An NBA Offseason Guide: The Central Division
Well the 2014-2015 NBA season has come to an end which means one thing: it’s time to look forward to the 2015 NBA offseason. This year sees many teams facing an uncertain future and the moves they make in the next few months will shape the outlook of the league for the next few years. Of course you could have written the preceding sentence about any offseason in the past decade or so. But every NBA offseason brings a certain level of excitement, it presents the chance for teams who underachieved to hit the reset button and it allows crazy owners to make crazy trades and dish out mind boggling contracts. Its a time for players to bet on themselves and turn down relatively large contracts (looking at you Jimmy Butler). This guide will look at the entire NBA by division by team giving you a comprehensive breakdown on what teams may be looking for this July. Today we will be looking at the Central division.
2014-2015 Record: 50-32, 3rd in the Eastern Conference.
Free Agents: Mike Dunleavy (UFA), Jimmy Butler (RFA), Kirk Hinrich (UFA), Aaron Brooks (UFA), Nazr Mohammed (UFA).
The Chicago Bulls ended their season with yet another loss to Lebron James in the playoffs. With the Eastern Conference being so weak this season was probably their best shot at getting to the Finals. However once again the Bulls came up short dropping the second round series to the Cavs in a 4-2 loss. On the bright side this will be the first season in three years that Derrick Rose has ended the year somewhat healthy. He will have an entire offseason to work on his game and study film to find out how to best utilize his talents to help the team. Sure he averaged just 17 points and 4 assists on 40% shooting and 3 turnovers, but the most important stat for Rose at this point is the 51 games he played this past season. From the 2012-2014 seasons Rose had played a total of 50 games. That’s right he played 50 games (which includes the one game he played against Philadelphia in the 2012 postseason) in the past three seasons. Which is why even though his numbers were down, this year was big for Derrick Rose and the Chicago franchise. Rose is owed a massive amount of money over the course of the next few years, making him virtually untradeable. This means the front office and new coach Fred Hoiberg have to establish a game plan keeping Rose in mind. Jimmy Butler was arguably the team’s best player posting averages of 20 points, 5 boards, 3 assists, and a steal per game. He’s rumored to be looking for a 3 year contract with a player option after two years. This would give him the ability to opt out and seek out a max contract when the salary cap is set to explode in 2017. Chicago will probably try to convince Butler to take a 5 year max, but they may just sign him to the three year deal then offer another max contract if he opts out. And of course no discussion of the Chicago Bulls offseason plans would be complete without mentioning the frontcourt conundrum that Fred Hoiberg has thrust himself into. The Chicago roster currently contains four legitimate starting big men in Taj Gibson, Joakim Noah, Nikola Mirotic, and Pau Gasol. Now for the purposes of depth that may sound great, but then you remember there’s only 48 minutes in a game. Somehow Hoiberg must find a way to incorporate all four big men. Thibodeau tried to slot in Nikola Mirotic at small forward in order to clear out time for Gibson, Gasol, and Noah to share time at power forward and center. If it doesn’t pan out then a trade seems to be in the cards.
Which brings us to a few options Gar Forman and John Paxson have should they feel the need to unload one their big men. Mirotic is the youngest of the bunch and the only one that is capable of hitting occasional threes to space the floor for drives to the rim. This leaves Gasol, Noah, and Gibson as the top trade candidates. It has been rumored the front office favors unloading expiring contract Noah or Gibson, a quality forward on a reasonable contract. Paxson and Forman may be able to unload either of them for depth on the wing and shooting. With Mike Dunleavy a free agent and Doug Mcdermott’s development being a giant question mark, look for Chicago to once again prioritize shooting this offseason. Last season the main wing rotation for Chicago consisted of Jimmy Butler, Mike Dunleavy, and Kirk Hinrich with cameos from Nikola Mirotic, Doug Mcdermott, and Tony Snell. Snell actually played a stretch of solid basketball where he averaged 13 points and was a +15 when he was on the floor. Chicago’s wing problem is solved if Dunleavy is re-signed, Snell becomes a solid role player, and Mcdermott bounces back from a decidedly disappointing rookie year. Or if none those three scenarios happen the front office could always try to trade for Wilson Chandler. Denver is rebuilding and Chandler’s been on the block for a good part of the season. However even then Chicago still has a deficit at backup point guard. Aaron Brooks is a free agent and had his moments while in Chicago, but on the whole was pretty mediocre. He turned in averages of 11 points, 3 assists on 42% shooting from the field and more or less fell out of the rotation in the playoffs. Chicago may try to upgrade at that spot seeing as Rose did miss 31 games in the regular season. In this case there are a couple of free agents that may help. C.J Watson is going to be back on the market and should be available for the right price. Rodney Stuckey would be a nice grab, but is probably going to be out of Chicago’s available spending cash. There are a couple of point guards that could slip to Chicago at 22. Jerian Grant, Tyus Jones, and Cameron Payne all project to be solid NBA level point guards and could be available to Chicago at the draft. If not expect them to try to find another perimeter shooter. Chad Ford has Chicago selecting Rashad Vaughn, one such player, another guy who fits the bill and may be available at 22 is R.J Hunter, both were capable shooters in college.
2014-2014 Record: 53-29, 2nd in the Eastern Conference.
Free Agents: Matthew Dellavedova (RFA), Lebron James (UFA), Kevin Love (UFA), Iman Shumpert (RFA), J.R Smith (UFA), James Jones (UFA), Mike Miller (UFA), Timofey Mozgov (RFA), Kendrick Perkins (UFA), Tristan Thompson (RFA).
Cleveland should be focused on bringing the band back together. Without Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love for most of the playoffs the Cavs came within two games of winning the title. Expect Lebron to opt in, if he doesn’t, don’t expect him to sign anywhere else. Cleveland represents Lebron’s best shot at getting another title and he knows it. He also clearly enjoys being back in Cleveland and it’s tough imagine him playing in any other uniform at this point. Whether or not Kevin Love will re-sign is the big question the Cavs need answered early in free agency. So far it sounds as though Love wants to re-sign with the Cavs and be a part of what they are building. However his numbers have dipped this season, a side effect of playing with Kyrie Irving and James. If he can take the ego blow he would help a lot with Cleveland’s floor spacing without taking away from the team’s rebounding. However he probably expects to sign to a max or near max deal, killing Cleveland’s cap room. David Griffin does need to decide whether or not to re-sign J.R Smith and Iman Shumpert. Both were solid during the regular season but struggled in the finals. Given the price the Cavs paid to acquire Shumpert and Smith, it should be expected that both are coming back to Cleveland. However the team still needs better depth. As it stands their best players coming off the bench are Shumpert (or Smith depending on who starts), Matthew Dellavedova, and Tristan Thompson. Outside of those three the Cavs have almost nothing in the way of a functional bench.
There are a few wings on the free agent that are on the market, but Cleveland isn’t going to have a ton of cap space to sign free agents, especially after they finish securing their own. They could give either someone like Brandon Rush a look. He’s young and showed he was a capable earlier in his career. However since his injury he hasn’t been the same, and has tailed off considerably in the past two years. However let’s consider that Mike Miller and James Jones both played rotation minutes for the Cavs in the finals this year. THE FINALS! Rush might be worth the risk for the Cavs, especially if they can grab him for something like the veteran’s minimum. The Cavs could also hope their 1st round pick will turn into their contributor. At 24 Chad Ford from ESPN has Cleveland taking Delon Wright. A couple of other players available that could be of interest is Pat Connaughton and Justin Anderson. Both have the potential to be solid role players in the NBA and could help out on the wing for Cleveland. Of course they could always go with Montrezl Harrell, a power forward who could help with frontcourt depth.
2014-2015 Record: 32-50, Missed the Playoffs.
Free Agents: Joel Anthony (UFA), Reggie Jackson (RFA), John Lucas III (UFA), Cartier Martin (UFA), Greg Monroe (UFA), Tayshaun Prince (UFA)
Stan Van Gundy is beginning to put his own fingerprints on this roster. Van Gundy has had success in the past employing a paint dominant center with a stretch power forward, he may be trying to replicate that formula by trading for Ersan Ilyasova. However outside of Andre Drummond and Ilyasova, Van Gundy has to decide who else on this roster is going to be a building block going forward. The team currently employs two point guards who are gunning for the starting spot in Brandon Jennings and Reggie Jackson. Jennings turned in averages of 15 points and 6 assists on 40% shooting before going down with a severe leg injury. While with the Pistons Jackson averaged 17 points and 9 assists on 43% shooting. However Jackson turned the ball over 3 times a game, Jennings only had 2 miscues per game. Van Gundy is going to have to decide which point guard he wants running point for his team. In theory he could keep and start both point guards, but that would leave him undersized in the backcourt. Also both Jackson and Jennings play better with the ball than they do without it. Which brings the possibility of bringing one of the guards off the bench. However in Oklahoma City Jackson expressed a strong desire start and Jennings might not care for being benched. Van Gundy is going to have to decide if he can keep both Jackson and Jennings, and if he decides not to, which one he should let go. Jackson is a restricted free agent this year, giving Van Gundy the option of negotiating an extension before Jackson hits the market. If they can’t reach an agreement the Pistons can simply tender the qualifying offer and see if any other teams hand Jackson a contract. If Van Gundy feels the tendered contract is too large he can decline to match and let him walk. Jennings however would have to be traded to another team that would be willing to take the 16 million left on his contract. Given that he’s coming off of a serious surgery there may not be many takers. Even if there is a team willing to take him on it is doubtful that Van Gundy will be able to get much in return.
If they do wind up letting one of their point guards go, then the Detroit front office is going to have their work cut out for them. The roster could still use a lot in terms of depth and shooting, especially shooting. The only players on the current roster who shot over 35% from deep were Jonas Jerebko, Anthony Tolliver, and Brandon Jennings. Ilyasova is a career 37% shooter from three, so he’ll help out in that category. Jodie Meeks only shot 34% from three this season, but he’s shot 37% for his career and shot 40% for the Lakers the year before so there is a chance that percentage moves up. A few free agents Detroit could look to sign include Mike Dunleavy, Marco Belinelli, and Jared Dudley. Danny Green would also be a good pickup, but may be to pricey for Detroit. They could also look to sign a backup center to spell Andre Drummond. Omer Asik is on the market, but it’s unclear whether or not he would be willing to take a backup role. Kosta Koufos and Bismack Biyombo are two other centers Van Gundy should look at for the role. Both are relatively young and are solid role players. Of course the Pistons could also try to find some quality talent in the draft. At the 8th slot of the draft, Sam Dekker and Trevor Booker will both be available. Either player would help out with wing depth and shooting. On the whole look for Detroit to be active in trying to pick up pieces to that can help them return to the playoffs.
2014-2015 Record: 38-44, missed playoffs.
Free Agents: Lavoy Allen (UFA), Chris Copeland (RFA), Roy Hibbert (UFA), Luis Scola (UFA), Donald Sloan (UFA), Rodney Stuckey (UFA), C.J Watson (UFA), David West (UFA), Shayne Whittington (RFA).
The Indiana Pacers caught a case of the injury bug last season. Paul George was limited to playing 6 games and George Hill was only available for half of the season. The result was a lost season for a team that only a year ago was a threat to make the finals. Now it seems as though Larry Bird is going to attempt to rebuild on the fly. Of course the moves Larry Bird can and can’t make will be largely determined by whether or not David West and Roy Hibbert will pick up their player options for next season. West is on the wrong side of thirty and his play dropped off significantly this season. With word that Paul George is getting ready to play power forward this season West is probably going to see his role with Indiana shrink. Hibbert remains a solid defender, but is an offensive liability. He doesn’t have much in the way of a jumper and he has trouble finishing around the rim. In an ideal situation he could play like Tyson Chandler or Deandre Jordan, but Hibbert simply doesn’t have the quickness to roll to the rim the way they do. His defense is still valuable, but there may not be many teams who want a center as offensively incompetent as Hibbert. The Pacers may look to trade either West or Hibbert if both opt in to their contracts, but there may not be a huge market for either. This leaves Larry Bird trying to build a team around a recently injured star and two big men that can’t space the floor. On the bright side George Hill quietly had one of his best seasons, averaging 16 points and 5 assists on 47% shooting. It is questionable if he can actually sustain this type of production for an entire season, but if there were a time for Indiana to move him it would be now when his value is high. They could trade Hill for speedy Denver point guard Ty Lawson in an effort to boost their offense. They could also keep Hill and hope this year’s production wasn’t a mirage and he can actually be a solid offensive player for them. Rodney Stuckey also played well for the Pacers and they should try re-sign him. However he may have played himself out of their price range. Of course we have no idea what Paul George is going to look like as a player post injury. If Paul George continues to play like a star then Indiana at least has that one piece to help reconstruct this team. If George can’t get back to his pre-injury production, then Indiana may try to blow it all up this season.
Even if Paul George does put up star numbers next season and George Hill is retained this is still a roster in progress. If the Pacers can retain Stuckey that will at least help them plug up one of their holes on the wing, but on the whole the team needs more shooting. Both George and Hill are slightly above average shooters, but the team doesn’t have anybody that really commands a ton of respect from the perimeter. Damjan Rudez lead the team in 3 point percentage at 40% but he only had 170 attempts this season and played 15 minutes per game. Stuckey shot 39% but only attempted one three a game and C.J Miles lead the team in attempts at 6 threes a game, but shot a below average percentage of 34%. The team could try to pick up Danny Green, Arron Afflalo, Demarre Carroll, or give Gerald Green another try. All four of those players could give the team more floor spacing without giving up anything on defense. Of course Indiana may also have to begin to reconstruct their frontcourt as well. The drop off in production for Hibbert and West means the Pacers may take a look at some the power forwards and centers in this free agent class. Bismack Biyombo is an intriguing candidate given his shot blocking prowess and athleticism. However he is a restricted free agent and Indiana doesn’t have enough cap space to make an offer Charlotte wouldn’t match. Furthermore if Indiana really wants to rebuild their frontcourt they might be better off looking at the draft. Right now Chad Ford has Willie Cauley-Stein falling to the Pacers at 11. He is a hyper athletic center who may be capable of defending every position from point guard to center. If this holds true Cauley-Stein could be a franchise changing defender in the mold of Dennis Rodman or Ben Wallace. It would also help to prepare the franchise in the event Roy Hibbert leaves either this year or next year in free agency. Heck if they do wind up drafting Cauley-Stein, I would expect Hibbert to be out of Indiana by the end of next season. Regardless, Larry Bird and the Pacers have a ways to go in order to be playoff competitive again.
2014-2015 Record: 41-41, 8th in the Eastern Conference.
Free Agents: Jared Dudley (UFA), Khris Middleton (RFA).
The Milwaukee Bucks made a surprise return to the playoffs this season due to their gritty defense and only look to be better next season. Jabari Parker will be back and Giannis Antetokounmpo seems to be improving his game every year. They proved to be a legitimate competitive team in the playoffs, taking the Bulls to 6 games when many thought it would either be a sweep or the Bucks would lose in 5 games. That being said the team does need to take some steps in order to ensure they can keep up with an Eastern Conference that will be tougher next year, or so we hope. The sudden departure of Larry Sanders left a gaping hole at center. Jason Kidd started Zaza Pachulia in the middle during the playoffs and he isn’t really someone that should be starting for a playoff team. John Henson has improved a little this season, averaging 7 points, 4 boards, and 2 blocks in limited minutes. But he is a little skinny and can be bullied around by some of the bigger centers (think Dwight Howard and Tyson Chandler) in the paint. However perhaps having a big center won’t even matter that much for this team. Coach Kidd has built a scrambling defensive scheme based on the team’s length and athletic ability. The young Bucks ability to help on the drive and close out quickly on shooters this season has disrupted many an offense that waltzed into the Bradley Center. So maybe the team doesn’t need a center so badly if they have bunch of long, rangey guys on the perimeter. The Warriors employ a similar strategy when they go small, preferring to use a bunch long guys on the perimeter to disrupt passing lanes, making it difficult to take advantage of their size. Of course this also gives the Bucks an offensive advantage of sorts as well since they usually employ either Khris Middleton or Jared Dudley at power forward, giving them floor spacing. Both are above average shooters with Middelton checking in at 40% and Dudley at 38%. Unfortunately for Milwaukee these are the only above average shooters on the roster. No one else shoots better than 35% from three, the only other two players shooting above thirty percent were Jerryd Bayless at 35% and O.J Mayo at 33%. If the Bucks want to take a step forward next season it would behoove their front office to find more shooting.
Which brings us to available free agents this summer. The Bucks should make re-signing Dudley and Middleton a priority. Not only are they great shooters but they are also versatile defenders and the key to what they do on both ends of the floor. The names that automatically pop out for Milwaukee are of course Marco Belinelli, Arron Afflalo, Marcus Thornton, C.J Watson, Goran Dragic, and Gerald Green. All of these players are quality shooters, however of the lot of them Afflalo, Thornton, Watson, and Green are the most likely to be had by the Bucks. Belinelli may stay with the Spurs and Dragic is probably looking to re-sign with the Heat. Afflalo would be a good fit, he’s a solid defender and a pretty good shooter. He could also handle the ball some and make some plays on the perimeter. If Milwaukee wants to try to find a center this offseason they could try to give a max contract to Deandre Jordan. He’s still pretty young and could be a shot blocker/rim protector for the Bucks. They could also give Bismack Biyombo a look, although he has trouble on offense. The Bucks may also try to solve their problems in the draft although at 17 it doesn’t look like there’s a shooter or center the front office is in love with. Right now they are projected by ESPN’s Chad Ford to take Trey Lyles, a power forward who has the potential to stretch the floor. He’s not a shooter right now, mainly scores off of cuts and rolls to the rim. However the Bucks could use depth in the front court and if there’s no one there the general manager loves, then it may be best to just take the best talent. In short if the Bucks want to make the playoffs again they should concentrate on finding shooting over all else. Henson has proven he can fill in for center if there is a need for it. However the team’s scrambling defense seems to work fine without a legitimate shot blocker. From what it seems the Bucks future is really bright.