Tag Archives: Kevin Love

2017-2018 Central Division Projections

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X-Cleveland Cavaliers 55-27 (1)

The last three NBA seasons have seen the Cleveland Cavaliers re-emerge as one of the better teams in the NBA. The Cavaliers have made three consecutive trips to the NBA Finals, but they have only been able to claim one championship. The Cavs have met the Golden State Warriors in three consecutive NBA Finals series with the Warriors getting the best of them twice. And as the Cavaliers are looking to get back to the NBA Championship after the Warriors got the best of them in five games this past June, will they be able to win it all in what is more than likely a make or break season?

The off-season got off on the wrong foot for the Cavaliers when general manager David Griffin was let go by the organization. Griffin was tasked with making the necessary moves to make the Cavs a title contender. But when it came time for Griffin to receive a contract extension and be paid like the other top general managers in the NBA, Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert opted not to pay him. Griffin’s departure has paved the way for Koby Altman to be promoted to post of general manager for the Cavs as he will now be tasked with keeping the machine going.

LeBron James

Small forward LeBron James is still the epicenter of what the Cavaliers are doing, but the team around him will look different heading into the new NBA season. On the surface it appears that things were fine between James and point guard Kyrie Irving. When James returned to Cleveland in 2014, Irving was able to elevate his game and become key to the success of the Cavs. However with growing tension between James and Irving behind the scenes, Irving requested a trade over the summer. The Cavaliers obliged Irving’s request and sent him to the Boston Celtics in exchange for point guard Isaiah Thomas, small forward Jae Crowder, center Ante Zizic, and a pair of draft picks. The move shocked the basketball world as most people expected cooler heads to prevail at some point. However Irving was an unhappy camper and it was a smart move by the Cavs not to disrupt their team chemistry.

Kevin Love

Even without Irving, the Cavaliers are still a loaded team around James. Since power forward Kevin Love joined the Cavs in 2014, he has been a forgotten man. Love has still been one of the top rebounders in the NBA, while his scoring numbers have dipped playing alongside James and Irving. But with Irving now with the Celtics, Love should see his offensive touches increase in order to shoulder more of the scoring load with James.

After agreeing to a buyout with the Chicago Bulls, shooting guard Dwyane Wade has joined the Cavs. The friendship that James has with Wade goes back to 2003 when they came into the NBA together. This friendship would see James and Wade team up together as members of the Miami Heat which led to a pair of NBA Championships. At the age of 35, Wade is not the all-around player that he was six or seven years ago, but he is still a quality scorer.

The Cavs will have depth behind James at the small forward position with Jeff Green and Jae Crowder. Green has been an underrated small forward throughout his NBA career, while Cleveland is receiving an angry Crowder. Crowder spent the last three NBA seasons with the Celtics where he was a key contributor for their turnaround. However Crowder spent last season listening to rumors about the Celtics potentially pursuing small forward Gordon Hayward in free agency. Those rumors would become a reality as the Celtics did go after Hayward and ultimately sign him which made Crowder expendable.

Crowder has always played with a chip on his shoulder, and I expect him to be a solid bench players for the Cavaliers due to his ability to do all of the dirty work.

Isaiah Thomas

Along with Crowder, the Cavs also received Thomas from the Celtics. In three seasons with the Celtics, Thomas became a star. Last season Thomas was able to average 28.9 points per contest which included him becoming one of the better players in the fourth quarter. However when the Cavs put Irving on the trade market, this made Thomas expendable which left a sour taste in his mouth. Thomas was becoming the face of the franchise for the Celtics until he was traded. And after working to become a star, Thomas will have to start over once again. Thomas was the last pick of the 2011 NBA Draft by the Sacramento Kings. And typically when you’re the last player selected in the draft, a team does not put that much stock in you. Thomas has worked extremely hard to get to where he is at, and now he’ll have another hill to climb as he looks to prove the Celtics wrong.

However Thomas’ debut with Cleveland will be put on hold as the result of a hip injury which could potentially keep him out of action until the All-Star Game. But if Thomas is healthy, he gives the Cavs another scorer, and more importantly a finisher.

Other key players around James will include shooting guards J.R. Smith and Iman Shumpert as well as center Tristan Thompson. There is good J.R. Smith and then there is the bad version of him and the latter could be on display for the Cavaliers this season. Smith is already upset that he had to initially concede his position to Wade in the starting lineup. Ultimately Wade decided that he would be better served coming off of the bench, but dealing with Smith is the equivalent to having a human powder keg around.

Shumpert is one of the better perimeter defenders in the Eastern Conference which is a trend that should continue this season. Thompson’s main contributions to Cleveland come on the boards as he has averaged 8.6 rebounds for his six-year career. Like Smith, Thompson has been known to lose focus throughout his NBA career, and you have to wonder what version of him the Cavaliers will be getting this season.

And then there is the case of James who is the glue for this team. Hands down James is the best player in the NBA as there isn’t anything on the basketball court that he cannot do. James will be 33-years of age in December and although that he has the potential to average at least 28 points per game this season, it is all about preservation for him. James led the NBA in minutes last season in spite of the fact that Cavaliers head coach Tyronn Lue wanted put a cap on his time on the floor. James has also appeared in seven straight NBA Finals and at some point that wear and tear has to catch up to him.

However with James set to become a free agent next summer and with this more than likely being his swan song in Cleveland, you can expect him to have another splendid season. At 6’9″, 250 lbs., James is a freak of nature due to his speed, size, and agility. James still possesses one of the most explosive first steps in the NBA in order to get to the basket, and when he gets going there is absolutely nobody who can stop him. After James struggled at perimeter scoring in the early stages of his NBA career, he has improved. And although that James can hurt opponents from the outside, you can still expect him to specialize in using brute force in order to get to the basket.

Even without Irving, the Cavaliers are still the best team in the Eastern Conference. Cleveland once again has the ability to reach the NBA Finals, but they will be judged by what they can do in June versus the Warriors should they meet each other for a fourth consecutive year.

Y-Detroit Pistons 44-38 (5)

Stan Van Gundy

When Stan Van Gundy became the head coach and president of basketball operations for the Detroit Pistons in 2014, he was seeking to change the culture of the franchise. Prior to Van Gundy’s arrival, the Pistons had not qualified for the NBA Playoffs since 2009, while they hadn’t finished with a winning record since 2008. By Van Gundy’s second season in Detroit, the Pistons were back in the postseason while displaying potential in regards to becoming a force in the Eastern Conference. However after the Pistons were able to make the playoffs in 2016, they missed out on getting back to the postseason after they finished with a record of 37-45. This definitely didn’t sit well with Van Gundy as this mark just the second time during his head coach tenure in the NBA that he failed to get to the postseason which makes you wonder what he will have up his sleeve in order to get this back to the playoffs for the upcoming campaign.

For starters the Pistons will be operating in a new venue this season. After spending the last 30 years playing in Auburn Hills, the Pistons are moving back to Detroit. This marks the first time since 1978 that the Pistons will play their home games within the city limits of Detroit as they played at the Pontiac Silverdome from 1978-1988. But now it is all about the Pistons calling the Little Caesars Arena home which they will share with the Detroit Red Wings of the National Hockey League.

One look at the Pistons roster and you can see that the majority of the team fits the mold of what Van Gundy is looking for in his squad which includes being solid on defense and the boards. But there was one category that the Pistons struggled in mightily last season which was their inability to distribute the basketball.

Last season the Pistons were tied for 23rd in the NBA in assists with just 21.1 per contest. Reggie Jackson is the Pistons starting point guard and he is coming off of a season in which he missed 30 games due to injury. And since Jackson joined the Pistons in 2015, his production has decreased; especially in distributing the basketball as he averaged just 5.2 assists last season. At times Jackson can focus too much on getting his own shot which is not what the Pistons need. Detroit has too much talent on this team, and the last thing that they can afford to have is a point guard who is not making the players around better. And if Jackson cannot be the floor general that Van Gundy needs him to be, don’t be surprised to see him traded this season.

Tobias Harris

The Pistons need a point guard who can consistently get the basketball to center Andre Drummond and small forward Tobias Harris. Both Harris and Drummond saw a slight dip in their production last season which coincides with the Pistons struggles at the point guard position being the catalyst for that. Since coming into the NBA in 2012, Drummond has been on the league’s top rebounders. Drummond is not a polished scorer, but he can clean up on put backs as well as shots close to the basket. And if Jackson can find a way to feed Drummond on easy shots in the paint, the big fella will see his offensive productivity increase.

Harris has been the Pistons best perimeter threat, while he also knows how to get to the basket. Harris can consistently knock down the mid-range jump shot, and like Drummond, he will need Jackson to be on top of his game as a point guard.

In acquiring guard Avery Bradley from the Boston Celtics, the Pistons will pick up a versatile guard who is defensive minded which fits into what Van Gundy wants to do. Bradley has built a reputation in regards to his perimeter defense and his toughness will be a welcome addition in Detroit.

The Pistons should be a very interesting team and a fast start to the season could propel Detroit to the playoffs for the second time in the last three years.

Y-Milwaukee Bucks 43-39 (6)

If there was ever a team in the NBA that could be described as an enigma, then it would be the Milwaukee Bucks. The Bucks are loaded with size, depth, and youth as they are truly one of the few teams in the NBA that can defeat any squad in the league. The Bucks have flip-flopped as they have alternated making the playoffs and not making the playoffs in each of the last five years. Jason Kidd has been the Bucks head coach in each of the last three years, but he has never been able to get Milwaukee to that next level bring that they have never won more than 42 games in a season under him. However as the expectations have increased for Milwaukee this season, will Kidd be able to lead them to consecutive playoff appearances for the first time since 2004, while also winning their first postseason series since 2001?

Giannis Antetonkounmpo

The success of the Bucks begins and ends with small forward Giannis Antetonkounmpo. Antetonkounmpo was an afterthought when the Bucks made him the 15th overall pick of the 2013 NBA Draft. And Antetonkounmpo has rapidly become one of the better players in the NBA as there are some people who see him as an MVP candidate. Antetonkounmpo has been labeled as the “Greek Freak” due to his height and athleticism. At 6’11”, Antetonkounmpo possesses the ball handling skills of a point guard, and the speed of a shooting guard. Antentonkounmpo is also no slouch on the boards as he averaged 8.8 rebounds per contest. There aren’t too many flaws in the game of Antetonkounmpo, but will be be able to Milwaukee get to the next level?

Two of the last three seasons have seen forward Jabari Parker succumb to ACL injuries. And surprisingly without Parker, the Bucks were able to make the playoffs. Parker entered the NBA in 2014 amid plenty of hype due to his scoring ability. In parts of three seasons with the Bucks, Parker has averaged 15.8 points per game, but will he ever be able to reach his potential?

Parker is still out for the Bucks and he is not scheduled to return to the court until the All-Star break. But the biggest thing for Parker in rehabbing is once again be able to trust his body after suffering multiple severe knee injuries.

Small forward Khris Middleton is another one of those athletic contributors for the Bucks. And after Middleton missed the majority of the 2016-2017 NBA season with a hamstring injury, he is ready to bounce back. At 6’8″, Middleton is another one of those players with tremendous length for Milwaukee. Middleton possesses the ability to play off of Antetonkounmpo due to his mid-range game as well as his ability to get to the basket which makes him another viable option in the Bucks offense.

The Bucks currently have 14 players under contract who are least 6’5″, but that didn’t help this team on the boards last season as Milwaukee was 29th in rebounding. Center Greg Monroe has the potential to clean up on the boards, but will he have the mentality to be a force on the boards on a nightly basis? Last season saw center Thon Maker get adjusted to life in the NBA as a rookie. Maker checks in a 7’1″, and he still has tremendous potential to be a defensive force which could be recognized some more this season.

With the Chicago Bulls and Indiana Pacers in rebuilding mode, the Bucks could be the team that is most equipped in the Central Division to give the Cleveland Cavaliers a run for the top spot.

Indiana Pacers 34-48

The 2017-2018 NBA season marks the beginning of a new era in regards to basketball for the Indiana Pacers. This past May saw Larry Bird step down as the Pacers team president. Bird would be replaced as the Pacers team president by Kevin Pritchard who along with general manager Chad Buchanan had to deal with a difficult situation right out of the chute.

After small forward Paul George spent the first seven years of his NBA career, which included him being a four-time NBA All-Star, he let the organization know that he did not intend to sign an extension to remain with the team. George was entering the final year of his contract and with the Pacers not wanting him to leave and not get something in return, he was traded during this off-season to the Oklahoma City Thunder. In exchange for George, the Pacers received guard Victor Oladipo and power forward/center Domantas Sabonis as this organization is in all on rebuilding and getting younger. And for Pacers head coach Nate McMillan, it will be all about being a teacher more than ever this season.

With George leading the way, the Pacers will be without three of their top five scorers from last season. But what the Pacers do have is a youngster in center Myles Turner who is rapidly turning into an impact player. Turner was the Pacers first-round pick in 2015 and he led the club in rebounds (7.3), as well as blocks last season with 2.1 per contest. And aside from Turner’s ability on the boards, he gives the club a legitimate presence in the post who can score. Turner made 81 starts last season, and as he should see his shots per game increase this season, he has the potential to average 18 points per game, while also averaging a double-double.

Sabonis was a first-round pick of the Thunder in 2016 and he was beginning to figure it out in the NBA, but now with the Pacers, he will have an opportunity to really develop. Sabonis should be able to penetrate Indiana’s starting lineup. Sabonis is also more polished on the offensive end of the floor than Turner which includes his ability to be a mid-ranger shooter. And as Sabonis and Turner continue to grow, they could have a similar impact for the Pacers as that of the one in which center Marc Gasol and power forward Zach Randolph had for the Memphis Grizzlies during their time together.

Throughout the NBA career of point guard Darren Collison, he has always been a player who appeared to be on the brink of taking the next step in his career, but he has never been able to break through. Collison signed with the Pacers over the summer as this marks his second stint with the team. Collison has always shown the ability to facilitate and penetrate the lane throughout his career. And as the Pacers will be a younger team this season, Collison’s veteran presence will be important at the point guard position.

The Pacers should start out slow due to their youth, but they will gel as the season progresses.

Chicago Bulls 29-53

11 of the last 13 NBA seasons have seen the Chicago Bulls qualify for the playoffs. But in that stretch the Bulls were only able to advance past the first round of the playoffs four times. Last season the Bulls would sneak into the playoffs with the last slot in the Eastern Conference. And after Chicago won the first two games of their series with the Boston Celtics, they would lose the next four. The 2016-2017 NBA season which began with so much promise for Chicago was marred by dysfunction which saw them end on a sour note, and in the process it marked the end of an era.

The Bulls will enter the 2017-2018 NBA season in rebuilding mode. During the 2017 NBA Draft, Chicago decided to trade swingman Jimmy Butler as well as the draft rights to center Justin Patton to the Minnesota Timberwolves in exchange for guards Kris Dunn and Zach LaVine as well as the draft rights to center Lauri Markkanen. What the Bulls are giving up in Butler is a player who has led their team in scoring in each of the last three seasons, while also being one of the better players in the NBA. But the biggest issue was that Butler’s style of play did not fit into the philosophy of Bulls head coach Fred Hoiberg.

Fred Hoiberg

Hoiberg’s offense relies on his team getting up and down the floor in a more uptempo offense, whereas Butler’s style was more a fit for former Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau which led to them being reunited in Minnesota.

Aside from Butler, the Bulls lost five of their top seven scorers from last season’s team which included shooting guard Dwyane Wade who came to an agreement with Chicago on a buyout as he is now a member of the Cleveland Cavaliers.

It is going to be a work in progress this season for the Bulls as they will attempt to now find a go-to-guy. Power forward Nikola Mirotic is the Bulls leading returning scorer after he averaged 10.6 points per game last season. Dunn should be able to become more of a focal point in Chicago after he was in the shadow of center Karl-Anthony Towns and small forward Andrew Wiggins in Minnesota, while shooting guard Denzel Valentine who was a first-round pick by the Bulls in 2016 could be ready to take his game to the next level.

The schedule for the Bulls to begin the season won’t be easy for Chicago as each of their first five opponents made the playoffs last season. The Bulls are beginning this season in search of an identity, and I am not sure if they’ll ever find it over 82 games.

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2015-2016 Central Division Projections

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Y-Cleveland Cavaliers 56-26 (1)

LeBron James

In the blink of an eye the Cleveland Cavaliers once again became contenders in the NBA when small forward LeBron James decided to return to the team in the summer of 2014. And in James’ first season back with the Cavaliers, he was able to get them to the NBA Finals for just the second time in franchise history as they were only two games short of winning it all. As the 2015-2016 NBA season is set to begin, the message is clear for the Cavaliers which is to finish.

Last season started slow for the Cavs and that was too be expected with so many new players along with a new head coach in David Blatt. The Cavaliers began slow with a record of 19-20 before they were able to turn it on as they finished with a record 53-29 which was the second best in the Eastern Conference and they are once again a team that has something to prove.

Make no mistake about it that James is arguably to best NBA player of this era as he is one of the greatest all-around players that the game has ever seen. This will mark James’ 13th season in the NBA and even though he is a freak of nature, you have to wonder when the wear and tear will begin to catch up to him. James has averaged 39.3 minutes per game for his NBA career and once you factor in five consecutive trips to the NBA Finals along with playing in the Summer Olympics three times, the Cavs and Blatt must not attempt to put everything on him this season as he’ll be 30-years of age in December.┬áBut luckily for James, he does appear to have a strong supporting cast around him in Cleveland.

Just like James was a part of a “Big Three” with the Heat which consisted of him, shooting guard Dwyane Wade and power forward Chris Bosh, the Cavs created their version with point guard Kyrie Irving and power forward Kevin Love to team with James. Irving and James were able to develop exceptional chemistry last season, but the same couldn’t be said about James and Love. Love and James were not on the same page last year as Love had his worst year statistically since the 2009-2010 NBA season. Love had the opportunity to opt-out of his contract with the Cavaliers last summer which he did, but in a surprise move he decided to return. As Love and James were never able to develop chemistry together, it was partially due to the fact that Love was never able to alter his game to compliment James. Love is not a consistent post player, but those players that are in the post must adjust their game when they are a teammate of James due to the fact of his attacking style along with his tendency to play in the post as well.

While James and Love weren’t on the same page, the same couldn’t be said about James and Irving as they became Batman and Robin. Irving remains one of the fastest and best scoring point guards in the NBA, it is just a matter of him remaining healthy. In Game 1 of the 2015 NBA Finals, Irving suffered a fractured kneecap that will keep him sidelined as he’ll miss the start of the upcoming season while he is recovering. Irving has always had concerns about his durability, but at this point the Cavaliers need him for the stretch run of the regular season and the playoffs.

As soon as James returned to Cleveland last year, he immediately connected with power forward Tristan Thompson. Thompson was primarily a bench player for the Cavs last season, but once Love was lost in the first round of the NBA Playoffs due to injury, he became extremely valuable as he was able to play off of James.

The Cavaliers also have a solid supporting cast that consists of center Timofey Mozgov, shooting guard Matthew Dellavedova, and guard Mo Williams who is returning for his second stint in the Cleveland. But the wild cards on the season for the Cavaliers could be shooting guard J.R. Smith and swignman Iman Shumpert. The Cavaliers acquired Smith and Shumpert last season from the New York Knicks. At first Smith and Shumpert were on their best behavior as they were playing within the realm of the team, but as the season went along they began to freestyle and resemble the “me” type players that they were in New York. And if Smith and Shumpert continue refusing to be team players, I can see them traded out of Cleveland real soon.

The Cavs will face a tough schedule when the season begins as they’ll meet the Chicago Bulls, Memphis Grizzlies, and Miami Heat. But it will be very interesting to see how this team will be able to mesh as the season goes along.

X-Chicago Bulls 51-31 (2)

The last five NBA seasons have seen the Chicago Bears become one of the top teams in the Eastern Conference, but that wasn’t enough for head coach Tom Thibodeau to remain employed by the team. In every year under Thibodeau, the Bulls made the playoffs including a trip to the Eastern Conference Finals in 2011. But being that Thibodeau wasn’t always on the same page with Bulls general manager Gar Forman, it was time for a change. The Bulls would hire Fred Hoiberg to be their next head coach and he brings a stellar resume with him to the Windy City. Hoiberg played 11 NBA seasons with four of those seasons being spent with the Bulls. Hoiberg spent the last five years as the head basketball coach at Iowa State University where he became the only head coach in school history to reach the NCAA Tournament in four consecutive years.

Fred Hoiberg

And with the Bulls, Hoiberg’s job will be to get the most out of a veteran team that has aspirations of winning an NBA Championship.

Since winning the NBA MVP Award in 2011, Bulls point guard Derrick Rose has struggled to remain healthy. Last season Rose appeared in 51 games which is the most amount of games that he has played in since winning the NBA MVP Award in 2011. However Rose suffered an orbital bone fracture at the start of training camp and in spite of that, the Bulls are hopeful that this is the year that he will finally remain healthy throughout the season.

Jimmy Butler

In Rose’s absence last season, small forward Jimmy Butler has emerged as the Bulls go-to-guy. Butler was the Bulls first-round pick in 2011, and in each year in Chicago, he has improved. Butler is coming off of his best season in the NBA as he averaged 20.0 points per game and in the process he earned his first All-Star Game appearance. And just where Butler left off in Thibodeau’s offense, you can expect more of the same as far as him being the focal point in Chicago under Hoiberg.

For numerous years center Joakim Noah has been the heart and soul of the Bulls as he embodies the toughness that the City of Chicago is known for. Noah was the NBA’s Defensive Player of the Year in 2014, but a foot injury limited his effectiveness last season. And like Rose, the Bulls will need a healthy Noah this season if they are going to contend for an NBA Championship as he is a solid rebounder and defender. If Noah is able to remain healthy this season, he could become the Bulls all-time leader in rebounds. Alongside Noah in the Bulls frontcourt, Chicago has a solid scoring option in power forward Pau Gasol. Gasol was expected to be more of a complimentary player last season, but he ended up being the Bulls second leading scorer at 18.5 points per contest. And as long as Hoiberg is able manage Gasol’s minutes this year, he can still be an effective contributor in Chicago even at the age of 35.

The Bulls also have a solid group of role players that includes veterans in power forward Taj Gibson, point guard Kirk Hinrich, and small forward Mike Dunleavy while youngsters in the form of forwards Doug McDermott, Bobby Portis, and Nikola Mirotic can also have a solid impact.

Aside from opening the season against the Cleveland Cavaliers, the Bulls have an easy schedule to begin the year which could be just what the doctor ordered for Hoiberg and his crew.

X-Milwaukee Bucks 47-35 (6)

Jason Kidd

In their first year under head coach Jason Kidd, the Milwaukee Bucks enjoyed an impressinve turnaround. The Bucks went from going 15-67 in the previous NBA season to being a playoff team last season with a record of 41-41. The Bucks enjoyed this huge turnaround without the services on small forward Jabari Parker. Parker was the second overall pick of the 2014 NBA Draft, but after he suffered a torn ACL, he only appeared in 25 games. For the year Parker averaged 12.3 points per games, and without his services the Bucks were able to make the NBA Playoffs. But now with Parker back healthy and in the saddle, the Bucks are trending upwards as their young talent is making believers out of many people.

Youth is on the side of the Bucks as they have 11 players on their roster that are 25-years of age or younger and they don’t have an idea of how good that they can be.

Michael-Carter Williams

After winning the NBA’s Rookie of the Year in 2014 as a member of the Philadelphia 76ers, point guard Michael Carter-Williams was traded to the Bucks last season and he has a chance to be a solid point guard. At 6’6″, Carter-Williams is a bigger point guard just like his head coach in Kidd who is 6’4″. And like Kidd, Carter-Williams came into the NBA with questions about his perimeter shooting. In just two NBA seasons, Carter-Williams is a career 40 percent shooter from the field while he is shooting just 25 percent from beyond the three-point arc. But whereas Carter-Williams is still attempting to find his touch as a shooter, he is a solid facilitator that has averaged 6.5 assists for his brief NBA career and he has a few triple-doubles under his belt. And as far as the triple-doubles go, Carter-Williams can learn from one of the best in Kidd who had 107 career triple-doubles which is third all-time on the NBA’s list for triple-doubles.

Aside from Parker and Carter-Williams, the Bucks have a ton of young, athletic players that includes forward Giannis Antetokounmpo, center Greg Monroe, and small forward Khris Middleton while they will also have depth coming off of their bench in the form of guards O.J. Mayo, Jerryd Bayless, and Greivis Vasquez, along with forward Carl Landry.

The young Bucks have a ton of size and they will be a very fun and exciting team to watch this season.

Detroit Pistons 36-46

From 2002-2009, each NBA season resulted in the Detroit Pistons making the playoffs which was highlighted by an NBA Championship in 2004. But since then the Pistons have fallen by the wayside as they have produced five seasons in which they’ve lost at least 50 games and in the process they’ve gone through five different head coaches over that span.

Stan Van Gundy

Stan Van Gundy is coming off of his first season as the Pistons head coach and he is in the process of establishing some order in the Motor City. Aside from being the Pistons head coach, Van Gundy is also the team president as he is in the process of shaping this team in his own image with players that fit his system.

Last season center Greg Monroe led the Pistons in scoring at 15.9 points per game, but he was allowed to leave Detroit as a free agent and he would sign with the Milwaukee Bucks. To offset Monroe’s departure, the Pistons and Van Gundy are hopeful that center Andre Drummond is able to continue improving. Last season Drummond emerged as one of the top rebounders in the NBA as he was second in the league in the category as he grabbed 13.5 boards per contest. But aside from cleaing up the glass, Drummond must become more of an offensive threat for them in the post as they’ll need him to average at least 18 points per game this season if they are going to contend for a postseason spot.

Last season the Pistons acquired point guard Reggie Jackson from the Oklahoma City Thunder. And in 27 games last season with the Pistons, Jackson averaged 17.6 points and 9.2 assists per game. Van Gundy saw enough and signed Jackson to a five-year, $90 million deal this summer, but the Pistons also have another point guard in Brandon Jennings. Jackson and Jennings have the same playing style and it will be interesting to see how Van Gundy uses them.

Van Gundy will spend the upcoming NBA season continuing to reshape this Pistons roster that is not quite ready to be a playoff team in the Eastern Conference.

Indiana Pacers 36-46

Paul George

As expected last season was a struggle for the Indiana Pacers. In the summer of 2014, Pacers small forward Paul George suffered a broken leg while participating as a member of the United States Men’s Basketball team. The injury limited George to just six games last season as the Pacers only won 38 games compared to 56 in the previous NBA season which was the best record in the Eastern Conference. And even with a healthy George returning to the Pacers for the 2015-2016 NBA season, Indiana will still be a very different team with a ton of question marks surrounding them.

Pacers general manager Larry Bird and head coach Frank Vogel have decided to have a change of philosophy in team personnel as after watching the Golden State Warriors win the NBA Championship last June, they have decided to go “small ball”. After spending the first seven years of his NBA career with the Pacers, center Roy Hibbert was traded to the Los Angeles Lakers over the summer while power forward David West opted out of his contract to sign with the San Antonio Spurs. And the Pacers are now asking George to play power forward for them. George is 6’9″, but he is only 220 lbs., which will make it very interesting to see how he’ll be able to adjust playing in the post more.

After spending the last two seasons with the Dallas Mavericks, point guard Monta Ellis opted out of his contract as a he signed a four-year, $44 million contract with the Pacers. The Pacers will be Ellis’ fourth NBA team and although he is a point guard by trade, he is more off an “off-guard” being that he is more of a scoring threat than anything as the potential success of this team will come down to him and the health of George.

This will be a year of transition for the Pacers and they will more than likely get lost in the shuffle in the Eastern Conference.

Sources: Sportscity.com, Basketball-reference.com

Y-Division Winner

X-Playoff Berth

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Oil And Water In Cleveland

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After one season as a member of the Cleveland Cavaliers, it wasn’t a total surprise that power forward Kevin Love has decided to opt-out of his deal and become a free agent. This past season Love averaged 16.4 points and 9.7. rebounds per game which were his lowest totals since his second year in the NBA when he was a member of the Minnesota Timberwolves. For his seven-year NBA career, Love has averaged 18.7 points and 11.8 rebounds per game as he is one of the better power forwards in the league. And although Love has said publicly that he would be interested in returning to the Cavaliers, I highly doubt that this will be the case next season.

Last summer when small forward LeBron James decided to leave the Miami Heat and re-join the Cavs, he wanted to form another “Big Three” like he did in South Beach which led to a pair of NBA Championships there. And with point guard Kyrie Irving already on the Cavaliers roster, Cleveland only needed to find a big man to makes James’ wish come true. Love was getting tired of losing with the Timberwolves and he was looking for a change of pace. Love was traded to the Cavaliers last summer in a three-team trade that also involved the Philadelphia 76ers. And in return the Timberwolves received a king’s ransom with Cleveland sending them shooting guard Andrew Wiggins and power forward Anthony Bennett. Bennett was the first overall pick of the 2013 NBA Draft while Wiggins was the first choice in 2014 and they joined a rebuilding Timberwolves team while Love had his sights set on his first trip to the postseason in his NBA career. But from Love’s first day in a Cavaliers uniform, he never fit there.

Love’s game was never able to correspond to that of James who took an immediate liking to Irving and power forward Tristan Thompson. And when Love suffered a torn labrum in the first round of the NBA Playoffs against the Boston Celtics, the Cavaliers actually played better with Thompson now being inserted into the starting lineup as you have to wonder if Cleveland would have able to make the NBA Finals with Love in the same fashion that they did without him?

With the Timberwolves, Love was able to put up 26 points and 13 rebounds routinely because his team was always losing and they were an after thought. And even though the Cavs do not play in a big media market, Love was not able to handle the pressure cooker that he was in on a nightly basis playing alongside James.

So now it is time to play the guessing game as far as where Love will be playing next season. Love is a West Coast guy and after bypassing on center Jahlil Okafor last night during the 2015 NBA Draft, the Los Angeles Lakers have a glaring need in their frontcourt. Love is very familiar with the bright lights of Hollywood as he was born in Santa Monica, California and he played his college ball at UCLA. With power forward LaMarcus Aldridge letting the Portland Trailblazers know that doesn’t intend to return there next season, the Blazers have a need at the power forward position as well. Love grew up in Lake Oswego, Oregon and he already spurned the folks in that state when he decided to attend UCLA as opposed to the University of Oregon. If center Roy Hibbert decides to decline his player option for next season, the Indiana Pacers could be in play for Love’s services, but would playing there with small forward Paul George restrict his game like it did in Cleveland with James? The Boston Celtics are desperately seeking a star player to build their team around, but would Love be up for the pressure that comes when he puts that green uniform on? The Toronto Raptors enter this summer with cap space and their guard oriented team needs a big man to play off of. And once you look at the Big Apple, both the New York Knicks and Brooklyn Nets need to make a splash. The Knicks missed big time with the fourth overall pick last night in the draft by taking power forward Kristaps Porzingis and you have to wonder if Knicks team president Phil Jackson will get desperate and sign Love? But would Love’s game be able to function alongside that of Knicks small forward Carmelo Anthony who commands the basketball on most offensive possessions? The Nets could be up a creek after power forward Thaddeus Young opted out of his deal and center Brook Lopez is expected to follow suit. The Nets also traded center Mason Plumlee to the Trailblazers and if Nets general manager Billy King doesn’t make a big move soon, he could be a man without a country; or in this case a team.

Wherever Love will play basketball next season he will have to shed the reputation of him merely being a stats guy as he has been known to put up gaudy stats as far as points and rebounds, but it doesn’t mean a thing being that the teams that he generally plays for don’t win and they’re typically blown out. Staying in the Eastern Conference for Love would be a reach because he would have to face James and the Cavs four times a season. If Love decides on the Lakers, he would be coming home, but there would be added pressure to put on the purple and gold and more importantly to produce championships there. But wherever Love calls home for next season, he’ll more than likely be overpaid and he’ll be on a team where he can get lost in the shuffle.

Source: Basketball-reference.com

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The Cavs Are Getting Their Sea Legs

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LeBron James

With all of the new talent that the Cleveland Cavaliers have assembled for this season you knew that it would take some time for them to gel. When small forward LeBron James decided to return to the Cavs this season, the expectations for Cleveland went through the roof. But just like Rome wasn’t built in a day, the Cavaliers found out the hard way that there’s no such thing as a quick turnaround in the NBA. In early to mid-January, the Cavs were mired in a six-game losing streak and they had an overall record of 19-20. But since then the Cavaliers are 17-2 including a 12-game winning streak as they now appear to be on the same page heading into the spring.

David Blatt

Aside from James returning to Cleveland, the Cavs began this season with a new head coach in David Blatt. Prior to joining the Cavs, Blatt had never coached in the NBA (even as an assistant) which meant that he had to get accustomed to the nuances of the league. The Cavs lost their regular season opener to the New York Knicks and shockingly Blatt decided to call a team meeting afterwards. Along with Blatt attempting to get on the same page with James and the rest of the players in Cleveland, Cavaliers point guard Kyrie Irving had to figure out how to play with other talented players while the newly acquired power forward Kevin Love needed to figure out his role in Cleveland as well. In the past Irving was accused of playing “buddy ball” with Cavs center Tristan Thompson by former Cavaliers shooting guard Dion Waiters. Irving would also tend to play one-on-five offensively which would alienate his teammates. Prior to joining the Cavs, Love put up big numbers as a member of the Minnesota Timberwolves, but the team there wasn’t close to being a winner.

And in just one stroke of the pen by James last summer, the Cavaliers went from being an underachieving team in the Eastern Conference to a team that is now expected to contend for the NBA Championship. But for guys like Love and Irving who have never been to the NBA Playoffs, they’ve had to learn how to win in the league which also required them to understand the concept of playing team basketball. And that meant that you wouldn’t see as many 35-point, 20-rebound games from Love and not as many 35-point games from Irving either with the new and improved Cavaliers.

Kyrie Irving

But now all of that appears to be behind the Cavaliers as they are rolling. The Cavs currently have the fourth best record in the Eastern Conference and they’re only half a game behind the Chicago Bulls for first place in the Central Division. Irving is only averaging 5.3 assists per game, but his shot attempts are down as he is not coveting the basketball like he did in the past, but he is still averaging 21.7 points per game. Love has accepted his role as the third wheel in the Cavaliers offense behind James and Irving while still being able to maintain his status as one of the better rebounders in the NBA at 10.4 per contest. James is still the best all around player in the NBA and at the age of 30, he is now becoming more of a mentor to the youngsters on the Cavaliers such as Love and Irving. On the season James is averaging 25.8 points per game which is third in the NBA. The turnaround this season for the Cavs simply began when everybody including Blatt started to trust one another. James had been down this road before when he went to Miami 2010 as he and Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra didn’t start out on the same page. Things would change and subsequently the Heat would win a pair of NBA Championships in four seasons with James. However the Cavs are dealing with a more mature James this time around and more than ever he is leading by example through his focus and intensity.

The City of Cleveland has never been a hotbed as far as luring NBA free agents, but James’ presence alone on the Cavaliers roster is changing that notion. A pair of James’ old teammates with the Heat in forwards James Jones and Mike Miller followed him to Cleveland over the summer. And James’ return to the Cavaliers has also made everybody on the team step their game up.

J.R. Smith

Last month the Cavaliers acquired shooting guard J.R. Smith from the New York Knicks. During his NBA career Smith has developed a reputation as being a loose cannon. Smith has had issues throughout his playing career as far as playing within the realm of an offense as he has never met a shot that he didn’t like. But in 23 games with the Cavaliers, Smith is averaging 13.0 points per game and Blatt has trusted him to be on the court for nearly 32 minutes per contest. Along with Smith, swingman Iman Shumpert was acquired from the Knicks last month. And like Smith, Shumpert was considered to be a malcontent with the Knicks but all he has done with the Cavs is what he has been asked to do which is to play basketball and have fun doing it. This past Sunday, the Cavaliers faced the Knicks in what marked the first game back at Madison Square Garden for both Smith and Shumpert since the trade. In the game Smith went for 17 points as the Cavs easily disposed of the Knicks 101-83. Another ex-Knick in center Timofey Mogzov was acquired last summer in a deal with the Denver Nuggets. The Cavs needed another big man after center Anderson Varejao was lost to an injury. And so far with the Cavaliers, Mozgov is averaging a career high in points (10.4) and rebounds (8.2) which was highlighted by a 20-point, 7-rebound performance in a 113-93 victory over the Heat on February 11. Along with Love and Thompson, Mozgov has given the Cavaliers another big body in their frontcourt to provide size, get rebounds, and clog up the defensive interior.

The Cavaliers a gelling and they appear to have all of the tools necessary to make a deep run in the postseason. James is in the prime of his career while he also has a strong supporting cast around him which wasn’t the case during his first run in Cleveland. Nothing is set in stone for the Cavaliers, but the best appears to be in front of them.

 

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