NBA Offseason Grades – Central Division

There was a ton of movement in the East’s Central Division this offseason.  The Bulls and Cavs are now positioned as Eastern Conference favorites, while the Pacers have tumbled down the pecking order after losing Paul George to injury and Lance Stephenson to free agency.  Milwaukee is slowly rebuilding and got their centerpiece in Jabari Parker.  Meanwhile, the Pistons added some shooters around the team’s big frontcourt.  Here’s how things transpired:

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There was a ton of movement in the East’s Central Division this offseason.  The Bulls and Cavs are now positioned as Eastern Conference favorites, while the Pacers have tumbled down the pecking order after losing Paul George to injury and Lance Stephenson to free agency.  Milwaukee is slowly rebuilding and got their centerpiece in Jabari Parker.  Meanwhile, the Pistons added some shooters around the team’s big frontcourt.  Here’s how things transpired:

Chicago Bulls

Yes, the Bulls weren’t able to sign Carmelo Anthony.  But Chicago’s back-up plan was to sign another future hall of famer, and that’s exactly what they did with Pau Gasol.  Gasol replaces the amnestied Carlos Boozer; he gives the Bulls a lethal low-post presence to pair with Joakim Noah’s elite high-post play.  Chicago also signed 2011 first-round pick Nikola Mirotic from Europe.  Mirotic was named Euroleague MVP last season and will contribute right away.  First-round pick Doug McDermott (Creighton) provides more scoring and floor-spacing.  Finally, Aaron Brooks is one of the most underrated signings of the offseason, as he will play the pivotal D.J. Augustin/Nate Robinson/John Lucas role off the bench.  Most importantly, Derrick Rose is back and already looks to be in good form.  Chicago has aced the offseason and positioned themselves as the Eastern Conference favorite.

Grade: A

Cleveland Cavaliers

The Cavs hit the jackpot this summer and had the best offseason of any team since Miami in 2010.  It’s impossible to give Cleveland anything other than A+, but let’s be honest here, it’s largely due to luck.  The Cavs lucked into their third number one pick in four years, which they used to draft Andrew Wiggins.  They will likely parlay that pick into a package that brings Kevin Love to town.  And of course, Cleveland lucked into the fact that LeBron James is from Northeast Ohio and wanted to return home despite owner Dan Gilbert’s bitter and vindictive remarks just a few years back.  Cleveland’s also lucky Kevin Love now wants to play in Cleveland as a result of LeBron.  Even the Mike Miller and James Jones signings are a direct result of James’ homecoming.  And the Cavs may not be done, as they continue to pursue Ray Allen and Shawn Marion.  So while Cleveland aced the offseason, it wasn’t due to any brilliant management decisions.  As it is, the Cavs will be an early favorite in the East.

Grade: A+

Detroit Pistons

The Pistons have yet to sign Greg Monroe, but that’s likely to happen soon.  A restricted free agent, Monroe will likely sign a one-year qualifying offer.  New coach Stan Van Gundy is also looking for shooting, having already signed Jodie Meeks, D.J. Augustin and Caron Butler.  Meeks will help spread the floor, while Butler is an improved shooter.  The wildcard is Augustin.  If he plays like he did in Chicago, the point guard can provide much needed energy and shooting.  The Pistons didn’t have a first-round pick but made the most of their second-rounder, taking the talented but injured guard Spencer Dinwiddie (Colorado).  Dinwiddie was projected by some as a lottery pick before tearing his ACL last season.  Detroit did lose Rodney Stuckey to free agency, but that’s not a big loss.  As things stand, this team is unlikely to make the playoffs unless the frontcourt of Josh Smith, Monroe and Andre Drummond actually gels in its second go-around.

Grade: B-

Indiana Pacers

Indiana had a disastrous offseason, there’s no way around it.  The Pacers lost talented guard Lance Stephenson after the two sides failed to agree on a contract.  Then tragedy struck when Paul George suffered a gruesome season-ending injury during a warm-up game for Team USA.  That means Indiana is without its two best players from last season.  It didn’t help matters that the team had no picks in the draft.  Larry Bird tried to compensate for the loss of Stephenson by signing guards Rodney Stuckey and C.J. Miles and forward Damjan Rudez.  Rudez is a sharpshooter who comes over from Europe.  Stuckey brings scoring punch, and Miles is a quality two-way player.  The Pacers are also still pursuing Shawn Marion, who will likely decide between Indiana and the Cavs.  Realistically, none of these players can replace George and Stephenson’s offensive production and defensive tenacity.  Just weeks removed from being a conference favorite, the Pacers will now fight for their playoff lives in the improved and wide open East.

Grade: D-

Milwaukee Bucks

The Bucks got their man when they drafted forward Jabari Parker with the second overall pick.  Milwaukee is hoping that Parker, whose game reminds some of Carmelo Anthony, fulfils his superstar potential.  By pairing Parker with Giannis Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee is set for years at the wing positions.  The Bucks drafted forwards Damien Inglis and Johnny O’Bryant (LSU) in the early-second round.  Inglis will reportedly come over from Europe immediately.  The Bucks also stole coach Jason Kidd away from the Nets (they did give up two second-rounders).  Kidd will grow on the job along with his young players.  Milwaukee added guards Kendall Marshall and Jerryd Bayless as well.  They picked Marshall up off waivers after the Lakers released him.  He’s a solid passer who has developed a decent shot.  Bayless will provide energy off the bench and has a penchant for making difficult shots.  This team has a lot of growing pains ahead but could become a perennial contender if its core develops as it should.

Grade: B+