Tuesday, November 4, 2008

2008-09 NBA Preview: Central Division

Chicago Bulls

2007-08 was a disaster for the Chicago Bulls. After finishing 49-33 in 2006-07, last season appeared to be filled with promise for a Bulls team with youth, athleticism and a defensive presence. But instead of continuing to improve, the Bulls had a big time backslide in 2007-08. Kirk Hinrich regressed, Luol Deng was banged up and somebody forgot to replace the timing belt on Ben Wallace. Then, the Bulls fortunes changed on the bounce of a ping-pong ball. Chicago won the draft lottery and selected the electric Derrick Rose. Rose should fit right in and help this years Bulls team get back around .500, but a natural NBA learning curve and a weak frontcourt (Drew Gooden and Joakim Noah, yikes) will keep the Bulls from being much better than that.

Projected record: 40-42

Cleveland Cavaliers

We all know about Lebron, he's a superstar. While there is no doubt about James' immense talent, the Cleveland front office has been unable to find the right pieces to make Cleveland a championship caliber team (and, yes, the 2006-07 Cavs did make the NBA finals, but anybody that watched that series knew they were definitely not championship caliber). Then Danny Ferry was somehow able to swing a trade for Mo Williams, and the Cavs look like a much more complete team. Williams brings one skill that the Cavs have desperately lacked, the ability to put the ball on the floor and get to the rim. Williams should open up the floor for not only Lebron, but also the rest of the rather slow footed Cavs (Zydrunas Ilgauskas, Sasha Pavlovic and Wally Szczerbiak...and my spell checker just gave up). Look for coach Mike Brown to keep the Cavs playing tough defense, so any improvement on the offensive end should make the Cavs one of the best teams in the East.

Projected record: 51-31

Detroit Pistons

Dammit, part of the problem of not getting my preview finished before the start of the season is that when the season actually starts things change. So when the news broke that the Detroit Pistons traded Chauncey Billups and Antonio McDyess for Allen Iverson, my whole "nothing ever changes with the Pistons" preview went right out the window. Adding a prolific scorer like AI makes Detroit a much sexier pick in the Central division, but in the end it's going to make the Pistons a less effective team. First off, the Pistons didn't really need a guy that can score 25+ points per game, since they had four guys (Billups, Rip Hamilton, Rasheed Wallace and Tayshaun Prince) that would score 15+. The big loss here is that Billups anchored one of the best defenses in the league. While Iverson isn't a bad defender, he makes the Pistons backcourt very small. This may not be a big problem against contending teams in the East (Boston and Cleveland both have small backcourts), but you can't expect to win a championship if Rip Hamilton has to guard Kobe Bryant, Mo Peterson or Tracy McGrady, match-ups Chauncey Billups could handle. Expect Detroit to have a good regular season, make a strong playoff push and get absolutely hammered late in the post-season.

Projected record: 50-32

Indiana Pacers

Ughhh, do I really have to write something about the Pacers. Umm, they're going to be bad, is that good enough? Ok, ok, Indiana is in a transitional period, with the off-season seeing the Pacers cut ties with Jamaal Tinsley and Jermaine O'Neal, staples in Indiana since 2001. Unfortunately, new GM David Morway is left trying to fill in the gaps left by several years of mismanagement by Donnie Walsh (who's incompetence was great enough to land him the job of president of basketball operations of the New York Knicks. Seriously, you can't make this stuff up). Anyway, Indiana traded O'Neal and his massive contract to Toronto for T.J. Ford, who is at best a mediocre NBA point guard. Marquis Daniels starts at the 2-guard and rounds out a backcourt with no defense and no offensive range, ughhh. On the front line things are equally bad for the Pacers. Rasho Nesterovic and Troy Murphy are both slow footed and defensively challenged. The one bright spot for Indiana is the dynamic Danny Granger, but don't expect him to stay in Indiana long, as he is in the last year of his rookie contract and can expect big, big dollars in the free agent market. So in summary, the Pacers are going to be bad this year and for probably quite a few years to come.

Projected record: 18-64

Milwaukee Bucks

The Bucks are a strange NBA team. They aren't very good (that's pretty common in the NBA), but they appear to be actively trying to get better (not so common). Michael Redd and Richard Jefferson are a good 1-2 scoring threat. Luke Ridnour is a terrible option as the starting point guard, but don't expect him to hold down that position throughout the entire season. Andrew Bogut looks to continue on his progression into becoming one of the top big men in the league. Unfortunately, the Bucks are still pretty terrible defensively and that's not going to stop, but they should score enough to win a few more games than last year.

Projected record: 34-50

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