Season Preview: Central Division

With the 2015-2016 NBA approaching, the basketball staff of My Mind on Sports is bringing you our season preview roundtable. In these roundtables we will answer key questions in each division concerning their respective teams. The first division was the Atlantic now it’s time for the Central Division. The Central Division consists of the Chicago Bulls, Detroit Pistons, Cleveland Cavaliers, Milwaukee Bucks, and the Indiana Pacers.

1. Given his injury history should Paul George be forced to play small ball four?

Javeen Robinson:  My initial reaction to the idea of Paul George playing the four was confusion. As you mentioned, his recent injury history should be enough to legitimately call into question the decision to play him at the four spot. I think Larry Bird is biting off more than he can chew trying to replicate the small-ball revolution. Don’t get me wrong, I think its fine for Indy to occaisionally play small ball to take exploit matchups, but completely scrapping your philosophy doesn’t seem ideal when putting your star into a position he doesn’t want to be in. Nevertheless, I believe the Pacers will make the playoffs.

Eddie McDonald: I don’t know if “forced” is the right word, but if that’s a way the Pacers can win, then so be it. However, if the Pacers want to play small ball, and want George at the four position, then they will have to risk that on the defensive end of the floor. If he is healthy, keep him at the three unless going small.

Wilson Tarpeh Jr.: While I see the advantages of him playing the four from the schematic standpoint, if he feels his body can’t handle it than he shouldn’t. It’s not for everyone, what the Heat did or even what Golden State is or did last year isn’t for everyone. It requires versatility and players being able to take the pounding of playing “up” a position. It’s definitely not for everyone, he’s the Pacers best player and if he can’t take it physically than no. Now if it’s not an issue physically, then he needs to swallow the pill and do what’s best for his team. Remember when LeBron said he didn’t like playing the 4? Best basketball of his career happened while doing so, so we’ll see.

Charles Maggio: Considering even George told the Indianapolis Star he doesn’t know if he’s “cut out for a four spot,” I don’t think he should be forced to play out of position. The Pacers aren’t making him as comfortable as he needs to be, and that could lead to a major disconnect that jeopardizes Indiana’s chances to contend this season.

Samar Gaines: The problem with this situation is that playing the small ball four is likely what is best for the Pacers, but given Paul George’s injury history and slight frame it’s likely not good for him. At small ball four George would be a match up nightmare for most teams, and it would create great spacing for the Pacers. George, when healthy, is a mega talent in this league and normally teams do not want to antagonize mega talents. If PG is to play small ball four I think it’s only going to be certain cases.

2. Did the Chicago Bulls championship window close?

Javeen: I wouldn’t say the Bulls’ championship window has completely shut just yet. However, I don’t believe they can win one without a healthy and spry Joakim Noah. Early reports out of camp suggest Noah is definitely healthier than last season, but sustainability is key. Another concern is the team defense, of which Jimmy Butler expressed concern about the other day. Anytime you lose a defensive savant like Coach Thibs, a team is likely to take a step back on that end, but the Bulls need to prove more that they can be at least decent on that end. Pau Gasol is like a defensive sieve nowadays, and in my opinion, its more of an effort issue than one of ability. Butler and Rose are solid enough to stay with their man, but we’ll see how well the others can guard post players and execute crisp defensive rotations.  As long as the team’s main pieces stay healthy, I do think they can push the Cavs and Wizards a bit, but we’ll see.

Eddie:  The Bulls window hasn’t completely shut, but it’s open very minimally. I just don’t trust the health of D-Rose and without him, this team isn’t a serious threat to the title. The window stays open, even if minimally, if Rose can stay healthy.

Wilson: It closed as soon as Rose got hurt the first time, he hasn’t played 80 games since. However, it’s a new team so the window could just be opening. Although, that remains to be seen. It may take a year, personally I don’t think the Bulls have all the pieces that fit what Hoiberg’s trying to do on the offensive end, they’re close, but not there yet.

Charles: In all likelihood, it has. Even with a healthy Derrick Rose, Chicago’s roster pales in comparison to Cleveland’s in terms of depth and star power. The Bulls don’t have much of a chance to overtake the Cavs in the East unless they can acquire another big-time player in the next year or two.

Samar: I honestly feel like it closed when Rose got hurt, ever since that time we’ve just been talking ourselves into the Bulls because we needed a team in the East that could compete with whatever team LeBron was on. Firing Tom Thibodeau in my opinion was a huge lost, but it was something they seemingly had to do after everything that happened behind the scenes and in the media last season. I like Fred Hoiberg but I don’t see anyway this team does better with him as coach instead of Thibodeau.

3. Are the Bucks a contender?

Javeen: The Bucks, in my opinion, aren’t at the contending level. The offense still consists of average to slightly above average offensive pieces that don’t offer much spacing. As their young guys grow older and more experienced, then we will see them rise to that contending level. Coach Kidd won’t let anyone get away with lackluster defense, so the team will always be good on that end of the floor. Now its just about seeing their scorers provide outside shooting in the near future. One thing that I think makes the Bucks difficult to scout is that virtually everyone on the roster has NBA rotation ability. From top to bottom, Coach Kidd can plug in just about anyone into the lineup and expect them to produce.

Eddie: The Bucks won’t win a championship this year, but they will be no joke. A good group of talented youngsters mixed with veterans who can contribute spells success in Milwaukee. Jabari Parker will help in a big way once he recovers fully from a torn ACL.

Wilson: Not yet, while they are all arms and legs and Jabari returns this season it’s all about the point guard play. When they can find and settle on a franchise floor general than they’ll be ready to contend. That being said, they’ll still be in the way and have the ability to play a huge spoiler role in the postseason.

Charles: They’re not a title contender, but they won’t finish lower than 4th or 5th in the East. The one thing Milwaukee has is plenty of depth, with a formidable starting five and guys like Jabari Parker/John Henson, O.J. Mayo and Miles Plumlee ready in reserve.

Samar: No, the Bucks aren’t a contender just yet. They are likely two seasons away from being a legit contender, if they can defend with Jabari Parker and Greg Monroe on the floor. I love Giannis Antetokounmpo’s potential and I think he could end up being a superstar one day but he isn’t close to that today. And any team that starts Michael Carter Williams is going to have major spacing problems.

4. Do you believe in what Stan Van Gundy is doing in Detroit?

Javeen: Stan Van Gundy is doing a solid job down in Detroit. The team players seem to be understanding their roles and buying into what he is preaching. The Pistons like the Bucks will be contenders in the future, as their young guys gain more experience. One thing I’ve been impressed with is the continued improvement of Andre Drummond. Its gotten to the point where Drummond is furiously calling for the ball on the block, and if he doesn’t get it, he’ll let the guards know about it–literally. For a player who many wondered whether he cared enough, it seems that Drummond is ready to be dominant now.

Eddie: I do believe in what SVG is doing in the Motor City. He is using the blueprint that led him to success when he was at the helm in Orlando. He is centering the team around talented big man Andre Drummond, similar to what he did in Orlando, only Drummond is replacing Dwight Howard.

Wilson: No, I read somewhere today that Drummond turned down a max offer (I need to get confirmation on that). If so, then it’s back to square one for Detroit. Going forward, he’s a huge piece. Monroe is no longer there, neither is Josh Smith. That front court is precariously thin, take him away and they have nothing. Now if they can keep him to build around, than yes, it has a chance, but take Andre out of the picture and they’re in Hinkie land.

Charles: I’m a believer. Detroit has a good young core of Reggie Jackson, Andre Drummond and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope to build on, while Van Gundy has shown he can take a less-than-elite group deep into the postseason (2009 Magic). The Pistons have potential to be a playoff team sooner than later, especially in the Eastern Conference.

Samar: I believe in SVG and I’m a big time supporter in him as a coach. In saying that, I’m good with the decisions he’s made up until this point. It’s clear to see what he’s attempting to do here, build a team close to that 2009 Orlando Magic team with excellent spacing and a defense that funnels everything into Andre Drummond. I don’t think he has the team he wants yet but I do like the direction he’s trying to take the team.

5. How does this Tristan Thompson sega end in Cleveland?

Javeen: This situation is a joke on the Cavs end. Many may not agree with me, but Tristan Thompson should hold out until he gets a deal somewhere in the ballpark of his desire. Whether or not Thompson deserves to be making the same money as Kyrie Irving isn’t the point in my mind. It was clear that when LeBron signed, Dan Gilbert did not mind going over the cap to ensure a championship roster was created. Tristan Thompson clearly proved in the playoffs that his defensive versatility and rebounding tenacity were more valuable than Kevin Love’s scoring  punch. Why should he (Thompson) now have to come back next season to share minutes with Varejao, Love, Mozgov, and possibly LeBron if the Cavs choose to play small? If I were Rich Paul, I’m riding this thing out.

Eddie: Tristan Thompson will end up leaving Cleveland after this season. The Cavs were throwing money to what seemed like everyone but Thompson, who deserves the money. I think by not committing to him, he will leave for greener pastures.
Wilson: I have no idea and it’s going to be interesting to watch it play out. He’s a big piece, it’s bigger than the stats, he brings the intangibles that are needed on championship caliber teams and he’s the only one that brings that to the table on that roster. So while it’s easy to say he’s not worth the money, who else on that roster brings that infectious energy or hits the glass with that enthusiasm? Tough decision, but that’s Dan Gilbert’s problem.
Charles: Someone’s going to cave, and it’s not going to be Thompson. Cleveland can continue to pretend LeBron James isn’t calling the shots, but Mo Williams’s return suggests otherwise. Now that LeBron has built a good rapport with Thompson in just a year, he won’t have much of a problem spending owner Dan Gilbert’s money on one of the best offensive rebounders in the league. Thompson isn’t worth $94 million, but he’s probably going to get it within the next two weeks.
Samar: Tristan Thompson isn’t likely worth the five year 80 million dollar deal he turned down in the open market, but to the Cavs he is likely worth more than that. The Cavs find themselves in a horrible situation as far as trying to negotiate goes, Tristan Thompson and his camp knows the Cavs can not afford to replace him. That knowledge makes this a unique situation where a non star player has all the leverage. The Cavs will cave soon and TT will get paid.

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