NBA Eastern Conference Central Division Preview
It’s good to be the king of not just the Central Division but the NBA.
Lebron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers bought back the NBA championship to the central division for the first time since the 1998 Chicago Bulls.
All eyes will be on the Cavs and whether or not they can repeat as NBA champions.
The Indiana Pacers and Chicago Bulls are playoff contenders more often than not and still look talented enough to get back there in 2017, while upstart squads like the Detroit Pistons and Milwaukee Bucks both appear to be on the rise too. Yes the Cavs are the class of the central division, but the rest of the division could find themselves all as playoff contenders.
5. Milwaukee Bucks: 2015-2016 campaign that saw the Milwaukee Bucks go 33-49 was a disappointment. The young team had gone .500 the year prior, (41-41) and they entered the playoffs a six seed, and that success was thought to be a good foundation for added success in 2015-2016. It was not to be.
The Bucks added to their length and youth by selecting Sudan’s Thon Maker with the 10th overall pick in the draft. A trade saw them get hard-nosed Matthew Dellavedova to come in and handle some of the point guard duties, and free agency saw them bring in Mirza Teletovic. Both men will help bolster the bench.
With “Greek Freak” Giannis Antetokounmpo, Jim Henson, Greg Monroe, Jabari Parker and Miles Plumlee up front and last year’s first round pick Rashad Vaughn teaming up with Carter-Williams and Khris Middleton, the Bucks have far better talent and upside than the 33-49 team showed last year.
After a positive first season, it is not good when a team that added talent takes such a big step back, and Kidd appeared surly and disconnected at times throughout last year. In a sign that the franchise might be in a state of confusion, Kidd signed a multi-year extension in June of this year.
4. Detroit Pistons: Detriot basketball is making a nice little slow build back to relevancy. Stan Van Gundy’s Detroit project is really starting to take shape. During his first season in charge, the Pistons had their best record since the 2008-09 season. They followed up that performance by jumping over .500 in 2015-16, the first time since the 2007-08 season when Flip Saunders coached the team to the Eastern Conference Finals in the last year of a long run of success in the 2000s.
Reggie Jackson will be running the point, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope at shooting guard, Tobias Harris at small forward, Marcus Morris at power forward and Andre Drummond at center.
Drummond was the only real question mark at any point since he was temporarily on the market. However, the Pistons immediately addressed that by giving the big man a five-year deal worth just over $127 million. With Drummond returning on this max deal of five years, their starting lineup is set.
The Pistons were very busy solidifying their bench for 2016-17, which was really all they had to accomplish after making sure that Drummond was back and the starters cemented in place. They grabbed Henry Ellenson, power forward from Marquette, with the No. 18 pick in the draft. Detroit addressed the backup jobs at point guard by adding Ish Smith and Ray McCallum. With Jackson guaranteed the starters minutes, Smith will be asked to fill in as the primary backup with McCallum ready to fill in the gaps at either guard position as necessary.
No doubt the Pistons will be a playoff team. The question is will they be an 8th seed again or will Stan Van Gundy take them to the next level in the Eastern Conference.
3. Chicago Bulls: The Bulls traded away one hometown legend and signed another in Dwayne Wade. The Bulls are in the middle of a major upheaval, as the team has let go Pau Gasol, E’Twuan Moore, Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah from last year’s team. The thought heading into next season is that they wanted to get younger, especially with Gasol, Noah and Rose all older and prone to injuries. Which is why many people are confused by the bringing in of Wade, who has spent 13 years in Miami and has clearly slowed down. The move has a lot of people in Chicago scratching their heads.
They also stepped in and signed Rajon Rondo to play the point guard. Yes the play-maker led the NBA in assists last year and he has an NBA title on his resume, but he is a questionable influence in the clubhouse when he is unhappy. Oh and then there is that clunker of a shot Rondo has.
The Bulls should be able to be competitive in the central division, especially with great guard play. I can see 43-46 wins for this squad.
2. Indiana Pacers : Last year the Pacers were a team in transition. They were moving away from a defense first squad and they were going through a feeling out process with star Paul George, who was returning from a traumatic leg break. The Pacers finished with a 45-37 record, enough for a seventh seed in the east. In the playoffs, they extended the Raptors to a full seven games before succumbing in the opening round.
The Pacers upgraded at point guard, letting go point guard George Hill and bringing in Jeff Teague. To help in the middle, veteran scorer Al Jefferson was signed. Where he comes off several years as the number one option in Charlotte. He wont need to be the top option here in Indiana. Hill was turned into PF Thaddeus Young who played solidly on an undermanned New Jersey team last year. Thaddeus will need to carry the same load here. The Pacers added a lot of depth, and if they get the chemistry right, they may be up for a big improvement.
Just a few years back, the Pacers were the nemesis of Lebron James in the East. With their moves this off-season, it is clear that Bird and the Pacers felt the time is now to make a move. This time, the team is looking to get back to the top of the division with a revamped offense. Along with Monte Ellis, last year’s big free agent signing, the Pacers have accumulated a set of good veterans who may find themselves with their best chance to win this coming year. I like the Pacers to flourish under new head coach Nate McMillan. Look for the Pacers to be a major threat and a pain to the Cavs. Pacers will finish with 52 wins, possibly 2nd overall in the Eastern Conference and will represent the central division well.
1.Cleveland Cavaliers: The champs are here. Lebron James is still the king of Cleveland but now he will be asked to do something the city hasn’t ever seen before, win back to back championships.
Cleveland won Game 7 in front of a rabid crowd of Golden State fans on their home floor. Having remotely missed a “bomb” from the best regular season team ever, this experience has no doubt strengthened the fortitude of the Cavs’ Big Three of James, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love. With a team that is mostly intact, it’s not hard to imagine the team having absolute confidence that they can survive anything and come out victorious in the end.
Health is going to be a major factor to the Cavs success this season. As long as they stay healthy, they should win the East with ease. The only factor to consider is if J.R. Smith were to leave, then that changes the landscape a little bit.
The Pacers, Celtics and Raptors will all be up there competing. Detroit got deeper this off-season and could pose a threat, too. In fact, here is deeper reasoning as to why these teams can contest the Cavs. There will be a lot of good basketball in the East and it’s getting tighter at the top, but I’m not sure anyone has done enough to surpass the Cavs (as long as Smith returns).
The Cavs will coast to a 60 plus win season.
The Cavs will win the Central division.
The Cavs will once again be the number one seed in the Eastern Conference.
Lebron James will attempt to play in his 7th straight NBA Finals.
That feat alone…. is all the motivation the king needs.
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