The Central Division in the Eastern Conference has been dominated by the Cavs for years now, with no team really coming close to challenging. Despite losing Kyrie Irving, I don’t expect this to change. Let’s take a close look:
The loss of Kyrie Irving may hurt the Cavs technically, but the relief of toxicity from the atmosphere in Ohio will comfort many who were fearing an unhappy point guard. In return, of course, as well as Brooklyn’s 2018 pick, they received Jae Crowder and Isaiah Thomas. The latter may be out for the start of the season, but after his return to action, Isaiah is sure to continue the great form he had for the Celtics last season. The former, of course, adds much needed wing depth when Lebron needs a rest. The arrivals of Derrick Rose and Jose Calderon will do the same at the point guard position – and most importantly, will place the Cavaliers in a better position against the Warriors bench, when it comes down to it. With this season likely being Lebron’s last in Cleveland, the Cavs are going for broke.
Having taken a strong Raptors side to six games in the first round of the playoffs last season, it seems that the Bucks are turning their young side into a robust one. This, of course, is built around the “Greek Freak”, who will only get better, having averaged 23/8.8/5.4 last season. But there’s so much potential in Milwaukee – in the form of Malcolm Brogdon and Thon Maker, players who have the potential to impress this season. With experience in Tony Snell, Khris Middleton and Matthew Delladova, there’s also plenty of experience off the bench. The problem I’d worry about? Depth.
A truly forgettable 2016-17, the Pistons have been making some moves over off-season to rebuild. Acquiring Avery Bradley will help Reggie Jackson hold down a strong back court – though the loss of KCP removes some much-needed depth. As expected, Andre Drummond – if he can sort out his often-carefree attitude – is a fantastic centre, and Tobias Harris can do a job at the three. Like the Bucks, the issue here is depth – as well as the lack of a proficient power forward after the departure of Marcus Morris. However, it will be intriguing to see highly rated Luke Kennard coming off the bench – the 12th pick in this year’s draft will deputise for Avery Bradley.
The main story here is the loss of Paul George – and the subsequent lack of an all-star in Indiana. It’s a rebuilding job for the Pacers – with a lineup of Cory Joseph, Victor Oladipo, Bojan Bogdanvoic, Thaddeus Young and Myles Turner, we have a reasonable team on paper – in a couple of seasons. Don’t expect much from Indiana this season, having lost CJ Miles and Jeff Teague in addition to PG13 in the off-season. However, we could see a lot more from Oladipo, who now has the breathing room to shine (previously occupied by Russell Westbrook), as well as the continuing development of Myles Turner. A couple of bright spots in what should be a solemn season.
The loss of an all star is all too familiar in the Central Division. A team that has just lost two NBA greats in Jimmy Butler and Dwyane Wade – the Bulls’ front room appears to be pursuing a strategy of experience and youth, without too much talent in between. Still, when Zach Lavine returns from long-term injury in the new year, it’s not a terrible lineup. Lavine and Wade make up a backcourt supplying Nikola Mirotic, a good shooter on his day, Lauri Makkanen – 7th pick in this year’s draft – and Robin Lopez, an adept number five. If Markkanen can develop as hoped, if Wade shows glimpses of his former self, if Lavine can play like he did pre-injury; we could see a surprise. But that’s also a lot of if’s.