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NBA Preview: The Central Division

The NBA Preview Train makes its final stop at the most talked about division in all the NBA, the Central Division. As Lebron James came back home to Cleveland and the Cavaliers, he is back in the Central Division. But can even he turn the balance of power back to the Cavs favor. Most say yes, but it will not be as easy as the King would think it to be. James may not be expecting championships out of the gate but that does not figure Cleveland fans nor experts. What does the Central Division have in store, lets find out in this past divisional preview.

1. Indiana Pacers: The San Antonio Spurs are looking more and more like the much wiser franchise when they dealt Point Guard George Hill to the Pacers for then rookie Kawhi Leonard. While Leonard won his first title (named Finals MVP), Hill continues to be n average to below average point guard. Add the season-ending injury that Paul George suffered during the FIBA World Championships and you have a Pacers team who has taken a major step back in the division. Add the departure of Lance Stephenson (signed with Charlotte Hornets) and the questions surrounding Center Roy Hibbert and this team could potentially fall from grace atop the Central Division and in a hurry. Granted they signed Head Coach Frank Vogel to an extension, granted they still have Larry Bird lurking in the Front Office to push the team to perform, the facts cannot be ignored. Since the trade of Danny Granger mid-season, the Pacers were not the same team that once dominated the league. Their leadership was put into question, their on the court performance was lacking, especially in the last 6 weeks of the season. The question is all about their “heart” their “mindset” as of today and with the Paul George injury, this Pacers team could be a team that, dare the word “tank” the season comes to mind.

In the end, teams in the East have made moves to improve while the Pacers have fallen ll behind. This could be a season to remember and NOT in a good way. I see the Pacers OUT of the playoff picture because of so many questions.

2. Chicago Bulls: “AND NOW … The starting line up for your Chicago Bulls.” Sorry that intro just gives me chills, especially during the glory days of the 90’s when Michael Jordan was on the floor. But consider this, Forward-Center Joakim Noah is set to return healthy. Center Pau Gasol has left the Lakers to join forces with Noah in the middle and that would be enough for most. But then you add a healthy Derrick Rose (MVP Candidate) who proved in the FIBA World Championships he is ready for the upcoming season and you just may have the favorites to win the Eastern Conference. If Forward Kirk Hinrich can continue his improved shooting while mentoring college standout Doug McDermott, who himself can launch em from 30 feet without so much as a blink and the offense just may contend with the always tough defense that Coach Thibodeau brings to the court. The one question is health and Tibs knows it, so he will manage the game well, especially when it comes to Rose.

In the end, the defense of the Bulls got stronger with the addition of Gasol and offense has improved. Expect the Bulls to be atop the Central with the Cavs and grab one of those top two seeds in the Eastern Conference.

3. Cleveland Cavaliers: YES we know that Cleveland is at the center of the sports universe and rightfully so. Lebron James (MVP Candidate) has come home. Johnny Manziel was drafted by the Cleveland Browns and sits in the bench while Brian Hoyer leads the team to a winning record so far. YES, Kevin Love has come on and willing agreed to sign an extension. YES Kyrie Irving (MVP Candidate) got his max deal as well. Everything is roses in Cleveland, or are they? Has Dion Waters really bought into the way of life in Cleveland? Can forward Mike Miller and his back hold up another season? Is the trade off for a much lesser defensive team enough to overcome the competition in their own division, let alone in the playoffs? Will the Cavs keep hold of a head coach for more than one season?

In the end, when all this off season dusts settles, Lebron James is the best player on the planet and his leadership will help the Cavs become that team that they once were when he was there his rookie campaign. A much more mature Lebron can better manage those egos of Love and Irving and their games fit much better together. Playoff bound for the Cavs as a top tier seed.

4. Detroit Pistons: A name that once struck fear in the hearts of their opponents, the Pistons have become one of the laughing stocks of the league. ENTER Stan Van Gundy to coach the team. Enter Josh Smith from Atlanta who was at one time a top tier all star player and can be once again. The always undervalued Caron Butler has found his way to the Pistons and he always seems to find a way to make very solid contributions to any team he is on. Now that Center Greg Monroe’s contract situation is resolved, Monroe can go back to focusing on improving his game so that he can prove he earned that deal. International rookie forward Jonas Jerebko looks to be introduced to the world of basketball, NBA style so there will be some growing pains there. Are D.J. Augustin and Brandon Jennings the answer at point guard?

Questions surround this team, questions about how Stan Van will be able to handle not just his coaching duties but also the duties of President of Basketball Operations. Will it help the team or be a distraction as the season progresses. In the end, too many better teams for the Pistons to make the playoffs.

5. Milwaukee Bucks: The Bucks wanted Jason Kidd and they got him as their Head Coach. They drafted Duke prospect Jabari Parker, who liked the team dynamic BEFORE they got Kidd as their coach. Can O.J. Mayo live up to his all-star expectations? Can Jared Dudley do what he did for the Phoenix Suns can give solid contributions? Can Parker hold up to the pressure that will obviously be placed on his young rookie shoulders?

This is a perfect case of “Beware of what you ask for” because you just may get what you do not want. The Bucks obviously are far away from making the playoffs and Kidd will be exposed as a head coach because the experienced talent he had in Brooklyn was far better than the young talent in Milwaukee. Can you say Lottery Milwaukee? Get use to it.

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Ralph Garcia


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