The Central Division should be a great one to watch this year. This is basically a two-team race for the division crown. The first team is the revitalized Chicago Bulls, who have Derrick Rose back this year. The second is last year’s division champion, the Indiana Pacers, who came within one game of the NBA Finals last year, but have significantly improved their roster this summer.
Looking deeper, it is very possible that four out of the five teams in this division can make the playoffs. The Detroit Pistons have made themselves relevant by acquiring forward Josh Smith and guard Brandon Jennings. Will that talent be enough? The Cleveland Cavaliers, who have top player Kyrie Irving and some good, young talent around him, will look to return to the playoffs for the first time since 2010. The Milwaukee Bucks will likely finish last in this division, since they lost a ton of talent this off-season and didn’t get much in return.
Chicago Bulls (Last Season: 45-37):
The Bulls were impressive this past year. Despite missing Derrick Rose for the entire season due to a torn ACL, they still proved to be a top competitor in the league day in and day out. Under Tom Thibodeau, the Bulls will always stay tough with their defense. Led by players such as Joakim Noah, Luol Deng, Carlos Boozer, and impressive second-year player Jimmy Butler, the Bulls defeated the Brooklyn Nets in an exciting, nail-biting first-round matchup last season. They lost in the next round to the NBA champion Miami Heat. With Derrick Rose returning healthy (and supposedly better than before), could this be the year they finally surpass the Heat in the East?
Key Additions: SG Mike Dunleavy, a healthy Derrick Rose
Key Subtractions: PG Nate Robinson, SG Marco Belinelli, SG Richard Hamilton
Biggest Question: Will Derrick Rose remain healthy throughout the season, and if so, will he be as effective and explosive as before? All the hype leading up to “The Return” has said Rose is better than before; reports say he is jumping higher, he is stronger, he is more confident, etc. However, we won’t be able to tell until he actually starts to play in the regular season, when he’ll have to absorb hits nightly. Will his knee hold up when he plays four games in six nights at 30 minutes per game? Will he have soreness come playoff time? If Rose is healthy, this team is probably the frontrunner to pass the Heat in the Eastern Conference, but that is a big if. Derrick Rose’s health may very well make or break this Bulls season.
Prediction: 2nd seed out of 8 playoff seeds in the East
Indiana Pacers (Last Season: 49-32):
The Indiana Pacers came within one game of the NBA Finals. With total team play by the likes of star Paul George, Roy Hibbert, David West, Lance Stephenson, and others, the Pacers nearly upset the Heat for the shot at the NBA Title. This year’s Pacers team is looking to finish what they started last year: improving themselves from top to bottom in order to take the final steps necessary for the NBA championship.
Key Additions: PF Luis Scola, F Chris Copeland, G C.J. Watson
Key Subtractions: F Tyler Hansbrough, PG D.J. Augustin
Biggest Question: Have they done enough to surpass the Heat? With these upgrades this off-season, the Indiana Pacers have established themselves as a top three team in the East. Having only lost to the Heat by one game in the playoffs last year, will this improvement be enough to catapult them past the Heat and their division rival, the Bulls?
Prediction: 3rd seed out of 8 playoff seeds in the East
Detroit Pistons (Last Season: 29-53):
This team should be one of the most exciting to watch this year. Will they be good? I’m not quite sure. Their talent and athleticism will provide plenty of highlights. With Josh Smith and Brandon Jennings on the court together, we could see two players take 90 percent of the team’s shots throughout the game. But if they play together, along with teammates Will Bynum, Andre Drummond, Greg Monroe, and veteran leader Chauncey Billups, this team could cause problems for some of the upper-echelon teams in the East.
Key Additions: PF Josh Smith, PG Brandon Jennings, G Chauncey Billups
Key Subtractions: G Jose Calderon, G Brandon Knight, F Jason Maxiell
Biggest Question: Will the talent on this team be able to play together? There are a few guys on this team, such as Jennings and Smith, who want the ball in their hands at all times, even when the ball shouldn’t be there. Will they be able to find a balance amongst all their scorers? That remains to be seen.
Prediction: 6th seed out of 8 playoff seeds in the East
Cleveland Cavaliers (Last Season: 24-58):
This year, the ultimate goal for the Cavaliers is to make the playoffs. They have young talent in No. 1 overall pick Anthony Bennett, Tristan Thompson, and Dion Waiters. They also have a superstar in Kyrie Irving. When healthy, Irving is one of the most explosive and exciting players this league has to offer. He might be the quickest and most purely talented point guard in the NBA, and this is the year for him to take this team to the next level, especially if Andrew Bynum can come back strong. Irving will also have the mentoring of Jarrett Jack, a tremendous sixth man off the bench.
Key Additions: C Andrew Bynum, PF Anthony Bennett, G Jarrett Jack, Head Coach Mike Brown, a healthy Anderson Varejao
Key Subtractions: Head Coach Byron Scott
Biggest Question: Can the Cavaliers remain healthy enough to compete for the playoffs? The two biggest question marks here are Andrew Bynum and Kyrie Irving. They are two of the most dominant and talented players at their positions, but both have a history of missing time due to injury. Irving has fought nagging injuries, but has looked sharp in the preseason. Bynum’s knees are bad, plain and simple. He just missed an entire regular season due to injury and is going to miss time at the beginning of this season. When exactly is he going to play? I don’t think even the Cavaliers’ organization knows for sure. If these two pieces can’t stay well over the long-term, they will find themselves with a lottery pick once again.
Prediction: 7th seed out of 8 playoff seeds in the East
Milwaukee Bucks (Last Season: 38-44):
This season does not look bright for the Bucks. Milwaukee is just not an attractive basketball town, and free agents aren’t interested in heading there. O.J. Mayo has the potential to bring an offensive spark to the team, and Larry Sanders will provide solid interior defense, but there is not much else to this team. Expect them to be in the mix for a high lottery pick next year.
Key Additions: G OJ Mayo, G Brandon Knight, SF Caron Butler, G Gary Neal
Key Subtractions: PG Brandon Jennings, SG Monta Ellis, G JJ Redick, F Mike Dunleavy
Biggest Question: How will the team respond to a revamped backcourt and an abundance of bodies in the frontcourt? How important will a changed locker room be to turning around Milwaukee?
Prediction: 12th in East out of 15 teams
To Read Our Other Division Preview: