With the majority of the NBA’s free agents now settled in – either where they were last season or on a new team – it’s time to look ahead to next season and see how teams have done thus far.
We’ll start in the Central Division, where one team (Chicago) is still tops, but is on shakier ground than they’re used to. Much like the “Central” divisions in MLB, picking a clear winner for this division is a tough task, as there are maybe one or two favorites but the very real possibility of a surprise finisher.
PG: Kirk Hinrich
SG: Richard Hamilton
SF: Luol Deng
PF: Joakim Noah
C: Carlos Boozer
Bench: Taj Gibson, Marquis Teague, Vladimir Radmanovic, Jimmy Butler, Mike James, John Lucas III, Brian Scalabrine, Marco Belinelli
The Hinrich signing this offseason is a temporary move, as the team’s star guard Derrick Rose recovers from a torn ACL suffered in last season’s playoffs. With no return date for Rose, it could be a tough year for the Bulls, who have enjoyed a great deal of success atop the division the last few seasons. One of the most defining factors of the team – their bench – has been decimated this offseason, with the losses of Kyle Korver, Omer Asik, CJ Watson, and Ronnie Brewer. Relying on the 34-year old Hamilton is also a gamble, as he hasn’t shown much since leaving Detroit. After winning 50 games last season and running away with the Central, next season could be much more of a challenge.
PG: George Hill
SG: Paul George
SF: Danny Granger
PF: David West
C: Roy Hibbert
Bench: DJ Augustin, Lance Stephenson, Gerald Green, Tyler Hansbrough, Ian Mahinmi, Orlando Johnson, Jeff Pendergraph, Miles Plumlee
The Pacers lost just two players this offseason – Darren Collison and Dahntay Jones – but both played a fairly important role in last season’s successes. While Jones is mainly a defensive specialist, Indiana traded for Collison in 2010 to be the team’s point guard of the future. Unfortunately for him, Hill has emerged as a capable replacement and George has shown NBA ability at the shooting guard, so the team decided to trade the former UCLA Bruin to the Mavericks for Mahinmi. This team’s strengths lie in their frontcourt, however. After resigning Hibbert, the team now has him, West, Granger, Hansbrough, and Plumlee locked in down low. League-wide that may not be the most impressive lineup, but in the weaker Eastern Conference, it could very well win them the division and possibly a high playoff seed.
PG: Brandon Knight
SG: Rodney Stuckey
SF: Tayshaun Prince
PF: Jonas Jerebko
C: Greg Monroe
Bench: Will Bynum, Kim English, Andre Drummond, Khris Middleton, Austin Daye, Corey Maggette, Charlie Villanueva, Kyle Singler, Slava Kravtsov, possibly Ben Wallace
After three straight seasons of lucking out in the NBA Draft, the Pistons have three potential building blocks for the team’s future. Monroe is an emerging center, Knight showed flashes of brilliance last season, and Drummond has already turned heads at the Summer League games in Orlando. That said, they range in age from 18 to 22, meaning there will likely be more learning bumps along the way, but since a title run isn’t likely in the near future, the team can play with lower expectations. Fans may not like that, but it’s the truth, and it could prove more invaluable to the development of all their young players. Stuckey will continue to evolve as a shooting guard alongside Knight. Four-year college players English and Singler should be logging minutes next season as two “veteran” rookies, while players like Bynum, Daye, Villanueva, and Maggette will be playing for either another contract or simply the chance to stay with the team. Sneaking into the playoffs as a low seed could happen, but another lottery trip is just as likely.
PG: Brandon Jennings
SG: Monta Ellis
SF: Mike Dunleavy
PF: Drew Gooden
C: Samuel Dalembert
Bench: Carlos Delfino, Beno Udrih, Doron Lamb, Ersan Ilyasova, John Henson, Ekpe Udoh, Larry Sanders, Luc Richard Mbah a Moute, Tobias Harris
The Bucks have been in a strange purgatory-esque place for several years now: never good enough to win a title but never bad enough to get a top draft pick. After drafting Andrew Bogut first overall in 2005, Milwaukee made the playoffs just twice (2005-06 and 2009-10) and lost both times in the first round (Detroit and Atlanta, respectively). Apparently that was enough for the Bucks, and they traded Bogut for Monta Ellis and Ekpe Udoh last season, leaving the team with two shoot-first point guards in Jennings and Ellis. It should be an interesting experiment next season as the duo has had a chance to learn more about each other’s games during the offseason, but my money is on both players jacking up ill-advised shots. The rest of the roster is littered with some intriguing young pieces (Lamb, Henson, Udoh, Harris, Mbah a Moute) and other serviceable parts (Gooden, Dalembert, Udrih, Dunleavy), but overall, this could be another average year for the Bucks.
PG: Kyrie Irving
SG: Daniel Gibson
SF: Omri Casspi
PF: Tristan Thompson
C: Anderson Varejão
Bench: Dion Waiters, Tyler Zeller, Donald Sloan, Kelenna Azubuike, Luke Harangody, Samardo Samuels, Alonzo Gee, Jon Leuer, Jeremy Pargo
If this was owner Dan Gilbert’s grand scheme for rebuilding post-LeBron, he may want to rethink it. After a 19-win season netted them a star point guard in Kyrie Irving, Cleveland has gone on to to collect an assortment of lower-level NBA talent and several players who spent more time in the NBDL than the big show. They are essentially a lesser version of the Bucks – not a good comparison. They traded a possible young star in JJ Hickson to the Kings for a tweener in Casspi, and drafted Thompson – another small-ish forward – with the fourth pick after drafting Irving. Varejão has always been a frustrating player to defend, as his tough low-post play and questionable flopping have gained him notoriety around the league, but he suffered a broken wrist last season and missed all but 25 games. With Irving breaking his hand in Olympic warm-ups earlier this month, things haven’t gotten much better for the Cavs. Unless a major (unforseen) move is made, the next few seasons could be much of the same for the Wine and Gold squad.
What do you think? Are the Bulls and Pacers the class of the Central, or could a surprise team top them both?
Topics: Brandon Jennings, Brandon Knight, Carlos Boozer, Central Division, Chicago Bulls, Cleveland Cavaliers, Danny Granger, Derrick Rose, Detroit Pistons, Eastern Conference, George Hill, Greg Monroe, Indiana Pacers, Kyrie Irving, Milwaukee Bucks, Monta Ellis, NBA, NBA Offseason, Roy Hibbert