Last Season: 66-16
The Cleveland Cavaliers had a very active off-season trying to surround LeBron James with more talent. The main addition was obtaining Shaquille O’Neal from the Phoenix Suns for Ben Wallace and Sasha Palovic. This was a short term move trying to win a title this year. Both GM Danny Ferry and Coach Mike Brown realized they need a big body in case they match up with the Orlando Magic again in the playoffs and Shaq was the biggest body they could find. Last year, Shaq had a renaissance season, but I don’t think he is a great fit with Cleveland. LeBron has a tendency to settle for jump shots and I see this happening even more with O’Neal clogging the middle. The one aspect of Bron’s game that I have been calling for him to improve the past few years is his back to the basket post game and I don’t see this happening with Shaq in the fold.
The other additions by the Cavs were Anthony Parker, Leon Powe and Jamario Moon. None of these players are game changers. Parker can spread the court making it difficult for teams to double Shaq and LeBron. Moon is an athletic swingman who can get up and down the court (needs to stay healthy, missed a lot of time last year with the Miami Heat). Powe is good role player off the bench (won’t be ready for beginning of the season due to injury).
The other big question mark on this team is the coaching. I’m not a big fan of Mike Brown. He was out-coached in the Eastern Conference Finals by Stan Van Gundy. Brown has one of the most versatile players in the league with LeBron James and I don’t think he takes advantage of everything he can do.
Last Season: 41-41
Former Phoenix Suns executive and second year head coach with the Chicago Bulls Vinny Del Negro did a great job getting the Bulls into the playoffs last year. The Bulls had a memorable first round series against the Boston Celtics even though they were not able to pull off the upset. Chicago is the one team in the East that could jump into the elite category if everything falls right. They have a future superstar in Derrick Rose. The question is can he put it all together this year? It is only Rose’s second year in the NBA and he left college after his freshman season. Rose will be better, but I believe it will be one more year before he reaches the elite player status.
The Bulls have great depth in the front court with veterans Brad Miller, Tyrus Thomas, Aaron Gray, Loul Deng and Joakim Noah. Throw rookies James Johnson and Taj Gibson into the mix and you have tons of versatility.
The backcourt is solid with Derrick Rose starting at the one and John Salmons at the two with Kirk Hinrich being the sixth man. They also brought Jannero Pargo back from Europe to be an offensive spark plug off the bench.
Chicago is a well-rounded team with talent at all positions. They have a good mix of veterans and young players giving Del Negro the ability to mix and match lineups based on different situations that arise. The key is keeping all of the players happy.
Last Season: 39-43
Last year the Detroit Pistons were one of the most disappointing teams in the NBA. They had a situation with their head coach that was similar to the one in Phoenix with no one buying into what Michael Curry was selling. Curry is now gone and they brought in John Kuester from the Cleveland Cavaliers.
Pistons General Manager Joe Dumars mid-season trade for Allen Iverson was a bust, but it did give them cap space for the off-season. With that space they picked up power forward Charlie Villanueva from the Bucks and shooting guard Ben Gordon from the Bulls. Villanueva will be expected to replace the production that Rasheed Wallace gave and Gordon will form a 3-man backcourt with Richard Hamilton and Rodney Stuckey. Gordon will have to come off the bench and when they play Gordon and Hamilton at the same time I expect Tayshaun Prince to handle the ball in a point-forward role.
Outside of Charlie Villanueva, the Pistons will be relying on two underachieving big men in Kwame Brown and Chris Wilcox. Both are physical specimens that lack basketball skills and smarts. I see power forward Jason Maxiell who averaged 18 minutes a game last season having an increased role.
Last Season: 36-46
The Indiana Pacers did nothing to dramatically change their team after a disappointing 2008-09 campaign. In the draft, they went with a questionable pick in North Carolina’s Tyler Hansbrough in the first round. I thought there were five players drafted after Tyler that had bigger upsides. A team like Indiana that is void of true NBA level talent should have picked the best player available not to a need.
The Pacers do have one thing going for them and that is small forward Danny Granger. Last year Granger put up 25 points-per-game, five boards, and almost three assists. Granger is an All-Star, but there is not enough talent around him for the Pacers to take the next step. T.J Ford, Troy Murphy, Jeff Foster, Roy Hibbert, Brandon Rush and Earl Watson are decent NBA players, but none are capable of being a number two option. In reality on an NBA Championship level team Granger would be the number two scorer.
Last Season: 34-48
The Milwaukee Bucks had an awful off-season. They traded Richard Jefferson for zilch, let Charlie Villanueva walk for nothing when he could have been made a restricted free agent and Ramon Sessions, a restricted free agent signed with Minnesota. They got zero for him also. I do like the draft pick of Brandon Jennings. He is a lightning fast point guard who can score and set up his teammates. Center Andrew Bogut and shooting guard Michael Redd are both injury prone and can’t be relied upon to play a full season. One positive is that Scott Skiles is a good coach who will find a way to get the most out of his players. It’s too bad even the most out of this team will not equate too much.