Jake kicked off his 2013-14 season preview earlier this week by looking at the Atlantic Division. He’ll continue going through the divisions and predict each conference’s final standings as we rapidly approach the regular season.
It’s time to take a look at Chicago’s own division: the Central. After easily winning the division for two straight seasons, the Bulls fell to second last year as Paul George and the Indiana Pacers claimed a division championship. After a strong postseason, the Pacers will be looking to win their second straight this year. The Bulls won’t go down easy, and I’m picking them to win the Central.
1. Chicago Bulls (Last year: 2nd)- Obviously the key to this happening is #TheReturn of Derrick Rose. After missing the last 18 months to rehab a torn ACL, Rose will finally take the court October 5th for Chicago’s first preseason game. Bulls fans have every reason to be optimistic about a return to form, as Rose worked tirelessly at his game while he was out. Furthermore, Jimmy Butler emerged as a legit two-way player late last year, and the addition of Mike Dunleavy should help the Bulls cure their three point shooting woes. This is a 60 win team when the core is healthy; I can’t say that about any other team in this division.
2. Indiana Pacers (Last year: 1st)- The Pacers have built nicely off a wonderful 2012-13 season. After upsetting the Knicks, the Pacers took Miami to the brink in a seven game thriller that will mainly be remembered for the performances of Paul George and Roy Hibbert (at least in Indiana). George just inked a $90 million extension (D-Rose money) and Hibbert is locked up for a few years. Furthermore, former All-Star Danny Granger will be back from his knee injury and looking to re-establish himself as a legit scorer and defender. The Pacers also grabbed Luis Scola from Phoenix, a legit bench scorer for a team that needed one badly. I don’t love Scola, but everything Indiana did this summer should help them maintain their high level of play.
3. Detroit Pistons (Last year: 4th)- This is where the Central Division gets really confusing. Detroit signed the mercurial Josh Smith to a big deal this summer and also shipped Brandon Knight to Milwaukee for Brandon Jennings. This isn’t how I would build a team, but you have to acknowledge that Detroit should be making its return to the playoffs this year. Jennings is inefficient, but he’s always been able to score and should benefit from playing with more talent. Smith is a beastly two-way player, but his problems have always been more mental than physical; do you really want him as a leader on an impressionable young team? I love Andre Drummond (and his twitter) and Greg Monroe is a solid big as well. I don’t see much potential for a championship team in this core, but it would be a huge disappointment in Motown if the Pistons miss the playoffs once again.
4. Cleveland Cavaliers (Last year: 5th)- Could this be the first year the Cavs make the playoffs since LeBron ripped their hearts out? There’s a solid chance. The Cavs got a lot deeper this summer by signing Andrew Bynum and drafting Anthony Bennett first overall. No one can be quite sure how they’ll use these pieces, but they’re intriguing. If Bynum can stay moderately healthy and Bennett isn’t a total bust, the Cavs will be solid. Kyrie Irving is a budding superstar (albeit one who doesn’t play much defense) and Dion Waiters showed signs of being a solid two guard. Tristan Thompson looks like a real solid forward and a return to form from Anderson Varejao would be much appreciated. No matter what, Cleveland will be entertaining this year.
5. Milwaukee Bucks (Last year: 3rd)- This may be the biggest stretch but I truly don’t believe in Milwaukee. First of all, they suck. They lost Monte Ellis, Brandon Jennings and JJ Redick and replaced them with Brandon Knight and OJ Mayo. I don’t think any of those five players are very good, so yeah. The team clearly has no organizational direction from its front office or its coaching staff and will probably be treading water for a long time. Maybe not that long, though, because the team needs a new stadium in 2017 and the city does not want to pay for it. Seattle, you have a phone call.
A quick rant: the city of Milwaukee is ABSOLUTELY right for not wanting to pay for a stadium. Teams constantly manipulate cities into paying for their stadiums because they know they have the leverage with the ability to move a team. We saw it in Sacramento when the NBA used Seattle to get the city to pony up the funds. In the NFL, Los Angeles is such a perfect market to threaten teams with that we still have a team in Jacksonville. Sports teams make buttloads of money, and many, many cities are broke. I’m not sure what we can do about this burning issue, but it’s become clear that it’s unfair for American cities to take on huge burdens of debt that they can’t afford when the teams they’re supporting so obviously can.