This year we hope that the Central Division ascends above the Pistons and Cavaliers battling for supremacy. With a Rejuvination Eastern Conference the Bulls, Bucks and Pacers are teams with great mixtures of youthful talent, veteran leadership and playoff potential. Barring no big injury woe, the Pistons and Cavs will still top this division but the gap is closing and the other three teams will make a push for the 7th and 8th playoff spots.
This is how I see it all falling...
1. Cleveland Cavaliers
Thats Right! The Cavs(aka the LeBrons) no doubt have the best player in the league on their team in LeBron James. He is the heart and soul of the Cavs, a leader, and a freak of nature. Two years ago we seem him take a less talented team all the way to the NBA final, pretty much single-handedly. We also know that King James has been begging for help and I think he has gotten those role players that will get the LeBrons, I mean, Cavs over the hump.
At the trading deadline last year we seen a couple of fair acquisitions in Ben Wallace, Delonte West and Wally Szczerbiak. Ben Wallace, though not the player of old (just a player thats getting old) still is able to provide solid foul free defense, grab 8-10 rebound per game and, since no one will be covering him on defense, get a few open looks under the basket. I Dont think there is much to argue on the value of rebounding and defense. Delonte West and Wally Szczerbiak are not the starters they hoped for but are the kinds of players King James needs to be surronded by i.e. jump shooters.
This summer the Cavs stole Mo Williams from the Milwaukee Bucks(probably the Bucks way of getting rid of a bad contract by the previous GM). Nonetheless, this was great for the Cavs because the get the PG that Delonte West is not and that Daniel Gibson will never be. Basically they are getting that "Larry Hughes" type of scorer that got them to the Finals in 2007. The difference here, with Williams, will be his consistancy and ability to be the stand-in leader/scorer in case LeBron needs to take a week off (gets injured) - like he was able to do last year for the Bucks in Michael Redd's absence.
Looking at the cavs as a whole, the pieces of this puzzle are fitting well. Most importantly they have a "true PG" with Mo WIlliams a piece that been missing for years in Cleveland - and that puts guys like Boobie Gibson, West and Wally on the bench where they belong. Its not that they are bad players but they are one dimensional and a great asset ON THE BENCH. At Center, Zydrudas Ilgauskas is a consistant player in the paint, he's no great shot blocker but he does have a nice mid-range shot (14.5 PPG on his career) and at 7'3, 8-10 RPG is a piece of cake. The one worry is his in ability to play big minutes, he averages less that 30 MPG and he's 33 yrs old, which will put Anderson Varejao and Wallace on the floor together. I dont see a big issue because the Cavs have a lot of shooters on their bench, which means tripple teaming LeBron will be risky. Now I know there will be none believers but thats what the Cavs will count on and that should lead to a nice 1st month record.
2. Detroit Pistons
The Pistons are looking the same in terms of their starting line-up. Chauncey Billups, Richard Hamilton, Tayshaun Prince and Rasheed Wallace are a bonafide nucleus for 50+ win season and a trip to the conference finals. This year the same question that has been lating around for 4 years now is still on the gym floor of the Palace - WILL THEY MAKE IT BACK TO THE FINAL. Now I wil not be a party pooper because they is really no reason not to see the Pistons doing what they have been doing for about 7 years now. I do still think that the rise in talent out east will bump them down in the win column but not necessarily from title contention.
Now there was suppose to be a 'shake up' in the Detroit but all we got was a new head coach, Michael Curry, and a big question mark, Kwame Brown. Now I will remain optimistic about Browns production because with Antonit Mcdyess, Jason Maxiell and Amir Johnson, he probably will not see more than 12 MPG. With that said, much will not be asked of Mr. Brown and he'll have an opportunity to ease his way into the Piston system and rotation.
The measure if succes for the Pistons will be the group of young bench players they have - Maxiell, Johnson, Rodney Stuckey and Aaron Afflalo. Last year we got so see promise in all of those young guys, particularly Maxiell and Stuckey, who both had solid playoff performances. The core group of the Piston will need to be able to not play heavy minutes during the regular season in order to make a ligetimate push in the playoffs. So the questions this year will be weather that group can produce with increased minutes and should the load from that group.
I look for the Pistons to be in the Conference Finals once again but I also expect the regular season number to take a dive.
3. Milwaukee Bucks
During the off season the Bucks did some very needed retooling with their players and organization. We seen Mo Williams and Yi Jianlian depart, a new GM, a new head coach (former Bulls Coach Scott Skiles) and 2 new starters, Richard Jefferson and Luke Ridnour.
I have High expectation for the new look Bucks. The Bucks picked Michael Redd and Andrew Bogut as the center pieces to build around and added the high flying RJ to the mix. Andrew Bogut was thought to be a 'flop' as a 1st round 1st draft pick but now that has halted with his great stride he made last season. I do not see any reason why that trend does not continue and with Coach Skiles and RJ on the team I see Bogut averaging 10 pts, 10 reb, 2blk and 1steal per game.
Redd and Rj will be the designated scorers on the squad and with Redd chucking them up from deep and RJ slashing teams with be having fits on defense. If you ask me, this Scoring Duo will be second to only Carmelo Anthony and Allen Iverson but theses two (and team) will play defense. They both averaged almost 23 ppg last season and that should carry on. Their biggest asset will be that they both are still willing to pass(Redd 3.4 APG RJ 4.2 APG) and that will allow Bogut and Chuck V to get touches and keep opposing defensive honest.
Now Charlie Villanueva we chosen over Yi to stay with the Bucks and he has to prove himself this year. He was distrought over Yi getting the starting nod over him last year. Then went on a tear near the end of the season proving he's more than a 7 foot with a jumper but that has to transcend to this upcoming season. I think the Bucks selected the right player, seeing that they gave up Ford in order to acquire him in 2006 - he will breakout or he will be out.
I truly do not know where to place the Bucks just yet. As we know, Coach Skiles is very regimented(probably why Ramon Sessions is not in the rotation yet) and, as we seen, million dollar babies are sensitive these day but if these are the right players to buy into Skiles system I can see them in the playoffs this season as the 8th seed.
4. Indiana Pacers
This is another team that has suffered do to past bad executive decisions. Last year the found faith in Danny Granger and Mike Dunleavy Jr and decided to shape a team around them. They also ridded there team of another cancer, Jermaine O'Neal, and got a PG that they are not scared to let play (Jamal Tinsley is not injured). The Pacer did a good job this off season of bringing in other nice young talent like Brandon Rush, Jarret Jack, Roy Hibbert and Maceo Boston.
Expectation for the Pacers are pretty high the season due to how the poured it on late last season. They definately have the talent pool to make a serious push into the playoffs. I do not really know what to expect fromthis group. They have a bunch of jump shooters and will have a field day from downtown - maybe the eastern conference version of last years Warriors. Not saying T.J. Ford is a Baron Davis but he really is the onlt inside scorer they have. SO I expect a lot of drive and kick type plays but hope fully they dont foul Ford too hard and harm that delicate spine of his. Now they have the young Roy Hibber but he will need time to adjust to the league and will not be much of a factor.
One reson not to discount this team is due to the fact that all the roles are filled.
Granger and Dunleavy are a 20-20 scoring duo - Check
TJ Ford is True Point Gurad that can find the open man and score when needed - Check
Jeff Foster and Troy Murphy are solid rebounders who are not afraid to bang in the paint - Check
Rush, Jack, Shawne Williams and Rasho Nesterovic are capable solid bench player - Check
5. Chicago Bulls
As the rest of the both feeder in this division, the Bulls also did som soul checking this off season. Well not really but they did really hit the lottery with the lottery draft pick and selected Point Guard Derrick Rose, 1st round 1st draft pick. Of the bat that calls the beavy of guards they have into question. They still have Kirk Hinrich, who was defensive 1st team 2 years ago. They Still have Larry Hughes and his monsterous contract. Still got Ben Gordon who was recently sign a 1-year deal and Thabo Sefolosa who is one of the few guards in the NBA who can play defense.
I do not have a lot to say on the Bulls because its obvious that they are still in the rebuilding stages. They have Plenty of scorers and Jump shooters the likes of Luol Deng, Andres Nocioni and all their guards. Then you look at their front court and you see yound and very athletic young talents like Joakim Noah, Tyrus Thomas and even Aaron Gray. Nothing is sorted out - but the are deep in the talent pool.
What I expect to see is that the Bulls to use the season to determine who they can use to build around Derrick Rose -
I know, NO BRAINER!