Year-Round News & Updates on the Minnesota Timberwolves
We're two-thirds of the way through our Preseason Division Previews and today we'll be taking a look at another Eastern Conference division: the Central Division. The Central division includes: the Chicago Bulls, Cleveland Cavaliers, Detroit Pistons, Indiana Pacers and the Milwaukee Bucks.
If you've missed our four finished previews, you can check them out here: Northwest, Pacific, Southwest and Southeast.
Well then, on to the Central division...
For Chicago: The Bulls will be without their superstar for the majority of the season, but there's no doubt, that there's enough talent on this roster to still make the playoffs (likely not a Top 4 seed) and with D-Rose (hopefully) back for the postseason, they could go on a nice little postseason run. They aren't built (this season) for a deep postseason run. They let the majority of their bench walk via free agency, or traded them away for next to nothing. With Rose's absence, the Bulls signed a number of backup point guards. Chicago welcomes back Kirk Hinrich (the likely starter). The Bulls also signed Nate Robinson, who started a number of games for the Golden State Warriors last season when they lost Stephen Curry for an extended period of time and they were tanking away their season (I guess they have their small forward of the future in Harrison Barnes to show for it). Nate can play both guard positions and will likely be the main backup behind Hinrich to start the season. Lastly, to shore up concerns at the point, the Bulls drafted Marquis Teague with the 29th overall pick. He'll see some action, but he won't be relied upon much. Chicago also signed free agent shooting guard Marco Belinelli, he'll be the main backup behind Richard Hamilton at the two-guard. The Bulls also welcome forward Vladimir Radmanovic and center Nazr Mohammed. Who knows how much those two will contribute. Both are a number of years removed from their 'prime(s)'. Gone is Ronnie Brewer (signed as a free agent with the Knicks), Kyle Korver (traded to the Hawks), C.J. Watson (signed as a free agent with the Nets), John Lucas III (signed as a free agent with the Raptors) and Omer Asik (signed as a free agent with the Rockets). There's no doubting they've become a worse team, but in the Eastern Conference they'll still be able to fight there way into the playoffs. They'll rely heavily on Luol Deng, Carlos Boozer, Taj Gibson and Joakim Noah to do so. Projection? 5-8 seed in the East.
For Cleveland: Gone is LeBron and Cleveland continues to rebuild their once strong franchise. Kyrie Irving is a giant step in the right direction. They've said goodbye to a few players this season and they also grabbed a few more young guys. Antawn Jamison was initially brought in to be the final piece next to LBJ that would put them over the top. That didn't exactly work out as planned. Jamison stayed another two years. Two VERY rough years for the Cavs. Jamison will play for the Lakers this season and that'll open up playing time for a budding young talent in Tristan Thompson. The Cavaliers added rookies Dion Waiters & Tyler Zeller. Waiters will likely get the starting nod next to Kyrie in the backcourt, while Zeller will provide depth behind Varejo (until of course he's inevitably traded...Varejo, that is). The Cavaliers also welcome: C.J. Miles (signed as a free agent), Jeremy Pargo (acquired in a trade with the Grizzlies that had the Cavs send D.J. Kennedy to the Grizzlies), Michael Erie (signed as a free agent undrafted rookie) and Jon Leuer (picked up off the waiver wire). Their likely starting lineup will look something like this: Irving, Waiters, Miles, Thompson & Varejo. Cleveland is a team on the rise, but I think we all know they don't have what it takes to move back into the East Playoffs...not yet. It won't be this year, may not be next year, but with Irving at the helm, the future is bright for the Cavs. Another season in the lotto is inevitable, but, nonetheless, they should be an exciting team to watch.
For Detroit: When I look at a team, I look for players that excite me, that make me want to watch the team. Detroit just doesn't excite me. Sure, Greg Monroe is looking like he's well on his way to becoming an elite big man. They have a decent backcourt with Knight & Stuckey. The Pistons did draft big man Andre Drummond with the 9th overall pick this summer. I can honestly say, when they team Monroe & Drummond in the backcourt and have them as their starting frontline, then I'll get excited about the Detroit Pistons. Drummond is a project and is still a year or two from being a serviceable big man in this league. I don't know how good he'll become, for all I know he's the Pistons' next Darko Milicic. The Pistons also traded Ben Gordon to the Charlotte Bobcats for Corey Maggette. Maggette will back up Tayshaun Prince at the small forward, however this will likely be his only season in Motown, as his contract expires after this season. Detroit has a logjam at the forwards: Prince, English, Singler, Maggette, Daye, Middleton, Maxiell, Jerebko and Villanueva. Kyle Singler joins the team after being drafted last season, but he ended up playing overseas for the year. Kim English & Khris Middleton were their draft picks this summer (along with Drummond). The Pistons also welcome Viacheslav Kravtsov. I know he's a center and that's about it. The Pistons will likely start: Brandon Knight, Rodney Stuckey, Tayshaun Prince, Jason Maxiell and Greg Monroe, to begin the season. Like the Cavaliers, I think the Pistons are a few years away from returning to the playoffs. Though they do have a young core in place that should help them stay competitive: Knight, Stuckey & Monroe. Projection? Lotto-bound!
For Indiana: With Derrick Rose out in Chicago, the Pacers have a VERY good chance of nabbing the 2nd seed in the East (behind Miami). The Pacers took the next step last season, improving from the 8th seed two years ago, to being the 3rd seed in the East a year ago. Indiana matched a max offer (made by Portland) to retain their star center: Roy Hibbert. Last season they made one of the best free agent signings of the year when they grabbed former All-Star David West to pair with Roy in the frontcourt. This offseason they added D.J. Augustin (to back up George Hill--who signed an five-year, $40million extension). They also signed free agent (and former Timberwolf--but was a Net last year) Gerald Green, to be the main backup behind Danny Granger and Paul George at the wings. The Pacers also traded Darren Collsion and Dahntay Jones to the Mavericks for big man Ian Mahinmi. They further solidified their big men off the bench by drafting Miles Plumlee with the 26th overall pick. They have a VERY interesting team. Hibbert is a Top 5 or 6 center in this League and Granger is a Top 5 or 6 small forward. If Paul George can continue to improve, they'll have one of the best lineups in the NBA. Their starting lineup: 6-2 George Hill, 6-10 Paul George, 6-9 Danny Granger, 6-9 David West and 7-2 Roy Hibbert. That's a matchup nightmare at shooting guard and center! Not too many teams have a 6'10" two-guard or a center over 7'2". I'm thinking a 50-win season and a trip into (at least) the second-round of the Eastern Conference Playoffs. They have some concerns at backup shooting guard. Is rookie Orlando Johnson the answer behind P. George? But this team doesn't have a whole lot of weaknesses and on the whole, they're a very balanced and tough team. They should be fun to watch. So, Pacer fans, if you live in Indiana, you better get your rear to the Bankers Life Fieldhouse!
For Milwaukee: Our friends across the border, the Milwaukee Bucks. They've certainly gone through some transformations these past couple seasons. They said goodbye to former #1 overall pick Andrew Bogut--sending him to the Warriors, just prior to the trade deadline for Monta Ellis & Ekpe Udoh. The Bucks traded their first round pick to the Houston Rockets (12th overall) for the 14th pick and Samuel Dalembert. The Rockets selected Jeremy Lamb, 12th overall and the Bucks chose John Henson at #14. They also nabbed combo guard Doron Lamb in the second-round. The Bucks resigned Ersan Ilyasova to a 4-year deal. While also signing former Buck Joel Pryzbilla. Ilyasova will continue to start at power forward (likely continuing to improve as he's done nearly every season). While, Pryz will be the main backup to Dalembert at the five. The Bucks continue to have a logjam at the power forward as well as a strange desire for skinny, athletic black men: John Henson, Ekpe Udoh and Larry Sanders. Also adding Drew Gooden and Ersan to that list of power forwards. I'd say there's a good chance if someone calls looking to trade for Udoh, Sanders or Gooden; the Bucks GM will be more than happy to take your call! The question mark remains, you will start at small forward. I assume Luc Richard Mbah a Moute is penciled in as the starter, though it's sounding as though Tobias Harris made quite an impression during the Summer League. Other possibilities include...Mike Dunleavy. Perhaps they should trade one or two of those power forwards on the roster for a solid small forward. If not, in reality, Mbah a Moute is a serviceable three, with lockdown D...just like Skiles likes it. However, if these Bucks don't reach the postseason (or stumble early on) I certainly believe we could see a coaching switch. Starting five? Jennings, Ellis, Mbah a Moute, Ilyasova, Dalembert. Projection? 5th-8th seed in the East.
Well, that wraps up the Central Division. We've got just one more preview to bring you (the Atlantic division) and you can expect that sometime next week! Until then, thanks for reading HOWL and GO WOLVES!
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