Summer Notes: Central Division

Photo Credit: NBAE, Design: Stephanie Genet

This summer is taking a look at the many changes made around the league and taking stock of how they'll affect each division in 2010-11.

Other divisions may have more depth, but the battle for the top spot in the Central is going to be as close as any other. And though one powerhouse talent was whisked away to the Southeast Division, the additions of Carlos Boozer and Darren Collison – and the health of Andrew Bogut – will keep this group more than just relevant in the playoff chase.

Cleveland Cavaliers
2009-10 Record: 61-21
Finished: 1st in Division, Lost in Eastern Conference Semifinals to Boston Celtics

It goes without saying that the Cavaliers will be a different team next season, but with four thousand-minute players from 09-10 off the roster and a new head coach in Byron Scott, everything about Cleveland's on-court identity will change.

Of course, roster mainstays such as Mo Williams and Andersen Varejao – one of the league's best defenders – and Captain Consistency, Antawn Jamison, will help smooth the transition. It's third-year player J.J. Hickson, though, who will likely determine the longevity of this group.

Hickson had been the subject of trade rumors the past couple years, including reported talks as the centerpiece in a deal for Amar'e Stoudemire. However those talks fell apart, Hickson remained a Cavalier, and thus a key part of the team's future. Yet oddly enough, he played just 7.2 minutes per game in the playoffs.

Hickson has the best youth-to-talent ratio on the team, and if Cleveland is going to get back to the playoffs, he'll need to improve on a 15.2 PER in his sophomore year. And he'll have to play.

Milwaukee Bucks:
2009-10 Record: 46-36
Finished: 2nd in Division, Lost in First Round to Atlanta Hawks

Milwaukee's 2009 boom-or-bust pick, Brandon Jennings, bloomed early last season, averaging 25 points through the first 11 games – highlighted by a memorable 55-point effort in just his seventh NBA game as a 20 year-old. Jennings eventually went through the same growing pains that most rookies experience, but he was still heralded as the raison d'être for the Bucks' resurgence.

A strong second year from Ersan Ilyasova – who had spent two years out of the league – and an excellent season from backup point guard Luke Ridnour (now with the Timberwolves) helped, too, along with the trade-deadline acquisition of scoring guard John Salmons, but it's center Andrew Bogut that was, is and will be the anchor.

Many like to point out the importance of perimeter players and the deemphasizing of centers in the current no-hand check NBA era, but few players are as strong a counter argument to that as Bogut. The big man transformed the Bucks into the league's second-best defensive team (103.1 points allowed per 100 possessions) and darkhorse contender in the months leading up to the playoffs. Even after he went down in mid-March with a gut-wrenching elbow injury, Bogut's lasting effect showed up when the Bucks took the favorite Hawks to seven games in the first round.

What does that all mean for Milwaukee's offseason, one spent drafting Larry Sanders, trading for another scorer in Corey Maggette and re-signing Salmons? It's all about Bogut's health and the improvement of Jennings. The Bucks will remain a quality team under Scott Skiles, but nothing this summer will affect the team more than their center getting back and their young point guard staying on track.

Chicago Bulls:
2009-10 Record: 41-41
Finished: 3rd in Division, Lost in First Round to Cleveland Cavaliers

"All they need is a post scorer."

That can be said about any number of NBA teams, but for seemingly the last decade, no other team has been the target of that phrase as often as the Bulls. And rightfully so. On a number of young playoff teams flush with perimeter scorers, Chicago has always had that one glaring hole.

Now they have Carlos Boozer.

Signed this summer, Boozer will dramatically alter the offensive side of the floor for a team that has been grounded in the in-between game. He'll post up as many would expect, but given the improvements we've seen in Derrick Rose's jumper during this summer's FIBA World Championship, Boozer should also be an ideal pick-and-roll threat for Rose to work with given Boozer's history in the Utah system.

More changed than just Boozer. The Bulls traded Kirk Hinrich to the Washington Wizards to clear up cap space, so they replaced his perimeter defense with Ronnie Brewer. They tried to sign restricted free agent J.J. Redick away from Orlando, but even though the Magic matched the offer, the Bulls had also brought in sharpshooter Kyle Korver to spread the floor.

But just as equal an addition is that of head coach Tom Thibodeau, the assistant coach who designed the defensive schemes for the Boston Celtics. Thibodeau demands a lot from his defense, so it might take some time for Chicago's new roster to grasp the concepts together, but there's little doubt that the team which was just outside of the top ten defensively was also one of the offseason's biggest winners.

Indiana Pacers:
2009-10 Record: 32-50
Finished: 4th in Division, Picked No. 10 in 2010 Draft

The Pacers weren't originally on the summer list of shakers and movers, but a few weeks ago they traded forward Troy Murphy to New Jersey as part of a four-team deal that had them acquiring second-year point guard Darren Collison and James Posey from the New Orleans Hornets.

Collison isn't a known quantity among many fans yet, but he's about to be, as he not only fits in Jim O'Brien's fast-paced offense but he also fills a hole at point that was as large as Chicago's in the post.

Indiana's reconstruction is far from complete, but they rolled boxcars with one trade and could do the same with another should No. 10 pick Paul George make good on his immense potential. All told, people may not begin to notice for a couple years, but it was the offseason of 2010 when Indiana changed course.

Detroit Pistons:
2009-10 Record: 27-55
Finished: 5th in Division, Picked No. 7 in 2010 NBA Draft

Detroit made big maneuvers in 2009 when it signed Charlie Villanueva and Ben Gordon to big contracts. Those moves added talent, but still left the team picking seventh in the draft, and with the way the salary cap is set up, it's tough for teams to make a splash in free agency in consecutive years, so it's no surprise that the Pistons were quiet this time around.

If it's going to be a memorable summer for Detroit, it's going to be because of center Greg Monroe. The Georgetown product not only has size, but excellent ball skills which were on display at the NBA Summer League in Las Vegas. In fact, were Monroe, along with center DeMarcus Cousins, being drafted in a world before recent draft miscues involving centers, they likely would have been in the discussion for the top choice. Such as it is, the Pistons got great value and have a talent with enough potential to add a handful of wins despite limited financial flexibility.

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