The Central Division hasn’t sent a team to the NBA Finals since Cleveland lost to San Antonio in 2007.
But maybe things are looking up.
Between a couple of all-stars coming back from injuries, free-agent signings and high draft picks, the Central could be more competitive next season. Or at least better than when the Bulls won the division by 25 games in 2010-11.
Here’s a team-by-team look at the changes made and what they could mean:
Additions: PG Derrick Rose (injured), SF Mike Dunleavy Jr., SG Tony Snell, PF Erik Murphy.
Losses: SG Marco Belinelli. SG Richard Hamilton.
Unknown: PG Nate Robinson.
Outlook: With all the player movement this summer, only two teams will add a former MVP to the lineup, the Bulls and Brooklyn. While the Nets picked up Kevin Garnett at age 37 in a trade, Rose turns 25 on Oct. 4.
So barring a setback, no team figures to do better than the Bulls with Rose — who missed all of last season recovering from ACL surgery — as a new addition.
Otherwise, the Bulls’ only real newcomer is Mike Dunleavy, who is expected to bring some accurate 3-point shooting. Rookies Tony Snell and Erik Murphy probably won’t play much.
The other big step for the Bulls depends on whether Jimmy Butler can build on last year’s major improvement. If they’re healthy in the playoffs, with Butler and Luol Deng able to play tag-team defense on LeBron James, plus Kirk Hinrich to throw at Dwyane Wade and Rose at 100 percent — they should have as good a chance as any team to dethrone Miami.
The major loss figures to be frequent late-game hero Robinson. It’s not officially over until it’s over, but the Bulls are planning to move on without Robinson. He did a nice job of recreating some Rose magic last season, but with Rose back, the Bulls decided to focus their financial resources on Dunleavy.
Additions: SF Danny Granger (injury), PG C.J. Watson, SF Chris Copeland, SF Solomon Hill.
Losses: PF Tyler Hansbrough, PG D.J. Augustin, C Jeff Pendergraph.
Outlook: The Pacers took Miami to Game 7 of the Eastern Conference finals and, like the Bulls, will get a former all-star back from injury. In this case, it’s Granger, who played in just five games because of a knee injury.
A few years ago, Granger averaged 25.8 points, so he should add more offensive firepower to the lineup.
Realistically, though, the biggest reason for Indiana’s improvement last season was Paul George and his ascent to stardom. Granger should definitely be prepared to take a back seat, and how that affects his game is anyone’s guess.
Otherwise, things will be mostly the same for the Pacers, with David West and Roy Hibbert giving them a tough interior game. Indiana signed ex-Bull Watson to be the backup point guard and let Hansbrough sign with Toronto.
Additions: SG O.J. Mayo, PG Luke Ridnour, SF Carlos Delfino, C Zaza Pachulia, SF Giannis Antetokounmpo, PG Nate Wolters.
Losses: SG J.J. Redick, SG Monta Ellis, SF Luc Mbah a Moute, SF Mike Dunleavy Jr.
Unknown: Brandon Jennings.
Outlook: The Bucks have pulled off some strange moves in recent years. They traded former No. 1 pick Andrew Bogut to Golden State for Monta Ellis, who left as a free agent this summer. They acquired Redick from Orlando late last season and let him go to the Clippers in a sign-and-trade, getting two second-round draft picks in return.
To get Redick, Milwaukee gave up forward Tobias Harris, who averaged close to 20 points and 10 rebounds over the final 15 games for Orlando.
The Bucks went after Atlanta point guard Jeff Teague, but offered only a tepid four-year, $32 million offer sheet, which Atlanta reportedly matched. That leaves an impasse with restricted free-agent Jennings.
An all-out tank job would make sense, but Milwaukee loaded up on players that might make the team mediocre enough to miss out on a high draft pick.
Additions: SF Josh Smith, PG Chauncey Billups, SG Kentavious Caldwell-Pope.
Losses: PG Jose Calderon.
Outlook: It’s easy to dismiss former Atlanta forward Smith as an underachiever, but he did help lead the Hawks to six straight playoff trips, and 3 first-round wins.
Two years ago, Smith probably had his best season, averaging 18.8 points and 9.6 rebounds. If he would just stop shooting 3-pointers (career 28.3 percent), he might turn out to be a good addition for Detroit.
The Pistons should have a decent front line with Smith, Greg Monroe and Andre Drummond. That tired backcourt of Rodney Stuckey, Brandon Knight and the re-signed is another story.
Additions: C Andrew Bynum, PG Jarrett Jack, PF Earl Clark, SF Andrew Bennett, SF Sergey Karasev.
Losses: SG Wayne Ellington, PF Mareese Speights, PG Shaun Livingston.
Outlook: There have been stories in the Cleveland newspapers about how the Cavaliers have returned to relevance. But hold on there, they had the No. 1 draft pick last month for a reason.
Cleveland definitely qualifies as a promising young team, led by Kyrie Irving. Whether it was smart to pass on a center with the No. 1 pick and take UNLV forward Bennett remains to be seen. The jury is out on some other young players, like Tristan Thompson and Dion Waiters; then who knows if Bynum and his aching knees will ever contribute anything.
Promise is one thing, but the Cavs need a LeBron James return in 2014 to truly become relevant.Copyright © 2014 Paddock Publications, Inc. All rights reserved.