What the heck just happened in the Central Division?

Detroit Bad Boys

The Central Division is home to your Detroit Pistons, and also perhaps the franchise with one of the best NBA title odds (though there is plenty of competition), the hottest young, up and coming team, the franchise pivoting into full rebuild mode and another team that is stuck in neutral and might be doing a hard reset sooner than they’d like. It might not be the division with the most talent in the NBA, but it might have the biggest collection of interesting storylines for franchises on divergent paths. Let’s dig in.


Atlanta Hawks and Milwaukee Bucks - NBA Abu Dhabi Games 2022

Photo by Francois Nel/Getty Images

Offseason in 5 Words or Less

Big 3 not big enough

Big Changes

Giannis Antetokounmpo’s star might shine the brightest in the NBA, but for the cap strapped aging core of the Milwaukee Bucks, it’s hard to look at the roster as a whole and place them firmly ahead of the likes of the Philadelphia 76ers, Boston Celtics, Toronto Raptors, Brooklyn Nets, Miami Heat, or the ascending Cleveland Cavaliers. The Bucks will undoubtedly be in the conversation to finish near the top of the Eastern Conference, but coming off of a championship run just two seasons ago, anything short of a title will feel like a let down, especially when you have arguably the best player in the NBA on the roster.

Better or Worse?

Worse. The Bucks will essentially roll with the same crew from a season ago, and there’s really not a talent on the roster that I expect to make a significant jump in play. Meanwhile, the Cavaliers have added Donovan Mitchell, the Toronto Raptors’ Scottie Barnes will likely take a step forward after an impressive rookie campaign, and the 76ers have added some nice veteran rotation players like P.J. Tucker and Danuel House. Also, it’s hard not to expect the Nets to turn things around after only having Kyrie Irving for 29 games last season.

Playoff Contender?

Lock it in. The Bucks will make the playoffs. The Bucks should be in competition to be one of the best teams in the NBA, but the path to getting there will be as challenging as it’s ever been.

Cleveland Cavaliers

Offseason in 5 Words or Less

How good is Donovan Mitchell?

Big Changes

Expectations are high for the Cavaliers, and rightfully so. Evan Mobley is a budding superstar talent, Jarrett Allen is one of the best interior defenders in the NBA, and Darius Garland should compete for an all-NBA team team this season. Oh, and they also added one of the best scorer’s in the NBA in Donovan Mitchell.

But just how good is Mitchell? Despite ideal length and athleticism, Mitchell has been inconsistent on the defensive end, and he’s not as gifted of a scorer as the upper echelon players in the NBA like Steph Curry, Kevin Durant, Luka Doncic, and Jayson Tatum (just to name a few). As things stand now, Mitchell shapes up to be more of a top-20 player than a top-10. Still, the addition of Mitchell is a boon for this ascending Cavaliers squad, but Mitchell’s ability to recapture his magical run from the bubble two seasons ago may dictate how quickly the Cavaliers can transform into one of the NBA’s best teams.

Better or Worse?

Better. Much Better. It’s fair to say that Garland still has room to grow, and Evan Mobley might have the highest ceiling of any young player in the NBA. The Cavaliers have depth, ascending talent, top-20 level players, and the pieces on the roster complement one another well. The Cavaliers figure to be one of the most interesting teams to watch this season.

Playoff Contender?

Last season the Cavaliers competed for a play-in stop. This season, the team should be a lock for the postseason barring any unforeseen injuries.


2022 NBA Playoffs - Chicago Bulls v Milwaukee Bucks

Offseason in 5 Words or Less

Purgatory

Big Changes

I hate to be so negative, but there’s not a better word to describe how I view the Bulls. Zach LaVine is really good. But he isn’t an elite-level player. Because of his incredible athleticism, efficiency, and at times, unstoppable microwave scoring, he feasibly still has a chance to become an all-NBA player. That’s more than most teams have, but I do not think he ever develops into a top 5-10 type of player, which is all but required to enter the conversation as title contender.

The rest of the Bulls roster is good. Lonzo Ball is good. DeMar DeRozan, also good. Nikola Vucevic? You guessed it, he’s good too.

The Bulls are good. So why is that so bad?

It’s hard to see the Bulls being able to compete with the top teams in the NBA. The Bulls are good, but not that good. It’s also hard seeing the Bulls miss the playoffs and/or competing for a top draft pick, because the Bulls aren’t that bad. With a lack of cap space and a lack of top-tier NBA players, the Bulls would have to have one of it’s younger players take a massive step forward to reach an outcome at the end of the season that is anything other than just “good”. There’s only one player on the roster that fits that description and that’s Patrick Williams. For the Bulls sake, I hope Williams takes that leap forward.

Better or Worse?

Worse. The Bulls finished as a 6 seed last season and that’s right around where I expect them to finish. However, part of the recipe for the Bulls a season ago was DeMar DeRozan producing arguably his best season in his career, scoring 27.9 points per game on .50/.35/.87 shooting splits. Going into his age 33 season, I’m not sure that this can be reproduced.

Playoff Contender?

Yes. The Bulls will contend for the playoffs. I do not think the Bulls are a lock to make the playoffs, but it would be shocking to see Chicago miss the playoffs.


2022-23 Indiana Pacers Media Day

Photo by Ron Hoskins/NBAE via Getty Images

Offseason in 5 Words or Less

We’re open for business

Big Changes

Gone is Domantas Sabonis, and Myles Turner might not be far behind. The Pacers have entered a full-on rebuild and this season will be all about acquiring picks, taking on bad contracts, and developing young players with the end goal as clear as day—Position for a top pick in the 2023 NBA draft.

Yes the Pacers are one of the handful of teams that have its eyes set on Victor Wembanyama, one of the best prospects in the last 10 years. Not a bad time to #tank.

While I see the Pacers making Ben Mathurin and Tyrese Haliburton’s development a priority this season, it wouldn’t shock me to see Haliburton moved if the price is right.

At the end of the day, wins and losses will be immaterial for the Pacers. Developing young talent and hoping the ping-pong balls bounce the right way will be the focus of the Pacers season.

Better or Worse?

It’s hard to look at a 25-win team and expect it to get worse, especially after adding a promising young player in Mathurin in the draft, but that’s where this team is at. I’d be shocked if Myles Turner isn’t traded by the deadline, and outside of Haliburton, there’s not a ton of consistent producers on the roster.

Playoff Contender?

LOL. No way.


Oklahoma City Thunder v Detroit Pistons

Photo by Brian Sevald/NBAE via Getty Images

Offseason in 5 Words or Less

Just take a step forward

Big Changes

This header sounds a little ambiguous so let me explain. The Pistons have done a good job assembling young and interesting talent. The Pistons are also very inexperienced and its young core will take time to gel. While there’s some hope around the fan base that the Pistons compete for a play-in spot, that seems like more of a stretch goal. Instead, the focus for the Pistons should be on it’s young players showing some form of growth.

It would be nice to see Cade Cunningham lower his turnovers, and get to the foul lane more frequently. It would be nice to see Isaiah Stewart and Jaden Ivey’s 3-point shot from Summer League transition to the regular season. I’d also like to see Saddiq Bey find the right balance and efficiency between his first and second season. Adding Jalen Duren and Isaiah Livers to the list, there’s a lot of things that I would like to see from the Pistons young core this season and the mix of how much or little we see from these players in these areas will likely determine how far down in the standings we see the Pistons.

Better or Worse?

Similar to the Pacers, the Pistons are coming off of a 23-win season and achieving 23-wins or less seems like a real possibility. Unlike the Pacers, the Pistons have a decent chance to exceed the win total from a season ago thanks in large part to the talent of its young players.

Playoff Contender?

I don’t think so. The Pistons could be in the hunt for a play-in spot, but that’s likely the team’s ceiling. It’s more likely that the Pistons are one of the 5-10 worst teams in the NBA, which wouldn’t be the worst outcome so long as the right players take steps forward this season, especially with the projected talent at the top of the 2023 NBA draft.

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