We are officially in dead season of the NBA. Coming off the most exciting off-season in my lifetime, this dead season is more boring than most. But now that the dust has cleared from the numerous Woj bombs, we have a clearer picture of what some teams look like. In this article we’ll be taking a look at the NBA Central Division. Content for your reading includes off-season moves, whether there was improvement or not, and what the teams are looking like heading into the new season.
Key Losses: J.R. Smith (Waived)
It is fitting to talk about dust clearing from Woj bombs and starting with one of the NBA’s wastelands. The Cavs have been in disarray ever since LeBron James left for Los Angeles this time last year. The big move of the off-season was hiring Jon Beilein away from Michigan, one of the few long tenured college coaches to come over to the NBA in recent years. He made a habit of squeezing every ounce of production out of a team regardless of the talent level, which will come in handy with this Cavs roster. The team has few cornerstones right now. Kevin Love is making over $30 million a year and has spent quite a lot of time injured. Cedi Osman is an intriguing wing and not much else. Collin Sexton made the 2nd team All Rookie this season and is the one true building block on this squad.
The Cavs bet on potential in this draft. They took Garland in the lottery, a scoring guard whose year was cut short by injury. He was projected to be a top 3 pick before his injury. Could he break out with the Cavs? Yes. Do his and Sexton’s skills combine easily? No, they play in very similar styles. There’s going to be some growing pains there. The Cavs were reportedly smitten on Porter Jr. a full year before the draft. He has the size and scoring ability to excel in the NBA. However, his one year in college was a wash. He lost games to injury and suffered inconsistency when he did play. The Cavs paid what is considered the most ever for a first round pick to snag him at #30, let’s hope they know what they’re doing.
The only real loss this off-season isn’t much of a loss. J.R. Smith was once a prominent player during their title run, but he was essentially paid to stay away from the team last season. He is now free to choose among contenders. The Cavs made moves that signal they know this rebuild is going to take a while. But they are making the right moves. Beilein figures to be the perfect coach to instill a positive culture and to keep morale high. There is not going to be a lot of winning in Cleveland, but there should be improvement from last season. That’s all you’re looking for during a rebuild.
Possible Moves to Come: Kevin Love trade
Key Losses: Robin Lopez (FA).
The Bulls aren’t in as bad of a spot as the Cavs but GarPax gives me a headache like no other. Okay, let’s start with positives. I actually like the foundation of this team as of right now. Lauri Markannan is a big man SNIPER and there are so few of those in the NBA. Wendell Carter Jr. showed some flashes at center and can play next to Lauri. Zach Lavine has his warts but is a dynamic scorer and showed some real maturity in the midst of that lost season. I have a feeling a lot of the players on that squad have his back. Lastly, Otto Porter is overpaid but it isn’t like the Bulls are attracting free agents right now. It was a smart trade and I am happy with it. He is a notch below Khris Middleton and Tobias Harris as a complimentary star and slots in perfectly next to the other Bulls. Porter Jr. is the only one older than 24 and he’s just 26. That is a legit up-and-coming four starters they have there.
Now, they’ve had an okay off-season. Picking up Satoransky was their best move. The former Wizard is 27, coming off his best season, can dish the ball, and shot just under 40% from three. If he can contribute even average defense (1 steal a game last season), he is a perfect fit with the starters. That move made their draft choice all the more confusing. Obviously, the draft comes before free agency and the Bulls may not have known they were in the running for Tomas. However, if they were planning (or even just willing) to spending on a point guard anyways, why not take a swing on a wing that is the most important position in the league? Reddish was still available. In a vacuum, Coby is a solid pick. He’s got good size at the position, can create offense, shoots the ball relatively well, and flashed some real defensive potential at UNC. I don’t know how well his scoring mentality will mesh with Lavine’s, which isn’t an issue with Satoransky. Thad Young is an awesome vet and can still contribute but they paid a 31 year old that’s never been a star $41 million over three years. That’s a bad contract. If everyone stays healthy, I’ll be excited to see if any of the young Bulls can take another step.
Possible Moves to Come: Bench moves, have enough to swing big trades.
The Pistons actually had a mini upheaval of the roster. The stars, Blake Griffin and Andre Drummond, are there. But there is a lot of change around them. Their biggest weakness last season was their wing rotation. They did not have a single wing that could knock down threes while providing defense. Trading for Snell solves that. He can do both of those things admirably as a starter. He should also help alleviate some of the shooting that Ellington took with him. Markieff is an improvement over Leuer although his mood in Detroit will determine just how much of an improvement it is. Derrick Rose was a fringe sixth man of the year candidate last season and should provide a spark off the bench. Tim Frazier replaces Ish Smith‘s play-making off the bench while swapping Smith’s speed for a little more shooting. This is a roster that Dwayne Casey can work with, one that is visibly better than last year. While improving the roster for right now, they also made some moves for the future.
Christian Wood has flashed tremendous upside when he has gotten minutes and now gets to prove himself in a new setting. Doumbouya was thought to be a top 10 pick and the Pistons were able to steal him at 15. I was under the impression that the Pistons were a legit two way wing from being playoff contenders in the lowly East. The moves they have made should grant a playoff berth that doesn’t end in four straight ass kickings. They have a smart veteran roster with a brilliant veteran coach. They’ll be a tough match-up on a nightly basis.
Possible Moves to Come: Backup Center signing, rumored for Beal trade
Key Losses: Malcolm Brogdon (S&T), Tony Snell (Trade), Nikola Mirotic (FA).
The Bucks dealt with one major loss by a series of smart moves. Malcolm Brogdon joined the 50/40/90 club last season, was one of the Bucks’ top three players in the playoffs, and is a perfect compliment to Giannis Antetokounmpo. However, when the Pacers (stay tuned!) offer him nearly $22 million a year, there’s a decision to be made. GM Jon Horst was at least able to get a first and two seconds instead of losing him for nothing. Losing Snell and Mirotic, who both fell out of the rotation in the playoffs, were not huge losses.
The first move the Bucks made after losing Brogdon was signing his replacement, Wesley Matthews. Matthews, a Marquette Alum, can provide at least 40% of Brogdon’s production while making nearly $20 million less this season. He made more threes than MB last season, per game and total. While he hasn’t been the elite defender he was before his Achilles injury several seasons ago, he remains a solid team defender and should slot in perfectly into Bud’s system. At the same time, he has shown a greater willingness to let the three fly, one of the only knocks on Brogdon’s game.
The Bucks also got a great bench big (and twin brother of their starting center) in Robin Lopez. He is probably the best rebounder on the roster now and has an inside game that was missing on last year’s squad. WARNING: the following sentence is not a joke. Trotting out a lineup that includes Giannis and the Lopez twins is not only oodles of fun but it is the perfect answer to Philly‘s jumbo lineup. Korver is one of the league’s all time snipers and running the ‘Tony Snell Play’ (IYKYK) with him will be deadly. Dragan Bender is a nice flyer on a former top 5 pick who is still only 21 years old. The Bucks remain a top contender in the East and the league at large.
Possible Moves to Come: Ilyasova trade, some Jon Horst magic
The Pacers are another team that made a bunch of moves around their stars. They replaced incredibly average starting point guard Darren Collison with borderline star Malcolm Brogdon. There are substantial injury concerns surrounding both Brogdon and Oladipo but if they can stay healthy, that’s the best backcourt in the Eastern Conference. The Pacers lost two more starters in Bojan and Young. Young has been an incredible veteran in his time in Indiana but he doesn’t move the needle much. Bojan, however, is a big loss. He blossomed into an offensive star after Oladipo went down. He flashed an explosive shooting touch while also developing the ability to create his own shot. He was all set to re-sign until the Utah Jazz came in with a Godfather offer.
The Pacers also shored up their bench. Justin Holiday should provide the shooting that Doug McDermott failed to provide in his first year with Indiana. Assuming Jeremy Lamb starts (better two way potential), Warren becomes a walking bucket off the bench. T.J. McConnell should be an upgrade over Cory Joseph despite his non-existent shot. My one main concern with the Pacers is power forward. As of now, they plan on starting Sabonis at PF. He is a great talent in his own right, but there are fit concerns next to Myles Turner. If it doesn’t work out, there isn’t another established PF on the roster. Which also means they really don’t have a backup to Sabonis right now. They also don’t have any backup centers. With Jerami Grant and Al-Faroq Aminu both coming VERY cheap to their new teams, it is hard to see Indiana not putting more focus on that.