We continue our season preview, this time we move back to the Eastern Conference and the Central Division has opened up and is anyones for the taking. The departure of LeBron James means Cleveland is likely to fall back into mediocrity and a young Chicago squad will be aiming to stamp their name all over the Central crown. Or will the rising Milwaukee Bucks fly under the radar and take the division by storm on the back of their dynamic duo, Brandon Jennings and Andrew Bogut?
CENTRAL DIVISION PREVIEW
Last Season : 46-36
Ins : F Drew Gooden, F Corey Maggette, G Earl Boykins, F Jon Brockman, PF Larry Sanders, C Jerome Jordan, PF Tiny Gallon, G Chris Douglas Roberts, G Keyon Dooling
Outs : F Kurt Thomas, G Luke Ridnour
What 2 Watch For : The Bucks recruited well in the off season plus the return of Andrew Bogut from injury has a lot of pundits predicting that they may just be a darkhorse as a challenger to the Big Three of Orlando, Boston and Miami. The teams success rests with Andrew Bogut. The big guy was in All Star form before being hurt last season and his absence was felt during the playoffs when the Bucks had no low post presence to throw the ball to. Recruit Corey Maggette will provide scoring off the bench and quite possibly make the recovering Michael Redd expendable come closer to the trade deadline. Drew Gooden adds depth to the frontline but is not the offensive player Andrew is, which is why the seasons hopes rest with the big Aussie.
Prediction : 1st 50-32
Last Season : 41-41
Ins : F Carlos Boozer, G Ronnie Brewer, F Kyle Korver, G Keith Bogans, F Kurt Thomas, G CJ Watson
Outs : G Acie Law, G Kirk Hinrich, F Hakim Warrick, C Brad Miller
What 2 Watch For : Early wins. In recent times the Bulls have been notorious slow starters and end up playing catch up to sneak in a playoff berth, with the team they have assembled it is imperative they start winning and winning early. For years the Bulls have been thought of as a jumpshooting team. No longer, the aquisition of Carlos Boozer gives the Bulls a legitimate guy capable of going for 20-10 almost every night. Pair him up with one of the best young point guards in the league and an emerging center in Joakim Noah and you have the nucleus of a Eastern Conference contender. The loss of Hinrich on defence is huge and new coach Tom Thibodeau preaches defence so somebody will have to step up and cover that role. Perhaps Ronnie Brewer? The Bulls should be locked into a battle for top spot in the Central with the Bucks, Boozers injury means they may not get that early start they need and will finish second.
Prediction : 2nd 48-34
Last Season : 61-21
Ins : G Ramon Sessions, C Ryan Hollins, G/F Christian Eyenga, G Manny Harris, F Samardo Samuels, F Joey Graham
Outs : F LeBron James, C Shaquille O’Neal, C Zydrunas Ilgauskas, G Delonte West, G Sebastian Telfair
What 2 Watch For : The LeBron factor. According to everyone James left because he was a one man show in Cleveland. How they perform this season either validates or discredits that theory. The Cavs still have enough talent to perhaps push for a 7 or 8 seed in the East. Who is going to score the bulk of the points? The load will have to shared by Mo Williams who has become quite adept at the disappearing act in the playoffs and Antawn Jamison who is 35 this year. The Cavs remained fairly stagnant in off season trading, possibly still shocked by the 'earthquake' that hit them on July 8th or it could be confidence that their win totals of the past two years were more to do with teamwork than the work of their former King. Either way, LeBrons influence in Cleveland will be felt for a few more seasons to come. Middle of the road finishes are in the crystal ball.
Prediction : 3rd 41-41
Last Season : 32-50
Ins : G Darren Collison, F James Posey, F Tyler Hansbrough SF Paul George, SG Lance Stephenson, PF Magnum Rolle
What 2 Watch For : Can Danny Granger play a full season injury free at the level he has shown the past two years? He has averaged 25.8 and 24.1 ppg the last two seasons and the Pacers need a whole lot of that over 82 games not the 67 and 62 that Granger has appeared in. Other than their only All Star the Pacers have some pretty bad parts around him. Darren Collison has ben brought in to help run the point but at barely 6'0 along with TJ Ford the backcourt will get pushed around by the bigger guards in the division. A question mark remains around Tyler Hansbrough and whether his game translates well to the pro game. Second round draft pick Lance Stephenson, the NY phenom, is already in trouble with the law and subsequently the club even before the season has started. Not a good omen for a side trying to find its identity in the East. Mediocrity is all this team can hope for, even that is a stretch. They only finish above Detroit because of Danny Granger.
Prediction : 4th 29-53
Last Season : 27-55
Ins : G Tracy McGrady, PF Greg Monroe, F Ike Diogu
Outs : C Kwame Brown
What 2 Watch For : Does Joe Dumars have any magic tricks left up his sleeve? A once proud franchise is now in disarray. The Pistons didn't pick up any pieces that will help them contend this year – an over the hill McGrady doesn't count – and another trip to the lottery beckons unless Dumars trades part or all of the remaining players from the glory days of 2004-05 in Richard Hamilton, Ben Wallace and Tayshaun Prince. Rodney Stuckey hasn't developed as Detroit expected him too when they traded Chauncey Billups away and last years signings Charlie Villanueva and Ben Gordon haven't set the world on fire. The team is up for sale and the new owners must certainly clean house and begin from scratch for this franchise to get back up again.
Prediction : 5th 25-57