2010-2011 NBA's Central Division
1) Chicago Bulls
Incoming Players: Omer Asik, Keith Bogans, Carlos Boozer, Ronnie Brewer, Kyle Korver, Brian Scalabrine, Kurt Thomas, C.J. Watson
Outgoing Players: Kirk Hinrich, Ronald Murray, Brad Miller, Hakim Warrick, Joe Alexander, Devin Brown, Jannero Pargo, Acie Law
Team Analysis: After mainly conservative fiscal moves on the part of the front office for the better portion of the last two seasons, the Bulls finally entered this offseason as players in free agency. They finally began fully committing themselves to a championship. The results weren’t staggering. Regardless of what they try to sell the fan base, they cleared up that cash for LeBron James or Dwyane Wade. Instead they got Carlos Boozer. But the Bulls then decided to make the most of the available remaining money, and spent it on pieces that could come in and play parts for championship teams. All great teams have particular role players and the Bulls seem to have them. They have the defender in Ronnie Brewer, the three point marksman in Kyle Korver and the Bulls even brought in old, wise veterans like Kurt Thomas and Keith Bogans to be mentors in times of trouble for the team. But how will it all fit?
As is the case with any kind of massive roster overhaul, chemistry is a huge issue, and the Bulls will be dealing with this chemistry while also implementing a new system from a new head coach. Tom Thibodeau was possibly the most famous assistant in the league after his noticeable work with Boston’s defense the last three seasons. This can be seen as a blessing in disguise, seeing as how he shouldn’t have to get rid of any bad habits from the previous regime. Thibodeau’s commitment to defense will be seen as a sign of hope in Chicago, but time will tell whether or not the players buy into or even execute that style.
The Bulls do have nice pieces though. Derrick Rose is an up and coming point guard, although nowhere near the superstar that the media portrays him as, Joakim Noah is a solid big man in the middle, although nowhere near the amount of money he just received, and Carlos Boozer is a very good low post scorer, although one who relied a lot on Deron Williams setting him up in Utah. It’s fair to look at this team with a bit of reservation. The Bulls have a lot of players that play certain parts without any guarantee that those parts will fit together. Add in a new coach and new system, and the learning curve could be steep for Chicago. Even still, the division is theirs to lose. They spent their money on being competitive and at least will be more than they have in recent seasons.
2) Milwaukee Bucks
Incoming Players: Larry Sanders, Tiny Gallon, Darington Hobson, Earl Boykins, Jon Brockman, Keyon Dooling, Chris Douglas-Roberts, Drew Gooden, Corey Maggette, Brian Skinner
Outgoing Players: Kurt Thomas, Luke Ridnour, Jerry Stackhouse, Primoz Brezec, Royal Ivey, Dan Gadzuric, Charlie Bell
Team Analysis: Undergoing just as big of an overhaul as Chicago’s, Milwaukee burst onto the scene last season as one of the biggest surprises in the entire league. After years of mediocrity at best and futility at worst, the Bucks bought into coach Scott Skiles’ desired style of play and responded by making the NBA postseason for only the second time in six seasons before pushing the Atlanta Hawks to seven games in the first round, even without center Andrew Bogut. Bogut is said to be recovering nicely from an arm injury that kept him out of the postseason and should be ready to man down the center position for the Bucks for a fifth consecutive season. Long seen as inconsistent and a bit of an underachiever, Bogut routinely was registering double digits in both points and rebounds and was, by and large, the team’s best player last season. But he was joined by the team’s most exciting player in rookie Brandon Jennings. Jennings took the league by storm by scoring 55 points in a game versus the Golden State Warriors in the third week of the season. His offense was erratic, at best, for a majority of the year, but his playmaking improved drastically over the last portion of the season.
Because the Bucks felt that they were close to becoming a great team, GM John Hammond was given the green light to make aggressive, costly moves in hopes of becoming among the NBA’s best teams again. The results were nice. After trading for Corey Maggette, the Bucks resigned John Salmons, a big reason why the team surged to the postseason last year, gave a long term deal to Drew Gooden and filled in the pieces with more small moves and with their draft picks. Players like Maggette and Gooden come with recognizable names, but with games that haven’t hugely contributed to much success in the NBA. Probably where Maggette will best contribute to Milwaukee is in his ability to get to the free throw line, something the Bucks as a team were the worst at in the entire league. The Bucks are hoping that Gooden can slide in and play alongside Bogut. He’ll give you a sold, if unspectacular, stat line on a nightly basis but teams like Orlando and Cleveland will tell you not to rely too much on Gooden’s consistency.
Although the new pieces are nice, a lot of this team will rely on the improvements of players like Jennings, Bogut, Ersan Ilyasova and continued, solid production out of players like Jon Brockman, Chris Douglas-Roberts and Carlos Delfino. In an ideal scenario, all of those pieces fall into place for Milwaukee and the team takes the entire league by storm. But there’s great potential for a crash and burn here. Skiles’ style has soured elsewhere before, a lot of the names they brought in haven’t achieved much before, and Bogut has still not proven he can have a consistent and relatively injury free year. All needs to go right for Milwaukee to reach its full potential, but there’s a chance all could go right.
3) Indiana Pacers
Incoming Players: Paul George, Lance Stephenson, Magnum Rolle, Darren Collison, James Posey
Outgoing Players: Earl Watson, Troy Murphy, Luther Head
Team Analysis: For the past two seasons, the Pacers have been in the dangerous “good but not great” category, making them one of the most bland and unexciting teams in basketball. The best example of this is in their very own stadium, where the NBA’s finest venue and one of its most dedicated fan bases seem very much split apart. In the beginning of this decade, the Pacers were among one of the NBA’s best teams on a yearly basis only to see the character of some of the guys they brought in result in the team being imploded from the inside-out, and seeing one of the most disturbing crash and burns in NBA history. But the Pacers dedicated themselves to building a team full of good character, marketable guys and now they need to get dedicated to winning. The moves they made this offseason showed there’s at least a direction towards being dedicated to winning.
One of the biggest moves made outside of the max free agents going elsewhere this offseason was the Pacers acquiring Darren Collison in a trade back in August. The result hopefully will be the end to a revolving door at the point guard position for Indiana, who has unsuccessfully tried anyone at that position in recent years, including the uninspiring performances of Earl Watson and T.J. Ford last season. Collison is coming off of a year where he subbed in for all world point guard Chris Paul in New Orleans and did an admirable job: putting up very inspiring numbers, showing consistency on a jump shot that was largely critiqued leading up to his being drafted and being rewarded with a spot on the NBA’s All-Rookie First Team as a result. Also not to be overlooked is the Pacers acquiring James Posey from New Orleans in the same trade. Although Posey’s contract causes people to negatively react towards his play, his personality, experience and play could mean wonders in terms of giving this team an identity or just giving this relatively soft bunch a bit of an attitude.
The Pacers return Danny Granger, fresh off of a first place finish with the USA team in the World Championships, and the improving Roy Hibbert as the main pieces in terms of how they will play this season. Granger still seems a bit one dimensional, but it’s hard to truly evaluate his game until he plays with teammates who he genuinely should defer to in given situations. Hibbert isn’t your typical seven-footer in that he’s not a dominant low post player nor is he even a consistently good player facing the basket. But he’s a solid team defense guy and is a good enough low post player to where teams can’t leave him alone. Although Pacers fans may have thrown their hands up and been dissatisfied with the conduct of second round draft choice Lance Stephenson this offseason, it’s really the most noticeable conduct issue in the past few seasons on a team that was routinely in the news for only that reason. Pacers fans are still a long ways away from being truly happy with their team, but seeing what Larry Bird was able to do with Troy Murphy’s expiring deal in the offseason had to be encouraging. Soon enough, the Pacers will have room to operate as well and then we can officially evaluate Bird’s job as a GM. They’re still further away from that than the optimism created by the Collison trade would indicate, but there’s finally light at the end of the tunnel for the Pacers.
4) Detroit Pistons
Incoming Players: Greg Monroe, Terrico White, Vernon Hamilton, Tracy McGrady
Outgoing Players: Chucky Atkins, Kwame Brown
Team Analysis: After six consecutive trips to the Eastern Conference Finals, two NBA Finals appearances and one NBA Championship from a largely successful run for Detroit, the Pistons made the decision a couple of years ago to blow up the roster. Since then, the Pistons have undergone two head coaching changes, seen their win total drop from 59 to 39 to 27, and have only Richard Hamilton, Tayshaun Prince, Rodney Stuckey and Jason Maxiell remaining from that 2008 team that made its sixth and final trip to the Eastern Conference Finals. When the Pistons made their initial decision to shake up the roster, much was made about the possibility of them being players in this past summer’s free agent market. However, Joe Dumars spent the majority of that cleared cap space last offseason, being proactive in the acquisitions of players like Ben Gordon and Charlie Villanueva. The results, however, were not very promising. Gordon and Villanueva both showed a lot of their bad qualities over the course of the season, and huge improvements need to be made by both players if the Pistons want to be competitive this season.
Stuckey is entering a make or break season this year with the Pistons, as is probably coach John Kuester. Both have been praised for their performances in supporting roles, although neither have done extraordinary when much is asked of them. In Kuester’s case, the Pistons could have been justified in firing him after only one season (they had just done so to Michael Curry in 2009 after a much better season than last year’s) but Dumars felt that Kuester’s potential and continuity would serve the team well this offseason. While a lot of teams made huge roster overhauls this offseason, including two very publicized teams in Chicago and Milwaukee in their own division, the Pistons are banking that a continued year of growth and development will go a long way in determining their success this season. Much of that is reliant on Rodney Stuckey, the player who once made Chauncey Billups expendable. Stuckey has been largely inconsistent, but the team still remains committed to seeing him succeed in Detroit.
But the Pistons roster is still divided between players who are young and promising, and players who are old and declining. Some could see that as a nice bridging of the gap. I feel that’d be a better sell had the team not just won 27 games last season. The move to acquire Tracy McGrady this offseason probably does nothing to dispel the confusion in regards to Detroit’s roster, but the Pistons are hoping he can recover from his knee injuries to play a solid role at both backup guard positions. There’s also confusion on what kind of team the Pistons will be. After a unusually porous performance from the team’s defense last season, Dumars promised better results this year, but they return a lot of the same players. We still don’t’ know if a lot of their players can fully succeed in a half court system either. There are a lot of questions In Detroit; frankly, too many to say with any certainty how they’ll perform next season. Optimists will point to last year’s injuries, pessimists will point to the contradicting roster moves in terms of players brought in, and the players ability to fit the team philosophy. A lot is on the line this season in Detroit, and change will be on their horizon if they don’t get better and do so soon.
5) Cleveland Cavaliers
Incoming Players: Christian Eyenga, Joey Graham, Ryan Hollins, Ramon Sessions
Outgoing Players: LeBron James, Shaquille O’Neal, Delonte West, Zydrunas Ilgauskas, Sebastian Telfair,
Team Analysis: No team was more largely affected by this offseason than Cleveland. After two straight seasons of having the NBA’s best record and failing to reach the NBA Finals in either season, Mike Brown was fired as the team’s head coach, and after a very public flirtation with Tim Floyd (who turned the job down due to LeBron James’ uncertain status with the team), settled for former coach of the year Byron Scott. Scott has been at the helm for two very impressive roster turnarounds in New Jersey and New Orleans and he’s about to be at the helm for another. Because Cleveland had spent so much towards being competitive the past couple of seasons, role players like Anthony Parker, Anderson Vareajo and Mo Williams are now average shooters and average defenders, overpaid hustle-type guys and shooters who really aren’t comfortable in the lead role. That doesn’t bode well for Cleveland entering this season. Add to the fact that LeBron’s departure has placed the whole city of Cleveland in a noticeable funk, and you may have a recipe for disaster this season.
Mo Williams, fresh off of a public pity party which included him admitting that he recently contemplated retirement, returns as Cleveland’s best player. He disappeared in both postseasons with the team and has been justifiably criticized for those faults. He and Antawn Jamison are the only players on the team that have shown they can carry the load on offense and contribute on a nightly basis. Only problem is, neither has done so for a good squad and both should be the subject of trade rumors all season. The Cavaliers hope that improvements from players like J.J. Hickson and incoming rookie Christian Eyenga will be bright spots for the coming seasons for the team. But with so much uncertainty regarding those players, it’s foolish to assume they’ll reach their maximum potential this season.
Cleveland has been vocal in bracing for a youth movement, which is fine if the team has much youth to turn over the new leaf. Unfortunately, they don’t. They’re still a team of players that were brought in to win now and a few nice guys who can keep you competitive on a given night. But the departure of LeBron James will be felt in the team morale, the attendance figures and, most of all, the on court production. Cleveland is still a few seasons from removing themselves from the mess that was this offseason, and it will be a slow process. It’s very possible Cleveland could find themselves right back in the bottom of the league this season. In fact, some will say that’s in the best interest of the team moving forward. With the whole city of Cleveland being personified by Mo Williams’ public cries for sympathy, it’s unlikely to expect much fire and retaliation from this bunch.