by Robert Ferringo - 10/27/2005
The Central Division should be the most competitive and entertaining of any in the Eastern Conference. Last season the division was determined in one night at the Palace - and it wasn't decided on the court.
This year Detroit and Indiana should again be trading blows throughout the year, only this time it will only be in the standings. Both clubs are with a full compliment of players, and represent two of the top three most talented teams in the East.
Two hungry, up-and-coming teams in Chicago and Cleveland will test the Pistons and Pacers. Last year the Bulls resurgence was one of the best stories in basketball. I don't even need to mention who's in Cleveland (he's over-hyped enough as it is).
Pulling up the rear will be Milwaukee, which actually made some nice moves to improve during the offseason. They retained Michael Redd, earned the No. 1 pick in Andrew Bogut, and brought in solid glue-guy Bobby Simmons.
You'll notice below that I've given odds and a projection the teams in this division (my play on Cleveland is my Top Pick). Some of the teams have no Over/Under projection because they are too close to call, and I don't feel totally satisfied with a play either way. I'm not discouraging a wager, but sometimes no advice is better than bad advice.
Here is one man's view of the Eastern Conference Central Division (in alpha order):
2004 Record: 47-35 (2nd)
2005 Title odds: 40/1
2005 Wins O/U: 43
2005 Wins Projection: Under
Key Additions: Eddie Basden, G; Michael Sweetney, PF; Tim Thomas, SF
Key Losses: Eddy Curry, C-F
Outlook: The Bulls were a gambler's dream in 2004-05, going 51-34-3 against the spread. The Baby Bulls started 2-13 but finished 47-35 to claim the East's third-best record. Well, the word is out and Chicago won't be sneaking up on anyone this year. They didn't add any key pieces, so GM Jim Paxson is banking on the continued development of his young core of Ben Gordon, Kirk Hinrich, Luol Deng, and Tyson Chandler. The loss of Eddy Curry (8.0 ppg, 9.7 rpg) will hurt, but shouldn't be devastating.
Bottom line: This is a good young team that's only getting better. However, I think the conference is tougher and this year they take a step back before taking a giant step forward in 2006-07.
2004 Record: 42-40 (4th)
2005 Title odds: 25/1
2005 Wins O/U: 49.5
2005 Wins Projection: Under
Key Additions: Larry Hughes, SG; Donyell Marshall, PF; Damon Jones, G
Key Losses: Jeff McInnis, PG; Dajuan Wagner, SG; Scott Williams, PF; Jiri Welsch, PG; Robert Traylor, PF
Outlook: Because of the media supersaturation revolving around LeBron James, you won't find good odds on Cleveland. They were 21st in the NBA last season ATS at 40-41-1, and were 28th against the number at 37-45. The midseason firing of coach Paul Silas sent a team competing for he playoffs into a tailspin. This year they will feature a first-year GM, first-year coach, and a completely overhauled roster. Picking up Larry Hughes was a good move, providing James with a complementary scorer and one of the NBA's top perimeter defenders. Donyell Marshall will also give them another low-post threat. However, I think they've regressed a bit in their quest to build around LeBron. They keep blowing up their roster, and there's no continuity.
Bottom line: Last year there were only two teams in the East that won over 50 games and only eight teams in the entire NBA. Cleveland is not one of the top eight teams in the league, and will face even stiffer competition from an improved Conference (specifically Indiana and N.J.). This is a perfect example of the fade.
2004 Record: 54-28 (1st)
2005 Title odds: 9/1
2005 Wins O/U: 51.5
2005 Wins Projection: Over
Key Additions: Jason Maxiel, PF
Key Losses: N/A
Outlook: Detroit was one game away from back-to-back NBA championships, and they return all of the principles from last year's squad. Larry Brown bolted for the Bronx, but Flip Saunders was a nice choice to replace him. In fact, I think this tough, veteran team could be even better because Saunders will take advantage of an underutilized bench. The Pistons' starting five logged more minutes last season than any starting five in league history, and in order to keep them fresh for a playoff run they'll need to conserve their strength. Detroit was one of only two teams in the East to post a winning record on the road (22-19).
Bottom line: This is a veteran team that knows when to push and when to hold back. They won't overexert themselves in the regular season, and then hit the jets in April and May.
2004 Record: 44-38 (3rd)
2005 Title odds: 8/1
2005 Wins O/U: 52.5
2005 Wins Projection: N/A
Key Additions: Ron Artest, F (suspension); Danny Granger, SF; Sarunas Jasikevicius, G
Key Losses: Reggie Miller, SG; Dale Davis, PF
Outlook: After their debacle in Detroit, Ron Artest's season-long suspension really crippled any championship aspirations that the Pacers had. Artest returns, and Indiana is again stacked with one of the most talented rosters in the league. However, the loss of two veteran leaders like Reggie Miller and Dale Davis will have an impact not just on the stat sheet, but in the locker room as well. This team has plenty of depth, and it will now be up to 10-year veteran Jermaine O'Neal to lead them by both word and deed. How he adjusts to that role will determine whether they can overcome Detroit or not.
Bottom line: These guys showed a ton of heart battling through injury and suspension last year. They're obviously a playoff team, but I wonder if their attitude will again hold them back.
2004 Record: 30-52 (5th)
2005 Title odds: 85/1
2005 Wins O/U: 35.5
2005 Wins Projection: N/A
Key Additions: Bobby Simmons, G; Andrew Bogut, C; Jamaal Magloire, C
Key Losses: Desmond Mason, G; Erick Strickland, G; Calvin Booth, F
Outlook: Bucks fans let out a huge sigh of relief when Redd agreed to stay in Milwaukee. They then added Bogut and Simmons to give them a strong nucleus. The bad news for the Bucks is that they are in the toughest division in the East, and don't posses the frontcourt strength to match up with Detroit or Indiana. That is, unless Bogut steps in and dominates - which no one expects. Another key will be the return of 2004 first-round pick T.J. Ford. If Ford can bounce back from injury and produce at the point, this could be a serious dark horse team.
Outlook: I thought the Bucks would try to become Phoenix of the East, but the Desmond Mason/Jamaal Magloire trade nixed that. Adapting to a new, more methodical scheme should take at least a few months.
Questions or comments for Robert? E-mail him at email@example.com
The views expressed in this column do not necessarily reflect those of Doc's NBA picks service.