This week, IUSportCom’s Max Gabovitch finishes looking at the Eastern Conference, with a preview of the Central Division.
2011-2012 Regular Season: 50-16
Playoffs: No. 1 seed in Eastern Conference, lost first round (Philadelphia 2-4)
Key Additions: Marquis Teague (Draft), Marco Belinelli (FA), Kirk Hinrich (FA), Nate Robinson (FA), Nazr Mohammed (FA), Vladimir Radmanovic (FA), Kyrylo Fesenko (FA)
Key Subtractions: Omer Asik (FA), Ronnie Brewer (FA), John Lucas III (FA), C.J. Watson (FA), Kyle Korver (Trade)
2012-2013 Outlook: Derrick Rose, the 2010-2011 NBA MVP, missed 27 of the 66 regular season games with various injuries, putting the Bulls in a tough situation. However, the team responded positively to the challenge they faced, going 18-9 in the games Rose missed. After earning the top seed in the Eastern Conference, and with the reigning MVP rested up and healthy for the playoffs, the Bulls were looking to make a run at the NBA Championship. Unfortunately, with just over one minute left in game one of their first round series against the Sixers, Rose tore his ACL. Now, it is unclear when he will return, but it is looking like the best-case scenario has him returning in February. While the Bulls did well without him last year, I think they took a step back with the rest of their team this offseason. Omer Asik and Ronnie Brewer were both terrific defenders and are gone, and both of the point guards who filled in for Rose last year, C.J. Watson and John Lucas III, are no longer in Chicago. However, the biggest loss this offseason may have been three-point specialist Kyle Korver, who really helped space the floor on offense by being reliable from behind the arc. Marquis Teague was a nice late first-round pick. Kirk Hinrich’s return to Chi-town helps with Rose out, and the other free agent acquisitions will each contribute something, but overall the Bulls are worse off than last year. I don’t expect the team to be nearly as good without Rose, and without knowing when he’ll be back, I see a fall to somewhere between the fifth and eighth seed in the East.
2011-2012 Regular Season: 42-24
Playoffs: No. 3 seed in Eastern Conference, lost second round (Orlando 4-1, Miami 2-4)
Key Additions: Miles Plumlee (Draft), Orlando Johnson (Draft), Gerald Green (FA), D.J. Augustin (FA), Sam Young (FA), Sundiata Gaines (FA), Blake Ahearn (FA), Ian Mahinmi (Trade)
Key Subtractions: Lou Amundson (FA), Kyrylo Fesenko (FA), A.J. Price (FA), Darren Collison (Trade), Dahntay Jones (Trade)
2012-2013 Outlook: Last year, the Pacers were one of the biggest surprises in the league, going 42-24 and earning the third seed in the Eastern Conference. They won a playoff series for the first time since 2005, and put up a fight in the second round against the eventual NBA champions, Miami Heat, going up 2-1 in the series before dropping three straight. In the draft, the Pacers took Miles Plumlee with the 26th pick and traded cash for second-round pick, Orlando Johnson. While I would have liked to seen the team take a little more risk with a late first round pick, and guys like Perry Jones III and Draymond Green still on the board, Plumlee fits a specific role as the rebounding/energy guy that every team needs. Johnson has potential as a nice back-up point guard, was low cost, and is a low risk. The biggest moves in free agency were resigning Roy Hibbert and George Hill, and while it wasn’t cheap, it keeps the entire starting five intact from a team that was successful last season and is young and still developing. The Pacers dumped some salary by trading Darren Collison and Dahntay Jones to Dallas for Ian Mahinmi, but replaced Collison by signing D.J. Augustin and Gerald Green was signed to replace Jones. The question for Indiana is weather they can take the next step towards being a championship contender without a superstar, in a superstar-dominated league. I think Roy Hibbert’s ability to continue to build on his first all-star appearance last season will be the biggest key to doing that. The future for the Pacers looks bright after last year’s emergence from the dark period that followed the “Malice at the Palace,” and they should be a top three seed again this season.
2011-2012 Regular Season: 31-35
Playoffs: Missed playoffs (9th in Eastern Conference)
Key Additions: John Henson (Draft), Doron Lamb (Draft), Marquis Daniels (FA), Joel Przybilla (FA), Samuel Dalembert (Trade)
Key Subtractions: Kwame Brown (FA), Jon Brockman (Trade), Carlos Delfino (Trade), Jon Leuer (Trade), Shaun Livingston (Trade)
2012-2013 Outlook: The Bucks have been in the worst possible situation for an NBA team for the past six seasons – bad enough to miss the playoffs, but good enough to not have a top-five draft pick. During that period, the Bucks have made the playoffs once, losing in the first round. Their highest draft position was sixth, and they took Yi Jianlian, who lasted just one season in Milwaukee before being traded. Last season they finished just one spot outside of the playoffs and ended up with the 14th pick. However, I like what they did with their draft picks, taking John Henson with that first round pick, and Doron Lamb in the second round with the 42nd pick. Henson is a terrific shot blocker and adds a defensive presence to a team that was 22nd in points allowed by opponents last season, while Lamb is a lights-out shooter from behind the arc and a true steal in the middle of the second round. The addition of Samuel Dalembert gives them a legitimate starting center following the trade of Andrew Bogut during last season, and a full season of a Monta Ellis/Brandon Jennings backcourt will be interesting to watch. While I still think that the Bucks will be in the same position of fighting for one of the final playoff spots this year, things are finally looking up in Milwaukee.
2011-2012 Regular Season: 25-41
Playoffs: Missed playoffs (10th in Eastern Conference)
Key Additions: Andre Drummond (Draft), Kim English (Draft), Khris Middleton (Draft), Kyle Singler (2011 Draft), Vyacheslav Kravtsov (FA), Jonny Flynn (FA), Terrance Williams (FA), Corey Maggette (Trade)
Key Subtractions: Ben Gordon (Trade)
2012-2013 Outlook: The Pistons have struggled and missed the playoffs over the past three seasons, following eight straight years of postseason visits including two NBA Finals appearances and one championship. However, give general manager Joe Dumars credit for drafting well and setting up Detroit for a comeback. Greg Monroe, the seventh pick in the 2010 draft, has grown and matured over his first two seasons and looks like a future all-star while the 2011 draft’s eighth pick, Brandon Knight, had a solid rookie campaign and hopefully will continue to improve. This year, the Pistons used the ninth pick in the draft on Connecticut big man Andre Drummond. This was a risky pick as he has pretty raw talent, but I think he’s worth the gamble with the ninth pick based on the freakish athleticism and potential that he’s shown. The team also got two nice players in the second round in Khris Middleton and Kim English, who both should be able to make a contribution immediately off of the bench this season. While it may take some time to get all of these young guys to play well together, I wouldn’t be surprised to see the Pistons sneak into the postseason.
2011-2012 Regular Season: 21-45
Playoffs: Missed playoffs (13th in Eastern Conference)
Key Additions: Dion Waiters (Draft), Tyler Zeller (Draft), Jon Leuer (FA), C.J. Miles (FA), Kelenna Azubuike (Trade), Jeremy Pargo (Trade)
Key Subtractions: Antawn Jamison (FA), Semih Erden (FA), D.J. Kennedy (Trade), Manny Harris (Waived), Anthony Parker (Retired)
2012-2013 Outlook: The Cavaliers are led by last year’s rookie of the year, Kyrie Irving, who ran away with the award despite missing 15 games with injury. If he can continue to build on what he did last season, he is a legitimate franchise player. Dion Waiters was drafted fourth overall by the Cavs in June, and it’ll be interesting to see how he adapts to the NBA. While he played well at Syracuse and showed he can score, he also was a sixth man and never started a game for the Orange. This may help him, as he will be coming off the bench to start his career, or it could make it harder for him to adjust to the higher talent level. Cleveland also traded the 24th, 33rd, and 34th picks in June’s draft to the Mavericks for their 17th overall pick, Tyler Zeller. I think the Cavs know what they are getting with Zeller – a guy who will give them his full effort and solid production, but has basically hit his ceiling and will never be an all-star caliber player. The Cavaliers still have a lot of work to do to get back to the playoffs and won’t be much better than last season, but they are doing a nice job of rebuilding through the draft and laying the foundation for the future.