It’s weird how the fate of a division can rest on some knee ligaments, huh? Not too long ago, this was Chicago’s division to lose, with former MVP Derrick Rose leading the way. With Rose on the sidelines, the division is completely up for grabs.
Key Additions: Maquis Teague, Marco Belinelli, Kirk Hinrich, Nate Robinson
Key Subtractions: Omer Asik, Ronnie Brewer, Kyle Korver, C.J. Watson
The Chicago Bulls are a perfect example of how a team’s fortune can quickly be changed by just a single injury. It wasn’t long ago that they were competing against the Miami Heat in the Eastern Conference Finals for a chance to play for a championship. Just last year, they lost their first-round series against the Philadelphia 76ers. More importantly, they lost their star player Derrick Rose to a nasty ACL injury.
The team didn’t do much to improve their roster significantly. In Teague, Belinelli, Hinrich, and Robinson, they added a bunch of guards to try to piece together some of what Derrick Rose usually provides. Obviously, none of them will be able to shoulder the load on their own. Omer Asik was a solid bench player in his time in Chicago, but the price wasn’t right to keep him in town, and they made a smart move by letting him leave for Houston. Brewer, Korver, and Watson were all contributors, but can definitely be replaced.
Their season is dependent on when and how Derrick Rose can return to form. The timetable is a little unclear, but if they can make the playoffs and get him back to strength for a postseason run, they can be in OK shape. Problem is, this isn’t a very good team without the former MVP. Carlos Boozer, Luol Deng, and Joakim Noah are all solid players, but they can’t carry a team. It’s a bunch of role players without a leader, and I don’t expect them to do much until Rose comes back. They just need to stay afloat, and maybe their excellent defense can do just that.
Even with Derrick Rose on the court, the question with this bunch is whether or not they’ve already reached their full potential. Teams like the Celtics and the Heat have the defensive capacity to load up on someone like Derrick Rose in the playoffs and make the rest of the team beat them. So far, nobody is really scared of losing to Deng, Boozer, and Noah.
If they want to take the next step, Carlos Boozer needs to step his game up and earn his massive salary. They can use the amnesty clause on him to free up cap space to sign another player, but they would still be stuck paying his salary.
A Hinrich/Hamilton/Deng/Boozer/Noah lineup will probably be what they start games with, but after that, it’s up for grabs. Taj Gibson is their third big man, but their guard rotation is totally up in the air. We’ll see how all their new guards perform, but it looks like they could definitely use the scoring ability of someone like Nate Robinson off the bench.
Even if the Chicago Bulls can tread water and make the playoffs with a mostly healthy Derrick Rose, it will be tough for them to get to the NBA Finals. Teams like Miami and Boston have defensive studs such as LeBron James and Avery Bradley who can give Derrick Rose fits. It will come down to whether the rest of the roster can step up and make plays. I’m looking at you, Luol Deng, Carlos Boozer, and Joakim Noah.
Key Additions: Dion Waiters, Tyler Zeller, C.J. Miles
Key Subtractions: Antawn Jamison, Anthony Parker, Semih Erden
The post-LeBron James era continues for the Cleveland Cavaliers, and they could certainly be doing much worse. After getting the number one overall pick in last year’s draft, the team selected point guard Kyrie Irving out of Duke, and he did not disappoint. Although he won’t make anyone forget about LeBron, Irving posted over 18 points and 5 assists per game last season, and he will be who the team looks to build around.
Adding youngsters Dion Waiters and Tyler Zeller to the core is encouraging for Cavaliers fans, although I believe both were not the best picks considering where they were taken. Outside of the draft, it was a pretty quiet offseason for the Cavs. Andrew Bynum rumors were swirling for a bit, but those were ruled out once Bynum was dealt to Philadelphia. This is expected of a team that is rebuilding, and not really looking to add free agent veterans which would contradict their youth movement. Antawn Jamison went to the Lakers in free agency after being acquired a few years ago with the idea of bribing LeBron to stay in Cleveland. Yeah, Dan Gilbert, because LeBron James really cares about where Antawn Jamison is playing.
Tristan Thompson is still considered a major building block, although I’m personally not sure exactly what management sees in him. He’s long, athletic, and has a great motor, but that’s about it. Not sure if that qualifies someone as a franchise building block, but he seems to be entrenched for now as the team’s power forward next to Anderson Varejao.
Kyrie Irving certainly has star potential; he is the present and the future for this team. Waiters, Zeller, and Thompson can eventually form a nice supporting cast, but the team needs a star to pair with Irving to be taken seriously. The Cleveland Cavaliers need to trade Anderson Varejao while his value is high; they don’t need him on their roster right now, and a contender without a center could use him. Why not get a mid-first round pick for him?
Irving/Waiters/Alonzo Gee/Thompson/Varejao looks to be their starting lineup, although C.J. Miles and Omri Casspi could fight for starting spots on the wing. This is not one of the better lineups in the league, and I would anticipate them to be in the cellar for another year.
Keep your heads up, Cleveland fans; it could be much worse. Irving can be a star very soon, and Thompson/Waiters/Zeller could be a decent supporting cast. Bringing an Andrew Bynum to town would have changed everything, as a Kyrie/Bynum combination is scary. But the Cavs just need to be patient, draft well, and stay the course.
Key Additions: Andre Drummond, Corey Maggette, Kyle Singler
Key Subtractions: Ben Gordon
This is almost the same mismatched Pistons team that we’ve come to expect for the past few seasons. The team really hasn’t moved on since the Chauncey Billups era, and it’s been painful. The Detroit Pistons dished out big time money a few seasons ago to Charlie Villanueva and Ben Gordon with the hope that they could be the team’s go-to guys. Well, we all know how that worked out, right?
The team dealt Ben Gordon’s big contract for Corey Maggette’s, a move that was strictly financial. Maggette’s $10.9 million will come off the books after this season, giving the team a little more flexibility, since Ben Gordon has a $13 million player option for next season. I don’t mean to be dramatic, but the team’s future is largely reliant on how the Andre Drummond pick turns out. Any big man with his kind of potential can change the direction of a franchise, as elite centers are hard to come by.
On a team full of question marks, Greg Monroe is the real deal. He’s an interesting, yet very productive big man who averaged 15 points and 10 rebounds last season. Monroe is probably more of a power forward, which is why the potential development of Drummond into the team’s center is so important. A Drummond/Monroe front court combination can be menacing to a league that’s getting awfully small.
Brandon Knight and Rodney Stuckey are both pretty decent players with a lot of potential, but they can’t seem to mesh with the rest of the roster and take their game to the next level. Charlie Villanueva was pretty much glued to the bench last season, which isn’t what you want out of an $8 million/year player. The roster is filled out with players that you’re not really too sure about, such as Will Bynum, Jason Maxiell, Jonas Jerebko, and Austin Daye. Tayshaun Prince is productive and can be an asset to a contender, but this team doesn’t really need his services anymore.
A Knight/Stuckey/Prince/Jerebko/Monroe starting lineup is one of the weaker ones in the league; not like that’s a surprise to anyone. Andre Drummond will probably get the chance to start at some point, if not right away. This is a roster that needs to seriously be looked at by management, because there are a lot of question marks here.
The Detroit Pistons need to look to deal Tayshaun Prince to a contender and try to get a decent asset in return, whether it be a younger player or a draft pick. He can help a lot of good teams, but the Pistons simply don’t need his services.
Expect another mediocre season this year from the Pistons, with bright spots scattered throughout the roster. The future is the Monroe/Drummond combination, and hopefully Drummond doesn’t turn into Kwame Brown.
Key Additions: Gerald Green, Miles Plumlee, D.J. Augustin, Ian Mahinmi
Key Subtractions: Darren Collison, Dahntay Jones
This past season was definitely a breakthrough party for the Indiana Pacers. They legitimized themselves to the rest of the league by giving the eventual champion Miami Heat a lot of problems in the postseason before fizzling out. That being said, they still look to be a huge threat again this season.
Gerald Green looks to be a huge acquisition at a great price. A wing rotation consisting of Paul George, Danny Granger, and Gerald Green is extremely athletic and presents huge problems on both ends of the floor. Other than Gerald Green, however, the other new guys look to be not much more than role players.
They do have George Hill to step in at point guard, but losing Darren Collison will hurt. Collison provided burning speed that replacement D.J. Augustin just doesn’t present.
At the end of the day, this team’s strength is their big men. Against the Miami Heat that are getting small with LeBron James and Shane Battier at power forward and Chris Bosh at center, David West and Roy Hibbert could have a massive advantage in a seven game series. They did look to have a fighting chance last season, but they mysteriously stopped feeding their big men down low. This mixed with their long, athletic wing players at least give them the chance to lock down on the likes of Wade and LeBron on the perimeter. Not saying it will happen, but the possibility is there.
Hill/George/Granger/West/Hibbert is one of the better starting lineups, but the ceiling seems pretty low. Hibbert’s stamina is an issue, Granger is probably as good as he’s going to get, West isn’t getting any older, and Hill is what he is at this point. Paul George is the X-factor. He has potential through the roof, and is already a good player. If he can take his offensive game to the next level, look out. Until then, their best bet is to defend with their length on the perimeter and pound the ball down low on offense.
They’ll be one of the better teams in the East, and when the playoffs comes, they have a shot. It’s not a great shot, but it’s better than a lot of teams in the East can claim to have.
Key Additions: John Henson, Samuel Dalembert, Marquis Daniels
Key Subtractions: Carlos Delfino
This is a pretty mediocre team that really didn’t gain or lose much this offseason. John Henson was a questionable pick at number 14. Dalembert is a good rotation player, and Marquis Daniels is a fringe rotation player. Delfino was productive, but his loss won’t be earth shattering.
The team’s strength is probably in their backcourt, where Brandon Jennings and Monta Ellis provide some serious offensive explosiveness. Additionally, both are high-volume scorers, and poor defenders. It’s a small backcourt that can score a lot, but they also won’t stop anyone. Ersan Ilyasova is an intriguing stretch power forward who is a tough rebounder with an interesting offensive game. He would seem to be a fit with the paint-clogging Andrew Bogut, who they traded to the Warriors for Monta Ellis last season.
These guys won’t guard anyone. Henson and Dalembert will block some shots, but it just about ends there. Their backcourt will get torched on a nightly basis.
Jennings/Ellis/Luc Richard Mbah a Moute/Ilyasova/Drew Gooden should probably be their starting lineup, but there is room for variance. The team might want more of a “true” center to start, which could thrust Dalembert into the lineup.
The outlook for this team is bleak. There’s really nothing special here, and a lot of deficiencies. Their backcourt scoring is a threat, but they will play such poor defense that it won’t matter. Ilyasova and Gooden will be productive, but they are not game changers. Not to mention, their wing depth is awful. I highly doubt this team will even come close to the playoffs.
1. Indiana Pacers
2. Chicago Bulls
3. Detroit Pistons
4. Cleveland Cavaliers
5. Milwaukee Bucks
This is one of the weaker divisions for sure, especially with Derrick Rose being a mystery for the Bulls. Without Rose, the Pacers are the team to beat here. Their defense will keep them afloat for a little while, but Chicago won’t be going anywhere with Rose in street clothes.
The Pistons could be surprisingly good, particularly if the Monroe/Drummond combination takes form early in the season. Other than that, this division is pretty dull. The Cavs will look ok in spurts, with Kyrie Irving leading the way, but they’re still a few years away from doing anything. The Bucks will be in the cellar, and they’ll probably have some company from within the Central Division.
-Mark Evans, Assistant Manager/Editor of NBA Content
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