago also has three rookies on the roster, Taj Gibson out of USC, Derrick Byers out of Vanderbilt, and James Johnson from Wake Forest. That is essentially all that they did, but there is reason for optimism. Young talents Rose, Noah, and Thomas all stand to improve, and the team is getting a healthy (hopefully) Luol Deng back at the starting small forward. Vinnie Del Negro will be entering his second season as head coach and hopefully have less trouble setting a line-up.

Probable Starters

PG Derrick Rose
SG John Salmons
SF Luol Deng
PF Tyrus Thomas
C Joakim Noah

Key Reserves

C Brad Miller
PG Kirk Hinrich
SG Jannero Pargo

Since the Bulls struggled their way back into the playoffs a few years ago, one of their team strengths has always been depth. It’s looking like that won’t be true this season. They have a nice, but not superb, top 8 and very little beyond that. Outside of the players listed above they’ve got Lindsey Hunter who is older than Joan Rivers, Jerome James who is worse at basketball than Joan Rivers, and a bunch of guys so young they’ve never even heard of Joan Rivers. What the Bulls have going for them is a great point guard tandem of Rose and Hinrich, a nice pair of sound swingmen in Salmons and Deng, and a diverse and talented top 3 big men in Noah, Miller, and Tyrus. Whether that’s enough to match or exceed last season’s .500 record remains to be seen.

DETROIT PISTONS

Offseason Summary – After dishing away Billups for Iverson last year and letting Rasheed walk for nothing, Joe Dumars spent the resulting cap space on superstar All-NBA big men Dwight Howard and Chris Bosh! What’s that? He didn’t? He picked up one dimensional jumpshooters, Ben Gordon and Charlie Villanueva and did nothing to address his team’s lack of a top tier rebounder? Well I’m sure he considered that Gordon plays the same position as Hamilton and presents the same challenges as Iverson did last year. No? Well what about the lack of a defender of Wallace’s stature at the center? He picked up Ben Wallace?! Did he watch the playoffs last year? The Cavs went to hell every time Big Ben took the court. Oh man.

Probable Starters

PG Rodney Stuckey
SG Richard Hamilton
SF Tayshaun Prince
PF Charlie Villanueva
C Ben Wallace

Key Reserves

SG Ben Gordon
PF Jason Maxiell
PG Will Bynum
C/F Chris Wilcox

All kidding aside, I’m a big believer in Joe Dumars and think that Detroit will bounce back from this rebuild zone, I just don’t expect it to happen this season. They have no true point guard. Stuckey and Bynum are great athletes and good handlers, but they have to have attack mentalities to be effective. I’m a Ben Gordon fan, but he seems like a very odd fit with Hamilton, Stuckey, and Bynum. I don’t see a starting quality center on the roster – Ben Wallace just isn’t the player he used to be, and Wilcox is athletic but limited, and Kwame is strictly filler. The forward rotation of Prince, Charlie V., and Maxiell is talented but undersized. They definitely have speed and firepower, but they also have a rookie head coach coming out of college, three new starters, and no team leader since Billups left.

MILWAUKEE BUCKS

Offseason Summar – The Bucks replaced Charlie V. with Hakim Warrick, talented reserve PG Ramon Sessions with rookie wunderkind Brandon Jennings, and leading scorer Richard Jefferson with Carlos “Remember when people said I was better than my countryman, Manu Ginobili?” Delfino. None of that is good news. The good news is that they’ve got Michael Redd and Andrew Bogut back from injuries and they still have an organized, defensive-minded coach in Scott Skiles.

Probable Starters

PG Luke Ridnour
SG Michael Redd
SF Luc Mbah a Moute
PF Hakim Warrick
C Andrew Bogut

Key Reserves

PG Brandon Jennings
SG Carlos Delfino
PF Ersan Ilyasova
SF Joe Alexander
PG Charlie Bell
C Dan Gadzuric

The Bucks are not a supremely talented squad, but they have interesting potential at almost every position and lot of decent if unspectacular depth including steady power forward Kurt Thomas who I didn’t even have room to include above. As usual it will all come down to the shaky health of Redd and Bogut for this team. If the two of them are playing at a high level, they will have a chance to win some games. Otherwise, they will play tough defense and stay in most games because Skiles will force them to, but they won’t win very often. Even if everything goes right, they aren’t likely to crack the top 8 in the East. It would really take a stunning debut from Ilyasova and Jennings to make them an explosive, intimidating group on offense.

INDIANA PACERS

Offseason Summary – I pull for Larry Bird’s Pacers every year, but I’m not sure what they are doing right now. They gave up Jarrett Jack and Marquis Daniels and brought in Dahntay Jones, a terrific onball defender, but a player without the potential of Jack or versatility of Daniels. They signed Earl Watson, another defensive guard, and they brought in Luther Head, another undersized shooting guard. They have three rookies, highlighted by NC’s Tyler Hansbrough, who will start the season on the pine with an injury. All-and-all they are making a lot of moves, but I don’t see very much improvement.

Probable Starters

PG T.J. Ford
SG Dahntay Jones
SF Danny Granger
PF Troy Murphy
C Roy Hibbert

Key Reserves

PG Earl Watson
C Jeff Foster
SG Luther Head
PF Tyler Hansbrough

The Pacers desperately need to get Mike Dunleavy healthy. He adds a whole new dimension to their scoring game when he’s on the court and in good enough shape to be effective. When they are able to get Mike D, Granger, and TJ running with Murphy trailing, they can put up points in a hurry, and they have some good rebounders. Danny Granger says that he spent the summer becoming a better defender, and nobody can question the offseason work he has put in so far. He may be the second best SF in the East by the end of the season if Mr. Pierce gets a little old. The Pacers also re-signed head coach Jim O’Brien, a steady hand who likes to run and gun a little and focus on tough man to man d. If they could get healthy and Hansbrough lives up to the expectations, they might be a serious playoff contender. I just need to see it before I’ll believe it.

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4 Responses to “Central Division Preview”

  1. UNK Paw Says:

    On paper it just seems that the Bucks should be a much better team than they have shown. You are correct about the health situation, but I just think this team has not tapped into its’ talent enough. I think maybe these youngsters are being put into positions that are not allowing them to show what they have. Maybe that is the goal. So they don’t think they are all that and want more money!!!

  2. Darius Says:

    Danny Granger will help the Pacers make the playoffs. I think he’ll improve upon last year’s numbers too!

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