It was an offseason of flux in the Central Division, but one thing remains constant: unless LeBron James gets injured the Cleveland Cavaliers are going to win this thing. The move to bring in Shaq seemed a bit reactionary after an inexplicable meltdown against the Dwight Howard-led Magic in the postseason, and you know how we feel about The Big Jackass. However, given the pace this team prefers to play at, I’m not concerned about Shaq slowing them down too much and there’s no question O’Neal will provide a scoring, rebounding and physical inside presence this team has sorely lacked (as much as a team that led the league with 66 wins a year ago “sorely lacks” anything). I’m a bigger fan of the Anthony Parker, Leon Powe and Jamario Moon additions. Parker is a solid shooter and capable defender on the wing, Moon is a freak athlete and hustle guy who can run the floor and challenge shots and Powe will bring excellent energy and rebounding in the post when he gets healthy. Those guys are going to give this team significant flexibility and depth.
Brian did an excellent season preview for the Pistons earlier this week, so check that out for more in-depth thoughts on Detroit. No team in basketball more radically altered a familiar core than the Pistons. In short: goodbye Sheed, Iverson, McDyess, Afflalo and Amir; hello Gordon, Villanueva, Austin Daye, Chris Wilcox and John Kuester, the new head coach. This is no longer a squad contending for a title, but they’re going to be more fun to watch and they’re definitely better equipped for the future.
The aforementioned Mr. Gordon joined the Pistons from the division rival Chicago Bulls after being spurned in contract negotiations, which hurts. As Blog-a-Bull put it below: “Key Losses: Ben Gordon, my faith in the franchise.”
Chicago didn’t add anybody of note outside of two modest-upside big men late in the first round (James Johnson and Taj Gibson) and after last season’s surprising playoff success hope for the coming season is not high in Chi Town. If youngsters Derrick Rose, Joakim Noah and Tyrus Thomas improve this season and Luol Deng stays healthy and plays up to expectations they could be a fringe playoff squad. They’re going to be an average team.
The Pacers had a lazy offseason, and after back-to-back lazy 36-win seasons, we can expect, well, a lot of yawning. Jarrett Jack, Marquis Daniels and Rasho Nesterovic left town and Tyler Hansbrough, Dahntay Jones, Earl Watson and Luthor Head were brought in. It’s hard to get too excited about any of those moves, although the development of Roy Hibbert will be interesting to watch. He’s shown serious flashes in preseason play.
The Milwaukee Bucks should be a little more fun to watch this season. They lost Richard “Peanut” Jefferson, Charlie Villanueva (who never fit with Scott Skiles) and ETB favorite Ramon Sessions, but brought in Hakim Warrick and electric rookie point guard Brandon Jennings. The pairing of Jennings and Skiles could go either way. In terms of personality off the court you’re not going to find two more different men, but Jennings has the skills to earn his coach’s trust on it. Michael Redd and Andrew Bogut will be back healthy as well, and the two will be leaned on heavily for this scrappy, offensively-challenged team.
More 2008-09 NBA Blogger Previews
– Atlantic Division
– Central Division
– Southwest Division
– Southwest Division
– Northwest Division
– Pacific Division