By: Brian Chapman
There are only seven weeks to go before the start of NBA training camp and every team in the Central Division has had at least one very significant roster shakeup. The Cavs signed LeBron James and are expected to get Kevin Love, the Bulls have a healthy Derrick Rose and added Pau Gasol, the Pacers let DeShawn Stephenson walk and saw Paul George go down for the season last week and the Bucks drafted Jabari Parker with the No. 2 overall pick in the draft.
Am I forgetting someone?
Oh, yeah. The Pistons. They signed Jodie Meeks and Caron Butler.
So what does it all mean? How will these teams fare? How do things look in the middle of August? As of right now, I think the division will end up like this:
First place: Chicago Bulls
The Chicago Bulls could be a much better team this season if Derrick Rose stays healthy and I am of the belief that he will. All indications from Team USA camp are that he is as fit and athletic as ever and has the same explosiveness that he had when he earned the MVP just a few years ago. If he can plug himself in to a Bulls team that has averaged 46.5 wins per season over the last two without him, they should improve by at least 10 wins this year.
The Bulls also should get better in the frontcourt where Pau Gasol replaces Carlos Boozer. Gasol will stretch the floor, provide more scoring and contest more shots than Boozer has in recent years and be an excellent complement to Joakim Noah in the paint.
When I add these two players to a team that has always fought hard and played scrappy defense for Tom Thibodeau, I see a 12 to 15 win improvement this season in Chicago and a chance to win their championship without Michael Jordan.
Second place: Cleveland Cavaliers
Even though I think the Bulls will increase their win total by at least 12 this season, there is no question the Cavs made the biggest improvement of team any in the division because they signed they best player in the game. LeBron James.
Even though the Cavs have been atrocious since King James took his talents to South Beach four years ago, his addition makes them a lock for at least fifty wins because he’s just that good. He gives them a star with championship experience who knows how to be a leader and (I think he) has dropped his whole routine of quitting in the playoffs.
The Cavs also have a tentative agreement to trade Anthony Bennett, Andrew Wiggins and a future first round pick to the Minnesota Timberwolves for All Star power forward Kevin Love. Last year Love averaged 26 points per game and scored from everywhere on the court. He will be a nightmare to deal with in the division and a perfect teammate for LeBron. If Kyrie Irving can stay healthy, he will combine with James and Love to form the best Big 3 of LeBron’s career. With role players like Tristan Thompson, Anderson Varejao (if healthy), Dion Waiters, Mike Miller and James Jones to chip in, LeBron and the Cavs will have a chance to win multiple championships in Cleveland.
I considered putting the Cavs in first place solely because of their new Big 3 (assuming the trade goes through), but I held them back because of their rookie coach David Blatt. Who is this guy? He is some guy that came over from Israeli League and considering it’s not the NBA, I don’t have much respect for that league and I don’t think too highly of Blaat. And I most certainly don’t trust him as much as I do Tom Thibodeau. Until Blaat proves otherwise, he is not a quality coach in the NBA and it’s hard to be the best with a subpar coach. Just ask the Pistons of the last few years.
Third place: Indiana Pacers
This looked like possibly the best team in a three team race for the best record in the division and the Eastern Conference. Then Paul George’s shin bent the wrong way (by the way, there is no right way to bend a shin), it snapped and everything changed. The Pacers are now the third best team by default. The George injury creates an enormous chasm between themselves and the top two and another chasm between themselves and the bottom two in the division.
If I wanted to bore you, I could break down the signing of that guard that Pistons fans were happy to get rid of (Rodney Stuckey), the loss of that guy who likes to blow into LeBron’s ear (Deshawn Stephenson) and the question marks surrounding Mr. Zero-and-Zero (Roy Hibbert), but it’s simply not important. The difference between a solid 6-seeded Pacers team and a championship contending Pacers team is a star player like Paul George. He’s out so the Pacers are what they are.
Fourth place: Detroit Pistons
This is just the safest place to put the Pistons because truthfully it’s impossible to know where they will fall until we find out what will happen with Greg Monroe and Josh Smith. They will clearly be a better basketball team regardless because of improved three-point shooting and the acquisition of possibly the best head coach in the division who will certainly be their best head coach since Larry Brown. Maybe since Chuck Daly. However, we won’t know how good (or how bad) this team will be until they sign or sign-and-trade Monroe and/or trade Josh Smith. This will have the biggest effect on the roster of any move this offseason because, though they are not superstar players, Smith and Monroe are solid NBA starters who can command a quality talent or a 1st rd draft pick in return. How Van Gundy handles these two players could be the difference between a 5-seed and a 10-seed.
The one sure thing about the roster is that they will be a much better three point shooting team this season. Last year the Pistons were 29th in the league shooting just 32% from behind the arc. Free agents DJ Augustin, Caron Butler and Jodie Meeks all shot at least 39% from three point land last season and they will be called upon to spread the floor to create space for Andre Drummond down low.
While improved three point shooting and coaching are nice, the Pistons just flat out have to get more talent around Drummond to compete with the top three teams in the division. We just won’t know much talent they’ll have until the futures of Monroe and Smith are decided.
Fifth place: Milwaukee Bucks
The Bucks chose Jabari Parker with the No. 2 overall pick in the draft, they brought in Jason Kidd to coach the team (what an exit from Brooklyn he had) and Giannis Antetokounmpo is a fascinating talent, but unless OJ Mayo returns to form and a bunch of other things go their way, they’ll struggle to get 30 wins.
Overall, this should be a fun and exciting year in the Central Division whether the Pistons make the playoffs or not and I look forward to a team from this division competing for a championship. This division should also bring a lot of attention to the paint because the Central Division is quietly turning into the best big man division in the NBA. Think about it. Noah and Gasol in Chicago, Varejao and Love in Cleveland, Hibbert and David West in Indiana, Drummond and Monroe or Smith in Detroit. That’s a lot of talent and there should be a lot of banging down low this year.