Our series continues with a preview of the central division. Chicago ran away with it last year, but it looks to be at least a bit more competitive this season:
(62-20, lost in the eastern conference finals to Miami)
Headline: Can the Bulls prove they are more than Rose and take the final step?
Summary: Going into last season, Chicago was one of the up and coming teams expected to contend for a title in the near future. That future arrived sooner than many hoped as they finished with the league’s best record and sported last year’s MVP to boot. While their journey ended in the conference finals, the Bulls have a bright future ahead of them as they attempt to move past Miami for Eastern Conference supremacy.
Overall Trend: Up, Chicago has fast become one of the NBA’s elite and it looks to stay that way for a while.
Biggest Addition: Richard (Rip) Hamilton.
Losses: Kurt Thomas, Rasual Butler.
Best Case: NBA Title, if they can find a way past Miami you’d probably favor them against any Western Conference opponent.
Worst Case: Second Round of the playoffs. Miami showed the way to beat Chicago is to make everyone other than Rose beat you. It is possible that New York or Boston could do that and send Chicago home early.
Most Likely Case: Eastern Conference finals. Chicago is a better team than last year but still not as good as Miami, they can be expected to make it as far as they did last season.
(37-45, lost in the first round to Chicago)
Headline: Reloaded and ready to take the next step, the Pacers look to challenge for a spot in the Eastern Conference elite
Summary: After a while of wandering in the NBA wilderness of not being bad enough to get a good draft pick nor good enough to get in the playoffs, the Pacers have made a splash in the last year. After sneaking into the playoffs last year, they did a nice job of bolstering their roster this summer and look to be, at a minimum, a playoff caliber team for the foreseeable future.
Overall Trend: Up, way up. The Pacers have improved faster than almost any team in the league.
Biggest Addition: David West.
Losses: Mike Dunleavy, Josh McRoberts.
Best Case: Eastern Conference finals. This team is not as good as Miami or Chicago, but if they got hot could slip past the first few playoff opponents before losing in the conference finals.
Worst Case: First Round of the playoffs. If they are the sixth seed or lower, which means facing Boston, New York, Chicago or Miami almost certainly, they may be headed for a quick playoff exit.
Most Likely Case: Second Round of the playoffs. They will probably be the #4 or 5 seed, and thus should draw a fairly easy first round matchup before falling in the second round.
(35-47, missed playoffs)
Headline: With newfound offensive firepower, the Bucks look to either make a return to the playoffs
Summary: The Bucks were one of the better defensive teams in the league last year, allowing opponents to score only 92.7 points per game. Unfortunately for them, they had the worst offense in the league last year, scoring only 91.9 points per game. In an attempt to address this deficiency, the Bucks went out and acquired Stephen Jackson, who is capable of putting up big numbers any night. If they can improve their offense, they will be a team to be reckoned with.
Overall Trend: Up, they saw their deficiencies and they addressed them without giving up a lot, hard to ask for more than that.
Biggest Addition: Stephen Jackson.
Losses: John Salmons, Corey Maggette, Keyon Dooling.
Best Case: First Round of the playoffs, losing in seven games, the Bucks should make the playoffs but the best they can hope for is to put on a good show before going out early.
Worst Case: Miss the playoffs. If the offense doesn’t improve or the defense declines significantly, the Bucks will probably find themselves in the lottery again.
Most Likely Case: First round of the playoffs, losing in five games, they are simply not as good as the established eastern conference teams above them but should be the #7 or #8 seed.
(30-52, missed playoffs)
Headline: Detroit looks set for another year stuck in neutral
Summary: By all rights, a couple years ago, realizing their days as an Eastern Conference power were through for the time being, Detroit should have shed its aging veterans and rebuild. Instead, they held onto those veterans and those slid further and further into irrelevancy. After choosing to resign Prince this offseason, they appear to be headed for another year of much of the same.
Overall Trend: Down, this team is not aging gracefully and the sooner they recognize it and blow it up, the better it will be.
Biggest Addition: Brandon Knight (8th Overall Pick)
Losses: Richard (Rip) Hamilton, Tracy McGrady
Best Case: Top five draft pick. The Pistons will not make the playoffs this year and thus the best they can hope for is a top draft pick in a loaded draft.
Worst Case: Sign yet another aging veteran to a big money contract. This team needs to rebuild, not bolster its roster with a few vets. If they sign another aging veteran to a big contract, they will get worse, not better.
Most Likely Case: Miss the playoffs and get a top ten pick. They aren’t the worst team in the league but they aren’t good enough to make the playoffs. Thus, they will probably end up with a pick around the 8-10 range this season.
(19-63, missed playoffs)
Headline: Will Kyrie Irving lead the Cavs back towards respectability?
Summary: After losing LeBron before last season, it was assumed the Cavs would be bad. We didn’t know they would be this bad, setting the NBA record for the longest losing streak. The good news for them is they lucked into the number one pick and after shedding Baron Davis via the amnesty provision, look set to move in the right direction again.
Overall Trend: Up, two top four draft picks will help them improve a fair bit in the mid term, even if their record doesn’t immediately reflect it.
Biggest Addition: Kyrie Irving (1st Overall Pick).
Losses: Baron Davis, JJ Hickson.
Best Case: Get the #1 pick in next year’s draft. The Cavs will be better this year but they are not anywhere close to a playoff team. They could make that leap sooner than they think, however, if they luck into the #1 overall pick next year.
Worst Case: They miss the playoffs, get the worst possible pick they can in the lottery and Dan Gilbert writes an angry e-mail (in Comic Sans) changing the team name to the Washington Generals. Cavs owner Dan Gilbert may not be the greatest owner but he does write amusing rant e-mails. His latest, regarding the failed trade of CP3 to the Lakers, contained the line “When will we just change the name of 25 of the 30 teams to the Washington Generals?” It would be just like Gilbert, if his team ends up with the worst pick possible, to send another e-mail doing the exact same, which will prove amusement to NBA fans but not improve the Cavs franchise one bit.
Most Likely Case: Miss the playoffs and get a top five pick. This will allow them to continue their climb back towards respectability.