Tag Archives: Stan Van Gundy

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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Still In Search Of A Focal Point

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Stan Van Gundy

Stan Van Gundy is close to finishing his third season as the head coach/president of basketball operations for the Detroit Pistons. Van Gundy took over a Pistons team that was looking to get back on track after six straight seasons without a playoff appearance. Last season Van Gundy was able to get the Pistons to the playoffs for the first time since 2009, but just like that year they would be swept in the first round by the Cleveland Cavaliers. The Pistons have a young team and because of that along with Van Gundy’s proven track record to turn around NBA franchises, there was some optimism that this team would improve even more this season. However that has not been the case as the Pistons currently have a record of 36-43 which will see them fall short of making the postseason. And as this NBA season is ending earlier than expected for the Pistons, you can expect some changes to this roster.

This season the Pistons have six players who are averaging at least 10 points per game, but they are lacking a proven go-to-guy. Injuries have limited point guard Reggie Jackson to just 52 games this season, but even if he were healthy it wouldn’t be enough. The Pistons acquired Jackson from the Oklahoma City Thunder prior to the trade deadline in 2015, and Van Gundy would even go on to sign him to a five-year extension for $80 million. However Jackson is not the type of point guard that makes Van Gundy’s system go.

Reggie Jackson

In 27 games with the Pistons during the 2014-2015 NBA season, Jackson averaged 17.6 points and 9.2 assists per game which led to him getting that lucrative extension. However in each season with the Pistons, Jackson’s production has declined. This season Jackson averaged 14.5 points and 5.2 assists before being shut down due to a foot injury. Jackson is a shooting guard that is in a point guard’s body and Van Gundy needs a player at that position who can consistently get everyone else on the team involved.

Center Andre Drummond can clean up on the glass as in his five-year NBA career he has averaged 12.9 rebounds per game which included him leading the league in the category last season at 14.8 per contest. However Drummond is not a player who can consistently create his own shot and after averaging 16.2 points per game this season, he is down to 13.9 this season as he would benefit from having point guard who has a pass-first mentality. And the same can be said for small forward Tobias Harris and power forward Marcus Morris who are solid players, but they also would benefit from having player that could create for them.

So when this summer rolls around, I expect Van Gundy to attempt to do some wheeling and dealing after his team underachieved this season. But with more than $103 million already committed to salaries for next season, how much will Van Gundy be able to do? Aside from Jackson who is owed roughly $52 million over the next three years, the Pistons are on the hook to pay Drummond $23.7 million next season, while Harris will receive $16 million. The Pistons need a spark on offense as their 101.1 points per game in 26th in the NBA and that simply won’t cut it in today’s offensive minded league.  And with the Pistons set to leave Auburn Hills and move back to Detroit for next season, the last thing that they can afford to do is lay another dud.

This will just be the second time in Van Gundy’s NBA coaching career in which a team that is led by him will fall short of making the playoffs. But by hook or by crook, Van Gundy will do everything in his power to get the Pistons back on track this summer.

Source: Basketball-reference.com

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2016-2017 Central Division Projections

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Y-Cleveland Cavaliers 59-23 (1)

The Cleveland Cavaliers will enter the 2016-2017 NBA season in an unfamiliar spot as they will be the hunted instead of the hunter. The Cavaliers are coming off of their first NBA Championship in franchise history after an epic comeback against the Golden State Warriors in the NBA Finals that saw them overcome a 3-1 deficit in the series. Last season saw the Cavaliers push all the right buttons, and with Tyronn Lue entrenched as the team’s head coach, he must find a way to make sure that his squad doesn’t get complacent.

LeBron James

Luckily for Lue, he has strong leadership on the court for the Cavs that begins with small forward LeBron James. James returned to Cleveland in 2014 after four seasons with the Miami Heat, and he immediately made the Cavaliers a title contender. In 2015, the Cavs won the Eastern Conference Championship for the second time in franchise history, but injuries hindered their chances against the Warriors in the NBA Finals. However this time around the Cavaliers were healthy and thus they were able to win the NBA Title.

And even though that James is only 31-years of age, you have to wonder when the wear and tear is going to catch up to him. James is a 13-year NBA veteran that has appeared in the last six NBA Finals, along with playing in three different Summer Olympics for the United States. For his career James has averaged 39 minutes per game which is something that Lue will definitely keep an eye on as it is more important for the Cavaliers to have the best all-around player in the NBA fresh and ready to go when the postseason rolls around.

Around James, the Cavs do have a strong supporting cast that includes point guard Kyrie Irving and power forward Kevin Love. Both Love and Irving were up for the challenge of playing alongside James last year en route to winning a championship, and their presence along with an overall hunger will be vital if Cleveland intends on repeating.

Tristan Thompson

With the likes of center Tristan Thompson, shooting guard Iman Shumpert, and small forward Richard Jefferson, the Cavaliers should once again be one of the better defensive units in the NBA. Last year the Cavs were fourth in the NBA in points allowed at 98.3 per game, and it is vital to have a solid defensive unit on the floor in the final minutes of a contest. James can lock down the oppositions best perimeter player, while Shumpert and Jefferson aren’t slouches in that category either. Thompson is the Cavs best rebounder which is going to be more important this year after Cleveland lost center Timofey Mozgov in free agency to the Los Angeles Lakers.

The NBA Playoffs won’t begin until April, but every night will be like a playoff game for the Cavaliers after what they were able to accomplish last year. And Cleveland must find a way to be up for the challenge.

Y-Indiana Pacers 55-27 (2)

For the first time in nearly six years, the Indiana Pacers will begin an NBA season without Frank Vogel as their head coach. Vogel led the Pacers to the playoffs in five of the six years that he coached the team and only Slick Leonard won more games than him in franchise history. But Pacers team president Larry Bird decided that it was time for the team to go in a new direction with an eye on becoming more offensive oriented which comes as a surprise since he was the one responsible for giving Vogel the lack of offensive fire power to work with.

Nate McMillian served as an assistant coach for Vogel during the last four years and now he will assume the role of head coach for the Pacers. But this won’t be McMillan’s first trip around the block as a head coach in the NBA as he was the head coach of the Seattle Supersonics from 2000-2005, and then leading the Portland Trailblazers from 2005-2012.

Paul George

McMillan’s transition to being the man that is calling that shots should be a seamless one as he has the services of small forward Paul George. George is back to the form that he had prior to him suffering a broken leg in 2014 and he is coming off of a career-high in points as he averaged 23.1 points per contest last season. The Pacers have been using George more as a power forward due to their “small ball” approach which means that he will continue to crash the boards as well.

The Pacers were tied with the Sacramento Kings in rebounding last season as they averaged 44.2 per contest which was 11th in the league. But the Pacers should be able to improve in that category now that they’ve acquired power forward Thaddeus Young and center Al Jefferson. Young averaged a career-high in rebounds last season with 9 as a member of the Brooklyn Nets while also scoring 15.1 points. The Pacers had to give up the draft rights to swingman Caris LeVert to order to obtain Young who could be in line to have his best NBA season as he plays alongside George. Jefferson is twelve-year NBA veteran that has averaged 16.7 points and 8.9 rebounds for his career. Jefferson and the Pacers agreed on a three-year contract that is worth $30 million after he spent the last three NBA seasons with the Charlotte Hornets. And what Jefferson provides the Pacers with is a proven low-post scoring option in the post. Along with Young and Jefferson, power forward Myles Turner is looking to build off of a solid rookie season where he averaged 10.3 points and 5.5 rebounds as Indiana is definitely more bigger and physical than they were at the end of the 2016 NBA Playoffs.

Shooting guard Monta Ellis averaged 13.8 points last season in his first year with the Pacers, and he’ll have some more help in the back court this time around as Indiana acquired point guard Jeff Teague from the Atlanta Hawks, and signing veteran guard Aaron Brooks. Teague gives the Pacers a proven ball handler that will take some pressure off of George, while Brooks will give Indiana instant energy off of the bench.

The Pacers are definitely one of the best teams in the Eastern Conference and they should be able to give the Cleveland Cavaliers a definite scare.

Y-Detroit Pistons 48-34 (5)

It hasn’t taken Stan Van Gundy that long to once again make the Detroit Pistons respectable. In 2014, Van Gundy became the Pistons head coach and president of basketball operations as he has his hands all over the outlook of the franchise. And by Van Gundy’s second year in Detroit, the Pistons were playoff bound for the first time since 2009. Although that the Pistons were swept in the first round of the playoffs by the eventual NBA Champions in the Cleveland Cavaliers, this team has what it takes to make some noise in the Eastern Conference.

Reggie Jackson

After the Pistons acquired point guard Reggie Jackson from the Oklahoma City Thunder in 2015, he is developing into one of their franchise players. In Jackson’s first full season with the Pistons, Jackson averaged 18.8 points and 6.2 assists, but the time is now for him to take the next step in order for Detroit to become a title contender. Jackson must become more of a facilitator as he had his moments last year when he would tend to become an iso-player. And with the likes of center Andre Drummond and power forward Marcus Morris on the Pistons roster, Jackson could see an increase in his assists if he is able to consistently get the football to them.

Drummond is only 22-years of age, but he is already a four-year NBA veteran. Drummond was the Pistons first-round pick in 2012, and in each season with the club his production has increased. Last season Drummond led the NBA in rebounds at 14.8 per game, while he also averaging 16.2 points per game. Drummond entered the NBA as a very raw talent and his overall game has continued to improve which is evident by the Pistons giving him a five-year, $130 million extension over the summer. Drummond is now a legit threat in the post for the Pistons, but he must find a way to improve his free throw shooting as he was just 35% from the charity stripe last season.

The Pistons are Morris’s third NBA team, but he appears to have finally found a home as he averaged 14.1 points per game last season in Detroit. Morris can be just what the doctor ordered for the Pistons offense due to the fact that he can hit the mid-range shot which takes pressure off of Drummond in the post, while also being a passing option for Jackson when he penetrates.

The Pistons have sized and depth that includes the likes of small forwards Tobias Harris and Stanley Johnson. Both Harris and and Johnson are Van Gundy’s kind of player as they simply do whatever it takes to win, and opponents must always account for them. Rookie power forward Henry Ellenson could have an impact for the Pistons as in one year of college ball for the Marquette Golden Eagles, he showed the low-post scoring ability that can take some more of the front court scoring pressure off of Drummond.

Defensive basketball has always been a hallmark of Van Gundy’s teams and the Pistons must find a way to improve at that end of the floor where they gave up 101.4 points per game which was 12th in the NBA. But as Van Gundy continues to get his kind of players in Detroit, the defensive intensity should increase this season.

Stan Van Gundy

Van Gundy’s team have been known to make their opponents work for everything that they get which should once again be the case this season as the Pistons should be a force in the Eastern Conference.

Y-Chicago Bulls 46-36 (7)

 

Fred Hoiberg

The first year for the Chicago Bulls under head coach Fred Hoiberg saw them finish with a winning record, but the season was an overall disappointment. The Bulls went 42-40 and missed the playoffs for the first time since 2008 as there was a high level of inconsistency with this club. Hoiberg tried to implement his uptempo offensive system with a team that was full of defensive minded players who were left over from Tom Thibodeau’s time as the Bulls head coach. But now as Hoiberg is set to begin his second year in Chicago, and there has been a roster overhaul, he and the Bulls are hoping for better results.

The Bulls roster overhaul began with them parting with two players that defined the most recent era of basketball in the Windy City. The past nine years saw center Joakim Noah become the heart and soul of the Bulls due to his determination and toughness. Noah was one of the better rebounders in team history, and with him roaming the paint, there was never an easy basket for a Bulls opponent. But as injuries began to take their toll on Noah, the Bulls decided to allow him to leave in free agency as he is now a member of the New York Knicks.

The Knicks and Bulls would also become trade partners over the summer as Chicago sent longtime point guard Derrick Rose to the Big Apple. During Rose’s first four years with the Bulls, he was one of the most explosive players in the NBA until knee injuries sapped him of that. And as Rose is still attempting to find the form that made him the NBA’s MVP in 2011, the Bulls decided that it was time to move on.

Dwyane Wade

The Bulls are welcoming an icon home as after 13 seasons and three NBA Titles with the Miami Heat, shooting guard Dwyane Wade is returning to his native Chicago. Wade will be 35-years of age in January, and although that he might not have the explosiveness that he once possessed, he can provide this team with tons of leadership as he has seen it all during his NBA career. On top of that the Bulls could be dealing with a very motivated Wade since he felt that the Heat disrespected him in their contract negotiations which opened the door for him to go to Chicago.

Along with Wade, the Bulls signed point guard Rajon Rondo. Rondo is one of the most talented point guards in the NBA as he led the league in assists last season at 11.7 per contest. But the Bulls will be Rondo’s fourth different NBA team since 2014 as he has been known to wear out a welcome and it will be interesting to see if he is ready to conform to how Hoiberg wants his offense run in Chicago.

When the Bulls traded Rose to the Knicks, part of the deal was that they acquired center Robin Lopez. Lopez averaged 7.3 rebounds last year for the Knicks, and although that he won’t makes the folks in Chicago completely forget about Noah, he is definitely a member of the “all-energy team” as his hustle on the defensive end of the floor will earn the praise of the folks in the Windy City.

The Bulls have a very solid bench that is full of young players in forwards Bobby Portis, Nikola Mirotic, and Doug McDermott who should all contribute positively this season for Hoiberg.

Jimmy Butler

But the engine that makes the Bulls go is shooting guard Jimmy Butler. In five seasons with the Bulls, Butler’s points per game averaged has increased, and if he averages 25 points or more this season, he will definitely find himself in the MVP discussion. And with Wade now as a member of the Bulls, we could see more of Butler at small forward this season, while along with Rondo, Chicago could have three proven ball handlers on the court at the same time.

The Bulls have plenty of new players that must find a way to work with one another. And although that Chicago could start the season slow, they should be able to pick it up en route to finding their cohesion.

Milwaukee Bucks 41-41

The Milwaukee Bucks began the 2015-2016 NBA season as a trendy pick to do some damage in the Eastern Conference. But as the Bucks had one of the youngest teams in NBA, they were never able to get on track. And as Jason Kidd is set to begin his third season with the Bucks, the talent is there, it is just a matter of Milwaukee living up to their potential.

The Bucks will begin the upcoming NBA season at a huge disadvantage as they will be without the services of shooting guard Khris Middleton. A hamstring injury will sideline Middleton for six months which leaves a void for the Bucks as was their leading scorer last season at 18.2 points per game.

The injury to Middleton would see the Bucks acquire forward Michael Beasley from the Houston Rockets. Beasley has had a very interesting basketball journey which has included three stints with the Miami Heat and two years in China. Beasley was the second overall pick of the 2008 NBA Draft by the Heat, and outside of averaging 19.2 points per game during the 2010-2011 season as a member of the Minnesota Timberwolves, he has been consistently inconsistent during his time in the league. But luckily for Beasley, he joins a Bucks team where can be one of the guys as it will give him time to figure out his role with the team.

Giannis Antentokounmpo

The Bucks will have to compete for the majority of the season without Middleton, but they have an emerging star in small forward Giannis Antetonkounmpo. In each of Antentonkounmpo’s first three seasons with the Bucks, his numbers have improved as he averaged 16.7 points, 7.7 rebounds, and 4.3 assists last season. And if there is one player that should become the focal point of Milwaukee’s offense, it is Antetonkounmpo who at 6’11” is a matchup problem for opponents due to his length and ball handling ability.

The Bucks are also loaded with talent and size in their front with the likes of power forward Jabari Parker and center Greg Monroe as Milwaukee would greatly benefit if the NBA allowed them to operate the 2-3 defensively due to their length. But surprisingly with all of the size that Milwaukee possesses, they were still 27th in the NBA last season in rebounding at 41.7 points per game.

A few years ago the Bucks were very high on point guard Michael Carter-Williams when they acquired him from the Philadelphia 76ers. But Carter-Williams would struggle last season in Milwaukee which saw benched. And with the injury to Middleton, it was the perfect opening for the Bucks to trade Carter-Williams as they sent him to the Chicago Bulls in favor of swingman Tony Snell who gives them more depth on the perimeter.

The Bucks are still a young team, but the addition of veteran players such as guards Jason Terry and Matthew Dellavedova who each have NBA Championships on their resume should help this squad figure it out.

The Bucks should be an up and down team during the upcoming NBA season, but they will be exciting.

Source: Basketball-reference.com

X-Clinched Division

Y-Playoff Berth

 

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Stan The Man

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During the 2000’s, the Detroit Pistons were one of the top NBA franchises. In the decade, the Pistons would make the postseason in all but one year which included winning the NBA Championship in 2004. But that Pistons success eventually came to an end as the last six NBA seasons ended without a trip to the postseason in Motown.

Stan Van Gundy

In the spring of 2014, Stan Van Gundy was hired by the Pistons to be their new head coach and president of basketball operations. Prior to coming to Detroit, Van Gundy was the head coach of the Miami Heat and Orlando Magic. In 2009, Van Gundy would lead the Magic to the NBA Finals for just the second time in franchise history. And during Van Gundy’s time in Orlando and Miami, he never had a losing season.

Last year under Van Gundy, the Pistons suffered through their seventh consecutive losing season, but it was actually their best finish since 2009 as they managed to win 32 games. Van Gundy spent his first season with the Pistons finding players that would fit into his brand of basketball which included buying out power forward Josh Smith, allowing center Greg Monroe to leave as an unrestricted free agent last summer, and acquiring point guard Reggie Jackson.

Van Gundy’s moves have paid off for the Pistons as they began this NBA season with a record of 5-1. And even though that the Pistons have been an up and down team this season, they’ve been resilient which is a credit to Van Gundy.

After a February 21 home loss to the New Orleans Pelicans where the Pistons allowed power forward Anthony Davis to go off on them to the tune of 59 points, Detroit had a record of 27-29 as it marked the end of a stretch that saw them lose six of seven games. But the Pistons would follow that difficult stretch up by winning their next four games which included wins over the top two teams in the Eastern Conference in the Cleveland Cavaliers and the Toronto Raptors.

The Pistons would enter the month of March with a record of 31-29 as a playoff berth seemed believable for a franchise that was coming off of three straight 50-loss seasons.

Overall, Detroit would go 9-6 in the third calendar month of the year as they were able to get wins against the teams that they were expected to defeat. And after getting past the Washington Wizards this past Friday night, the Pistons now find themselves postseason bound which is a credit to the work and leadership of Van Gundy.

As most people are captivated by the scoring ability of teams such as the Golden State Warriors, Van Gundy’s coaching style is a throwback to a different era in the NBA when teams won with defense, along with a solid center and a point guard.

Andre Drummond

In 2012, the Pistons used the ninth overall pick of the NBA Draft on center Andre Drummond. Drummond only played one year of college basketball and he came to the league very raw. As a rookie, Drummond averaged 7.9 points and 4.8 rebounds. But in four years as a professional player, Drummond’s numbers have gone up in each season which is highlighted by him making his first NBA All-Star team this year as he is leading the league in rebounding with 14.8 per game. Drummond’s presence in the post as a scorer is improving due to the fact that he is a playing for a coach in Van Gundy that believes in the old-school fundamentals of playing the game of basketball from the inside-out.

Reggie Jackson

Jackson was drafted by the Oklahoma City Thunder in 2011, and although that he is an explosive point guard, he was never going to beat out point guard Russell Westbrook there for playing time. Jackson was set to be a free agent last summer when he began to seek a new deal from the Thunder, but they were unwilling to give it to him. And as one man’s trash is another’s treasure, Van Gundy was more than happy to welcome a disgruntled player in Jackson to Detroit where he would be able to get a fresh start.

For the first time in Jackson’s NBA career, he has appeared in each game while he is also a starter. Like Drummond, Jackson is enjoying a career-high in points (18.8), while he is also averaging 6.2 assists which is also a career-high. Jackson’s emergence as a floor general allowed Van Gundy to trade point guard Brandon Jennings and forward Ersan Ilyasova to the Orlando Magic in exchange for forward Tobias Harris.

Tobias Harris

Van Gundy was familiar with Harris as he briefly coached him in Orlando. In 24 games with the Pistons, Harris is averaging 16.6 points per game and he has provided Van Gundy with another solid scoring option; namely as a versatile scorer who can produce on both the interior and perimeter.

However as Van Gundy has brought in players to fit his system, his biggest accolade is that he has changed the culture in Detroit. In the past few years, losing was simply accepted by the Pistons until Van Gundy arrived. Last year, the Pistons were able to compete and now they’ve once again become winners as you can make the argument that this is Van Gundy’s best coaching job during his NBA career

When the NBA Playoffs begin, the Pistons will be meeting either the Cavaliers who were their opponents in their last trip to the postseason, or the Raptors. The Cavs have an experience advantage over the Pistons as they are the defending Eastern Conference Champions, and they are primed for another deep postseason run. The Raptors are looking to make the Eastern Conference Semifinals for the first time since 2001, but the Pistons do have a size advantage with Drummond and Harris which could spell trouble for Toronto. But either way in the mode of Van Gundy, I don’t expect the Pistons to be a pushover as they will make their opponent pack a lunch for the entire series, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see them advance which would be a shock only to the people outside of their locker room.

Source: Basketball-reference.com

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The Race Is On

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Will the emergence of center Andre Drummond be enough for the Detroit Pistons to make the NBA Playoffs for the first time since 2009?

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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. But 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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A Harsh Reality For Josh Smith

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Josh Smith

In 2004, Josh Smith was a high school basketball player that had tremendous potential. The Atlanta Hawks saw Smith’s potential as they drafted him 17th overall in the 2004 NBA Draft. In Smith’s first four seasons in the NBA, his points per game average increased each year as he became more of a focal point in the Hawks offense. During the 2011-2012 NBA season, Smith averaged a career high in points (18.8) and rebounds (9.6) as he was seeking an extension from the Hawks. In 2013, Smith became a free agent as he was looking for a hefty payday. The Detroit Pistons were impressed by Smith’s ability as they signed him to a four-year deal worth $56 million. Smith would lead the Pistons in scoring last season at 16.4 per game, but it wouldn’t translate to Detroit being a successful team as they would only go 29-53. The Pistons bad season would mean that there would be wholesale changes across the board.

As a result of the futility in Detroit, longtime Pistons president of basketball operations Joe Dumars was relieved of his duties. Stan Van Gundy would be hired as the Pistons new head coach as well as being the new president of basketball operations. Van Gundy was previously the head coach of the Miami Heat and the Orlando Magic respectively where he built a reputation as far as being a no-nonsense guy. The Pistons have stumbled out of the gate this season with a record of 5-23 and looking for a shakeup, Van Gundy today waived Smith.

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Stan Van Gundy

When the Pistons signed Smith he was compensated like a star player which is something that he has never been. Not too long into his tenure in Detroit, Smith had problems with former Pistons head coach Maurice Cheeks. Like Van Gundy, Cheeks is an old-school disciplinarian that didn’t tolerate certain things and he was eventually fired. But when Van Gundy came on board this season you expected Smith’s time with the Pistons to be numbered.

The Pistons organization was hopeful that Smith could take his game to another level while also being a leader for their young team. But you simply cannot force someone to be what they are not. The move to waive Smith lets it be known that Van Gundy is not playing around and it also shows Smith that he cannot become complacent.

If Smith is not claimed on waivers within the first 48 hours by another NBA team, he will then become an unrestricted free agent. The Pistons however are on the hook for the remaining money on Smith’s deal which illustrates the desperation of Van Gundy to part with him.

Throughout his NBA career Smith has been a classic “tweener” as he is too big to be small forward and too small to be a power forward. At 6’9″, 225 lbs., and being 29-years of age, Smith’s best option to this point is to sign with a club and become a bench player. Smith was expected to be the guy with the Pistons and he failed at it miserably.

For Van Gundy the departure of Smith will allow him to continue doing what any first year head coach would do which is to evaluate his team. The Pistons are young and they have a pair of talented big men in center Andre Drummond and power forward Greg Monroe. Monroe is set to become a free agent next summer and Van Gundy must assess whether or not that he will be part of the potential turnaround in Motown. At 5-23, the Pistons are well out of the running for a playoff spot (even in the weak Eastern Conference), and it is time for Van Gundy to begin looking ahead to next season. Van Gundy can say whatever he wants to publicly, but he wasn’t attached to the hip with Smith like Dumars was which made him very expendable.

Source: Basketball-reference.com

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2014-2015 Central Division Projections

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X-Cleveland Cavaliers 52-30 (1)

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LeBron James

After four years of manipulating the NBA Draft, the Cleveland Cavaliers are back in business as a legitimate title contender. After spending the first seven years of his NBA career with the Cavaliers, small forward LeBron James took his talents to South Beach in 2010 to join the Miami Heat. In the seven seasons that James spent in Cleveland, the Cavs made the postseason five times including their only trip to the NBA Finals in 2007. But since James left, the Cavaliers never made the postseason and over that stretch they “won” the NBA Draft Lottery three times. This past summer James decided to leave the Heat as a free agent in order to return to the Cavs and all of those fans who famously burned his jerseys four years ago and called him “gutless” are now back on the LeBron bandwagon.

The Cavaliers “tremendous success” at the NBA Draft Lottery has given them the ability to put a team around James which wasn’t the case during his first stint in Cleveland. The Cavs were able to trade power forward Anthony Bennett and shooting guard Andrew Wiggins who were the last two first overall picks in the NBA Draft to the Minnesota Timberwolves as part of the package that sent All-Star power forward Kevin Love to Cleveland. Love and James will team with point guard Kyrie Irving to be the Cavaliers version of the “Big Three”. Four years ago small forward LeBron James took his talents to South Beach and he is still the best best player in the NBA. With James back in the saddle the Cavs should once again contend for an NBA Championship, but what about their team chemistry?

David Blatt is the new head coach of the Cavaliers and he has never coached in the NBA as he spent the last four seasons coaching Maccabi Tel Aviv in Israel. Blatt is a four-time Israeli league Coach of the Year, but it is just a matter of him getting his message across in the NBA.

In his brief NBA career, Irving has shown that he is a shooting guard in a point guard’s body. Irving has not always been a facilitator which must change this season for the Cavaliers to be successful. This season’s Cavaliers team will resemble the team that Love played on during his one season of college basketball at UCLA as they are deep and talented. Love is a proven scorer and rebounder in the NBA and his talents will compliment those of James.

Just like he did with the Heat, James has been able to lure veterans to Cleveland with seasoned small forwards Mike Miller and Shawn Marion looking to add another NBA Championship to their respective resumes. The Cavaliers also have youngsters in power forward Tristan Thompson and shooting guard Dion Waiters who will look to be on board as members of the new “James Gang” in Cleveland.

It will take some time for this Cavs team to gel, but by the spring they should be a well-oiled machine that will be ready to contend for an NBA Championship.

Y-Chicago Bulls 52-30 (2)

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Derrick Rose

In the past four seasons head coach Tom Thibodeau has proven his worth with the Chicago Bulls. Thibodeau was the NBA’s Coach of the Year in 2011 as he led the Bulls to 62 regular season victories. But what Thibodeau has done in the past two seasons has been remarkable. Thibodeau has kept the Bulls as an upper echelon team in the Eastern Conference in spite of the fact that point guard Derrick Rose that he has only played in 10 games due to knee injuries. Rose is expected to return to the Bulls lineup this season and he has a ton of depth around him.

In Rose’s absence, center Joakim Noah has become the leader of the Bulls. Noah in the reigning NBA Defensive Player of the Year and he has a variety of ways in which he can effect the outcome of a game as he is a scorer, defender, rebounder, and facilitator. The Bulls finally have a proven low-post scorer in power forward Pau Gasol. For his 13-year NBA career, Gasol has averaged 18.3 points per game and 9.2 rebounds per game and he was also a two-time NBA Champion with the Los Angeles Lakers. Now Gasol will bring that championship pedigree to the Windy City as he could be the missing piece for the Bulls as far as them winning an NBA Championship.

For each of his three seasons in the NBA, Bulls shooting guard Jimmy Butler has improved. Aside from averaging 13.1 points per game last season, Butler is a tremendous on-the-ball defender who’s overall game should benefit from the Rose returning to the Bulls lineup.

The Bulls also have depth behind Rose at the point guard position in veterans Kirk Hinrich and Aaron Brooks who will bring a blend of fire and ice to the court in Chicago. Rookie small forward Doug McDermott will be key as far as coming off of the bench for the Bulls. McDermott comes to the Bulls as one of the top scorers in college basketball history and he was a three-time All-American at Creighton along with being the Consensus Player of the Year last season in college basketball. McDermott will also push veteran small forward Mike Dunleavy for minutes on the wing.

Under Thibodeau, the Bulls have been one of the better defensive teams in the NBA and if Rose is indeed healthy this season, they will be able to ascend back to being one of the better overall teams in the league.

Y-Detroit Pistons 42-40 (8)

The past five seasons have seen the Detroit Pistons become an afterthought in the Eastern Conference. This Pistons have failed to qualify for the postseason since 2009 and they have not had a winning season since 2008. But a front office shake up has the fans in the Motor City optimistic that the Pistons can return to respectability this season.

Stan Van Gundy is the Pistons new head coach and he will also serve as the team’s president of basketball operations. Van Gundy previously coached the Miami Heat whom he led to the playoffs twice and the Orlando Magic where he guided the team to the Eastern Conference Championship in 2009. Now Van Gundy’s task is to turn the underachieving Pistons into playoff contenders.

Last season forward Josh Smith led the Pistons scoring at 16.4 points per game, but he did not have the impact that the team expected when they signed him to a four-year, $54 million deal. Throughout his 10-year NBA career, Smith has never been an assertive guy which will makes things interesting this season as Van Gundy is a no-nonsense type of coach.

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Andre Drummond

Aside from Smith, the Pistons do have a pair of Van Gundy type players in their front court in power forward Greg Monroe and center Andre Drummond. For his four-year NBA career, Monroe has averaged 14 points and 9 rebounds per contest. This past summer Monroe signed a one-year qualifying offer and he will be looking for a max contract next off-season which means that the Pistons could have a big season from him. Drummond was the Pistons first round pick in 2012. Drummond is only 21-years of age and the future is looking bright for the youngster. Last season Drummond became one of the top rebounders in the NBA and he is just beginning to scratch the surface at the offensive end of the floor.

In his first season with the Pistons, point guard Brandon Jennings surprised some people by averaging 7.6 assists per game. Van Gundy will rely on Jennings to continue to be a facilitator in this offense for the Pistons who have a huge front court that he needs to get the basketball to. Behind Jennings, Van Gundy and the Pistons have a very reliable backup point guard in D.J. Augustin who is more than capable of picking up the slack when he checks into the game. Coming off of the bench the Pistons also have a reliable veteran small forward in Caron Butler along with sharp-shooting Jodie Meeks at shooting guard as Detroit is poised to be an improved team this season.

Van Gundy is all about changing the culture with the Pistons and bringing some much needed toughness back to Detroit. It will either be Van Gundy’s way or the highway and we shall see who is tough enough to hang with him this season.

Indiana Pacers 39-43

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Frank Vogel

Unless you’ve been trapped in a cave for the past few months you know that Indiana Pacers chances for the upcoming NBA season took a huge blow in the off-season. Over the summer, Pacers small forward Paul George was a member of Team USA when he suffered a broken leg. George’s leg injury will more than likely keep him on the shelf for the entire 2014-2015 NBA season. With the injury to George, who will Pacers head coach Frank Vogel be able to rely on as far as picking up the slack in Indiana?

Veteran power forward David West is entering his fourth season with the Pacers and without George he can expect to be called upon more on the offensive end. Behind West, the Pacers have another veteran power forward in Luis Scola who is also a proven scorer in the NBA. The Pacers are hopeful that center Roy Hibbert can become more assertive in the low post as he has averaged 11.2 points and 6.7 boards for his NBA career. At 7’2″, Hibbert must aggressively crash the boards while also establishing better position for himself down low to become more of an offensive threat.

With the injury to George, the departure of shooting guard Lance Stephenson who signed with the Charlotte Hornets, and their lack of production from the point guard position, this will be a tough season for the Pacers and their fans to endure.

Milwaukee Bucks 28-54

After a 15-win campaign last season there is only one way to go for the Milwaukee Bucks which is up. The Bucks have a new ownership group, a new head coach, and an exciting rookie who are all looking to turn around the franchise. Wesley Edens and Marc Lasry are the new owners of the Bucks who are looking to increase the interest for their team in Milwaukee. Jason Kidd spent one season as the head coach of the Brooklyn Nets. But after not being on the same page with the Nets front office, Kidd left to become the new head coach of the Bucks. The Bucks had the worst record in the NBA last season, but they were unable to attain the first overall pick in the draft. The Bucks however did have the second overall pick in the NBA Draft which they used on small forward Jabari Parker.

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Jabari Parker

In one season of college ball at Duke, Parker averaged 19.1 points per game and he has the ability to eventually become a franchise player for the Bucks. Aside from Parker, the Bucks have center Larry Sanders and power forward Ersan Ilyasova who will both need to be healthy this season as they combined to miss 86 games last season. Sanders is a tremendous rebounder and interior defender while Ilyasova can stretch opposing defenses with his mid-range game. Last season as a rookie, Bucks shooting guard Giannis Antetokounmpo was only able to average 6.8 points per game, but at 6’11”, he can be a matchup nightmare on the wing and Kidd is hopeful that he improves in his sophomore season. For Bucks point guard Brandon Knight, his numbers have improved in each of his three seasons in the NBA and they should continue to rise with the arrival of Parker.

The main thing for Kidd and his young Bucks to do is to win some games early in order to gain some confidence and as the season progresses you should see this team grow.

X-Clinched Division

Y-Clinched Playoff Berth

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Josh Smith’s Contract Is Hurting Greg Monroe

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Greg Monroe

Free agent center/power forward Greg Monroe entered this summer looking for a big deal from an NBA team which he has yet to receive. Monroe was drafted by the Detroit Pistons in 2010. In four seasons with the Pistons, Monroe averaged 14.0 points and 9.0 rebounds per game. Monroe is a restricted free agent which means that the Pistons will have the opportunity to match any offer that a team would give to the four-year vet from Georgetown. The Pistons gave Monroe a one-year qualifying offer for $5.5 million. Monroe could take the offer and become an unrestricted free agent next summer, but he is ready to get paid right now.

Last summer former Pistons president of basketball operations Joe Dumars signed forward Josh Smith to a four-year, $56 million deal. Smith had played the first nine years of his NBA career with the Atlanta Hawks and he never demonstrated that he was a consistent go-to guy there. But Dumars still signed Smith as he expected him to be the catalyst that would get the Pistons back to the playoffs for the first time since 2009. That wasn’t the case last season as Detroit finished this past season with a record of 29-53. Smith did manage however to lead the Pistons in scoring as he averaged 16.4 points per game.

Pistons owner Tom Gores grew tired of Dumars and he recently showed him the door. Stan Van Gundy is the Pistons new head coach as well as the president of basketball operations in Motown and he is out to do things his way. Prior to June’s NBA Draft there were rumors that the Pistons were shopping Smith to the Sacramento Kings which never came to fruition. Smith’s contract is not matching his production and it is also handicapping the Pistons.

The Pistons currently have 10 players under contract for next season with Smith leading the way as he is set to earn $13.5 million. Right now the Pistons have roughly $20 million in cap space for next season, but I do not believe that Van Gundy will look to give Monroe a similar max deal to Smith’s while “J-Smooth” is still on the roster.

Dumars had dreams of having a huge front court with Smith, Monroe, and center Andre Drummond which went out of the window early this past season. Drummond just completed his second year in the NBA and he was second in the league last season in rebounding at 13.2 per game. Drummond’s rookie contract is set to expire in 2016 and I can imagine that the Pistons would love to sign him to a maximum deal.

In the meantime Monroe is stuck in limbo; especially being that another NBA team has not come calling for his services. More than likely Monroe will end up signing the Pistons qualifying offer while once again seeking a maximum deal next summer.

Source: Basketball-reference.com

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