The Central Division of the Eastern Conference features the Bulls and Pacers who got better this offseason and then three more teams who have a long way to go. This typifies the East which is top heavy as compared to the West which is deep but lacking at the top in comparison to Chicago, Miami, New York and Boston.
Here's how we see the Central playing out. Not surprisingly, the Bulls will run away with things again.
The Bulls didn't make a big splash in the offseason but they did upgrade slightly at their biggest position of need, shooting guard. They replaced Keith Bogans with Rip Hamilton who can provide more scoring from the wing so Derrick Rose doesn't feel the need to take 25 shots per game. Other than that, this is the same team that won 62 games and made it to the Eastern Conference Finals but with these guys, the continuity and experience will only make them better.
Prediction: 50-16, 1st place Central Division
Most people think the Pacers had one of the better offseasons of this funky, abbreviated offseason. They added great front court depth with Lou Amundson and Jeff Pendergraph and a potential All-Star in David West. Youngsters Paul George, Darren Collison, Tyler Hansbrough and Rob Hibbert should all improve and Danny Granger provides the star power every good team needs.
Prediction: 47-19, 2nd place Central Division
The Bucks always seem to be a tough team to get a handle on. They have talent on the roster with Andrew Bogut, Stephen Jackson, Brandon Jennings and Ersan Ilyasova but they don't have great depth and S-Jax is a powder keg just waiting to destroy any team. This team could do well this year but I'm just not feeling it.
Prediction: 33-33, 3rd place Central Division
Bring back Tayshaun Prince is nice and shows that if you throw enough money at a guy, even a bad team can keep good players. The problem is, they Pistons don't have any great players. Instead they have a lot of guys who can play basketball but no one to really lead the way. This is basically, the Houston Rockets of the East with guys like Will Bynum, Ben Gordon, Jonas Jerebko, Charlie Villanueva and Jason Maxiell. If they are going to beat expectations it will be on the back of center Greg Monroe who is poised to take a big step forward this season.
Prediction: 25-41, 4th place Central Division
This Cleveland team is at least headed in the right direction after last season's misery. First overall pick Kyrie Irving should be fun and Tristan Thompson is at least intriguing. They added a quality wing in Omri Casspi but on the flip side are still stuck with Antwan Jamison's bloated contract. Anderson Varejao is remains their most valuable trade asset. It will be interesting to see if they move him to contender and stockpile more assets or if they hang on to him and wait it out while their young guys develop.
Prediction: 19-47, 5th place Central Division