We've talked about this on the main page, but with LeBron officially out of the Central, I'd like to take a deeper look at the Division to either:
A. Determine whether or not the Pacers have a chance to compete right away
B. Make a stronger case for a serious rebuilding effort starting this season
Last season's record: 41-41
Projected 2010-11 record: 52-30
Overview: The Bulls lost out on LeBron but still have plenty of cap space, which they could use to fill out their roster. If they do it intelligently, they'll have enough left over to offer extensions to Noah next year and Rose the year after. To me, they're right there in the title conversation, even without landing a top-tier free agent. Carmelo Anthony could also be on their list for next season. But for this year, I don't see how adding Boozer, giving Rose and Noah another year to improve, and replacing out-of-his-league head coach Vinny Del Negro (and his weird, toxic relationship with GM John Paxson) with a champ like Tom Thibodeau won't translate into at least 11 more wins, so that's where I'm slating them.
Last season's record: 46-36
Projected 2010-11 record: 49-33
Overview: I'm giving the Bucks three extra wins this year, but 10-15 more wouldn't be out of the question. They're not as talented as the Bulls, but are well-coached, play tough defense and have a good mix of vets, youngsters, scorers and role players. Easing Michael Redd off the bench (if he'll accept that role) will give Milwaukee a lethal reserve scoring option, Jennings/Salmons/Maggette on the perimeter will be a matchup nightmare for most teams. If Bogut recovers fine and gets back to how he was playing at the end of last season, the sky's the limit.
Last season's record: 27-55
Projected 2010-11 record: 31-51
Overview: On paper, Detroit looks like a pretty solid squad. They've got vets with plenty of playoff experience (and could add one more if they re-sign Ben Wallace to his retirement contract). They've got some exciting young players (starting with Jerebko, who I LOVE, and Greg Monroe who's got tons of potential). They've got offense (Hamilton/Gordon/Charlie V) and defense (Prince). But injuries, age and weird chemistry problems held this team back last year, and I wouldn't bet on anything changing this season. They're trying to trade away toughness (Maxiell) and added a finesse big man in Monroe. If anything, this is as far from the hard-nosed, blue-collar Pistons teams we struggled with so badly early in the decade as you can get. I don't see this roster as playoff caliber, no matter what they do. The personnel just doesn't seem to mesh. So I'll give them four more wins, and I doubt they make it to .500.
Last season's record: 61-21
Projected 2010-11 record: 20-62
Overview: I really feel horrible for Cleveland fans. But all is not lost. Byron Scott is a great coach, and Dan Gilbert is the type of owner who understands the importance of tanking for a season while he lets his young players develop. I think this group is capable fo 30-40 wins, but shouldn't try to get there. Next summer this team will have only $39 million committed and will have Antawn Jamison's huge expiring contract to deal to a contender. While I don't think the Cavs will win a championship before the Heat, as Gilbert promises, if they play their cards right they could head into the 2012-13 season with two very highly-drafted rookies from the previous two seasons, J.J. Hickson signed to a long-term extension and tons of cap room to fill out the roster with young fringe stars. The silver lining in this whole mess for Cleveland is that the organization will no longer be handcuffed by LeBron's whining for a better supporting cast, and this team can rebuild the right way. It'll just take a few years, thanks to LeBron and the years the Cavs signed cap-strangling deals and made ill-advised trades in order to bring him a championship.
So what do you think? Are my projections accurate? Where do the Pacers fit in? Are we solidly in third place with a 38-42 win projection? Or is it worse than that? Or better? I know it depends on the moves the team makes between now and October, but what are your thoughts? Is it worth it to try to win now, with LBJ out of the way, or should we commence the rebuild?