Remember when the Central Division was good? I do. It was three years ago.
Back in the 2005-06 season, the Central was the NBA's most competitive, with each of its five teams possessing 40 wins or more. At that time, the Pistons (64) were the standard-bearer while the Bucks (40) gamely brought up the rear.
Somewhere along the way, however, the Central stumbled. Fast-forward three years and the Bulls have regressed. Indiana's
Can the Central regain its swagger? That will depend on the effectiveness of some new coaches. The Pistons jettisoned
Three new coaches, three tough and very different tasks ahead of them. Let's see how it shapes up.
How many of you thought
Dumars still might make some moves, but as it stands, the Pistons of 2008-09 look a lot like the ones that closed out 2007-08. And that's not a bad thing. Detroit is still one of the most talented and deepest teams in the league, and with free agency looming for Wallace at the end of '09, this group still has one more run left in it.
Yes, you read that right. Look, Brown will never live up to the expectations that come with being the top overall pick in the draft. At 26, that much is clear. But when healthy, he can be a strong backup at the center and power forward positions, and he will face zero pressure in Detroit as the second big man off the bench. Despite his history, Brown is still a career 7.5 points/5.7 rebounds player, and those aren't bad numbers for a guy who is expected to play 13-15 minutes per night. And under the tutelage of Wallace and
I like Curry. Liked him as a player, liked him as a league executive, and liked him as an assistant coach. I even like him as a head coach...in a few years. But on a team with a window that is rapidly closing, hiring an inexperienced hand like Curry has to be questioned. The former president of the NBA Players Association certainly has the respect of his players, but this is a team that treats the regular season like an elongated exhibition schedule. Curry has one or maybe two seasons to win a championship before this roster is either blown up or ages too much. That's a lot of pressure to put on a rookie coach.
Now hold on, I'm not contradicting my earlier statement. The Pistons not panicking was a good thing. There was no reason to trade Wallace just to trade him. But NBA general managers love players with these two
The Pistons are what they are: a deep, talented, veteran team that has lost just enough to not be considered serious contenders anymore. Curry will face enormous pressure to succeed in his first season and he might have to work in a new face at midseason when Dumars will undoubtedly pull the trigger if his team is not living up to expectations. Maxiell, Stuckey,
Give Cleveland credit. It isn't afraid to take on salary. Williams will collect $43 million from the Cavaliers over the next five years, but he finally gives them a dynamic scorer to pair next to
It's unfortunate for Ilgauskas that he didn't compete for Lithuania in Beijing. But don't think the Cavs are losing any sleep over it. While Ilgauskas hasn't shown any lingering effects from the foot problems that plagued him early in his career (he's played in at least 73 games during each of the last six seasons), the Cavs didn't want to risk losing their 33-year-old center to injury or see the wear and tear from the Olympic schedule catch up to him late next season. The Cavs' ability to play inside-out is predicated almost entirely on Big Z and they need his 14.1 points per game to make a run in the conference.
OK, so Cleveland got one Buck. They should have negotiated for two. The Cavs (and to a certain degree, Redd) have been lamenting not having the sharpshooting two-guard in their lineup since he spurned their max offer in 2005 for a more lucrative one from Milwaukee. Redd is
The Cavs' coaching staff is very high on Hickson, but should
Cleveland was a
Once a franchise player and dominating big man, O'Neal's injuries and unhappiness during the last two seasons made him a distraction on a team that was desperately trying to rebuild. On paper, acquiring
It sounds strange to compliment a team on sticking with a coach for more than one season, but these days patience is not a virtue shared by many front offices. Indiana was an atrocious defensive team last season, giving up 105.4 points per game. But O'Brien has always been a defensive coach, and once he a) gets better players and b) convinces the remaining players to play defense, Indiana, which averaged 104.0 points per game, could get better in a hurry.
And Indy has lots of them. Starting with
Indiana isn't expecting to contend this season, so just getting out from under O'Neal's onerous contract (two-years, $44 million) is a plus. But the team dropped the ball with Bayless and will need to completely rebuild the front line over the next two seasons. This grade will improve if the Pacers can work out a trade for one of their bloated contracts in training camp.
And they so desperately needed one. An argument could be made that with
After unsuccessfully courting the seasoned hand of
The Bulls are extremely good on the wings: Deng, Gordon (assuming he re-signs), Hinrich, Rose and
Rose fell into their laps like manna from heaven and Deng should be a much better player with his contract settled. But the Bulls' front line doesn't match up with Boston's, Detroit's, Cleveland's or Orlando's, and unless they shoot the lights out every night (if last season is any indication, that's a big question mark) they will struggle. A playoff spot is not out of the question, but Chicago is not the team that appeared to be on the rise three years ago.
That's really all you have to say. All Hammond has done since taking over the Bucks' front office in April is hire a proven coach (Skiles) offload two bad contracts (
Here's the worst-kept secret in the league: Jefferson has no desire to play in Milwaukee. After spending his entire career in New Jersey (really New York, as RJ lived in the Tribeca section of Manhattan), he wanted no part of life in Milwaukee. But the Bucks were patient and it appears that Jefferson will be in training camp and focused on being a productive member of the organization. That's good because outside of Redd the Bucks don't have much veteran leadership, certainly not someone like Jefferson, who has been to two NBA Finals.
I know big men are at a premium, but $72.5 million for a center who has yet to make an All-Star team? Certainly, locking down Bogut solidified the pivot for the next few years, and if the Olympics are an indicator, there is still a lot of talent that Bogut has yet to mine. But that's a lot of money to commit to an unproven player.
Not much to criticize here. The Bucks were in shambles when Hammond took control and in a few short months they look to be headed in the right direction. Milwaukee will need Bogut and