|The Central is kind of wide open. (Getty Images)|
M-W-F for the next two weeks we'll be previewing the 2012-2013 season division by division. Today it's the Central Division. Enjoy.
Cream of the Crop: Indiana. And before you yell, let me explain. Why not the Bulls? It's simple: They're worse than last season, especially in the sense that Derrick Rose is out for the first month or two (or three) of the season. Their bench is weaker and they're missing their star.
All while the Pacers, improved. Don't forget: Indiana blew a 2-1 series lead against the Heat last season. They return that same core and with the additions of D.J. Augustin, Gerald Green, Ian Mahinmi and rookie Miles Plumlee, they're deeper. Paul George could be an emerging star, Roy Hibbert is one of the most dominant bigs in the East and David West is a year healthier.
The Pacers finished third in the East standings last season and while it appears that might be the same position they're headed for this year, they're better. The Bulls have had a strangehold on the Central the past few seasons, but the door is wide open for the Pacers to take the reins, for now. At least until D-Rose returns at full strength.
Sitting Pretty: Regardless of the issues the Bulls have heading into the season, they're still very well positioned. With Rose missing a lot of time last season they still managed the best record in the East. So it's not like these guys are going to slip severely.
No, their offseason wasn't impressive. Subtracting Omer Asik and Kyle Korver and replacing them with Nazr Mohammed and Marco Belinelli isn't anything but a downgrade. But Tom Thibodeau's system is in place and that alone is worth a pile of wins.
There's still Luol Deng, still Joakim Noah, still Carlos Boozer, still Taj Gibson and still Richard Hamilton. And it's not like Rose died. He will return, at some point. The Bulls are absolutely positioned well and while they might cede the Central to the Pacers this season, a top-four Eastern Conference finish is still likely.
On The Cliff: What do you make of the Milwaukee Bucks? They've changed who they are with the Andrew Bogut trade that brought in Ekpe Udoh and Monta Ellis. They've stockpiled a closet full of long, lanky forwards. They've got some scorers, some good defenders and some potential breakout players.
But are they any good?
You can pencil the Bucks in for at least 30 wins for sure. That's a guarantee (good health assumed). Are they a playoff team though? Can they make a surprise push and reinstate Fearing the Deer? Can Brandon Jennings break through? Can Ersan Ilyasova be a star? What does a full season of Ellis and Jennings look like? Are John Henson, Udoh and Larry Sanders the same person?
There's a whole lot to like about this Bucks team, and a whole lot to dislike. They're close to being something it seems, but it's hard to know what.
Waiting in the Tall Grass: It comes down to one thing for the Cleveland Cavaliers: How good is Kyrie Irving going to be and how quickly can he get to that level?
While the team mostly stunk, Irving had a high quality rookie campaign, establishing himself as a star-in-waiting. And while the 2011-12 campaign was terrible, remember, Anderson Varejao missed most of the season.
Add another year of seasoning for Irving and Tristan Thompson, add quality off-guard C.J. Miles, add a lottery pick in Dion Waiters, bring back Varejao and then cross your fingers and pray that they all play well.
Is it so far-fetched to see a run at the eight-seed for the Cavs? Again, not if Irving fails to realize some of that talent.
Dead Meat: It's probably not entirely fair to call the Pistons dead meat, because I think they're better than last season's team that went 25-41.
They still just aren't very good though.
Greg Monroe is a stud. Brandon Knight has shown some flashes. Andre Drummond, who the hell knows. They could win 30 games. I can see that. But unless they find themselves a candidate for Most Improved (Austin Daye, Jonas Jerebko?), they aren't going anywhere but back to the lottery.
Division MVP: With Rose likely to miss a big chunk of the season, the throne is wide open. How about one of Indiana's studs: Danny Granger, Hibbert or George? Or maybe it's volume scorer Ellis? Or with Rose out, could Deng establish himself as Chicago's most important player?
"MVP" often comes with wins and while the Cavs might not win 50 this season, there's no question with Rose out that Irving is the division's best player.
Division ROY: Nobody in the division had a particularly slam-dunk pick. The Cavs took Waiters fourth, and he is surrounded by question marks. The Pacers reached for Plumlee. The Bucks added a 40th forward to their roster in Henson. The Bulls took a backup point guard.
It's really just a matter of which question-mark pick is going to prove doubters wrong the most. And I think that'll be Drummond.
I know, I already hate that pick too. I'm going down to the comments to call myself an idiot and wonder why I have a job. But who else do you go with here? Drummond has looked impressive in preseason (I know, I know), but the book on him heading into the draft was if he wanted it enough to work. The talent is there, the raw physical attributes are there. It's about putting it together and if so, he could be the division's best rookie.
1. Indiana Pacers-- 54-28
2. Chicago Bulls -- 52-30
3. Milwaukee Bucks -- 40-42
4. Cleveland Cavaliers -- 35-47
5. Detroit Pistons -- 30-52