Offseason grades: Central Division
With most of the summer already in the books, SI.com is grading each team's offseason performance and examining their best and worst moves. Today, Matt Dollinger reviews the Central Division.
Analysis: Bad luck (Paul George) and bad negotiating (Lance Stephenson) led the Pacers to experience the most dismal offseason in the league. Miami made a strong run at the distinction by losing LeBron James, but the Heat deserve some morsels of credit for landing Luol Deng and bringing back Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade. As for the Pacers, there are no silver linings. They'll be replacing George and Stephenson in 2014-15 primarily with Rodney Stuckey and C.J. Miles. Oof. While George's devastating leg injury is not the Pacers' fault by any stretch of the imagination, Indiana does deserve plenty of blame for letting Stephenson walk on an extremely modest contract -- three years, $27 million -- to an Eastern Conference rival. Stephenson was at times Indiana's best player last season, making the the 23-year-old a steal at $9 million annually.
Stuckey is a respectable replacement for Stephenson given his minimum contract and bounce-back potential, but the loss of George will be glaring. Add in Indy's failures to secure an upgrade at point guard and its ongoing struggles to secure bench talent, and the franchise's summer really couldn't have gone any worse. Chalk this up as a strangely poor showing from a historically competent trio of executives in Larry Bird, Donnie Walsh and Kevin Pritchard. They left me no choice.
Best move: Signing Pau Gasol
Worst move: Re-signing Kirk Hinrich
Analysis: Congratulations, basketball fans: unwatchable Bulls games are a thing of the past! Chicago clawed its way to 48 wins and playoff berth last season by taking elbow grease to new lengths. But this season, the reinforcements have arrived, and the Bulls' offense could be shockingly entertaining -- something I never thought I would write. Not only does the team return 2011 MVP Derrick Rose, who has looked promising in his return with USA Basketball, but it also added a still-capable post threat in Pau Gasol, the draft's best shooter in Doug McDermott and a highly skilled European import in 6-10 point forward Nikola Mirotic. The Bulls also secured Rose insurance by re-signing Kirk Hinrich and adding Aaron Brooks, and they finally said goodbye to Carlos Boozer and his albatross of a contract, clearing way for Taj Gibson and Gasol to flourish.
With the Bulls' defensive DNA already engrained in them, the only thing missing in Chicago was a capable offense. Credit the Bulls' front office for addressing that need in stunning fashion. Chicago might not have landed Kevin Love, but it was able to significantly upgrade its roster without compromising its future, something which you could argue is even better.
Best move: Come on.
Worst move: None.
Analysis: Having LeBron James fall into your lap gets you an automatic A+, but the Cavaliers deserve some credit for the rest of their offseason, too. They made the necessary deals to clear the cap room for James, wisely giving away Jarrett Jack to the Nets. They won the NBA draft lottery for the third time in four years (little known fact, the city of Cleveland is built on top of a forest of four-leaf clovers), took the most hyped prospect since they took LeBron in 2003, and they've made respectable peripheral additions in Mike Miller and James Jones. The anvil hanging over the Cavaliers' offseason is whether or not Andrew Wiggins and Anthony Bennett will be dealt for Wolves superstar Kevin Love. All signs point to that deal happening -- from discontinued jerseys to declarations from owners to countless wink-winks in between. Is it a mistake to trade a once-in-a-generation prospect for a top-10 player in the league who is only 25? That's a good question -- and a good problem to have. Either way, the Cavaliers are winners.
Best move: Hiring Stan Van Gundy.
Worst move: Signing Jodie Meeks to a three-year, $19 million deal.
Analysis: To say Stan Van Gundy "upgraded" the Pistons' roster this offseason would be a misnomer. "Mixed up" is probably a more accurate term. The additions of Jodie Meeks, D.J. Augustin and Caron Butler (all on multi-year deals) are unlikely to make Detroit a substantially better team, but they will give the team a different look. After ranking as the second-worst three-point shooting team in the league last year, the Pistons should fare better thanks to Van Gundy's offseason haul. But the team has yet to address its redundancy in the front court, leaving Greg Monroe twisting in the wind of restricted free agency and failing to unload Josh Smith in a rumored trade with the Kings. Van Gundy has his work cut for him in Detroit -- which is why he demanded full front-office control when he accepted the job. It'll take more than one summer to get the Pistons back to relevancy.
Best move: Drafting Jabari Parker.
Worst move: Trading for Jason Kidd.
Analysis: Free agency is never going to be a make-or-break period for a team located in Wisconsin, but the Bucks still managed to have a transformative offseason this summer. They landed a potential franchise player in Jabari Parker with the No. 2 overall pick in the NBA draft, and they pulled off a splashy hire by adding head coach Jason Kidd via trade.
After a 15-67 campaign in 2013-14, one made worse by the fact that the Bucks were, you know, actually trying to win, Milwaukee needed to give its fans a reason to come back this year. They did just that by bringing in arguably the best player in the draft and a Hall of Fame point guard coming off a strong coaching debut to lead the team. But sacrificing two second-round picks for Kidd was a slightly steep price considering he had burned bridges in Brooklyn and appeared on his way out anyway. And without adding any other talent outside of Kendall Marshall, the franchise is depending heavily on Larry Sanders and O.J. Mayo -- two players who haven't exactly proven reliable over the years -- to deliver. Give the Bucks credit for generating excitement about their future -- but don't expect a big jump in the win column in 2014-15.