Capsules for the NBA’s Central Division, listed in predicted order of divisional finish by AP Basketball Writer Tim Reynolds’:
LAST SEASON: 33-49, missed playoffs.
STARTING FIVE: G Kyrie Irving (20.8 ppg, 6.1 apg, 3.6 rpg), G Dion Waiters (15.0 ppg, 2.8 rpg, 3.0 apg), F LeBron James (27.1 ppg, 6.9 rpg, 6.3 apg), F Kevin Love (26.1 ppg, 12.5 rpg, 4.4 apg), C Tristan Thompson (11.7 ppg, 9.2 rpg, 0.9 apg).
KEY ADDITIONS: F James (free agent, Heat), F Love (trade, Timberwolves), F Shawn Marion (free agent, Mavericks), F Mike Miller (free agent, Heat), F James Jones (free agent, Heat).
KEY LOSSES: F Andrew Wiggins (trade, Timberwolves), F Luol Deng (free agent, Heat), F Anthony Bennett (trade, Timberwolves), G Jarret Jack (trade, Celtics), F/C Tyler Zeller (trade, Celtics), G/F C.J. Miles (free agent, Pacers).
COACH: David Blatt, first season.
EYES ON: James and Blatt. The four-time MVP came home after four years in Miami, where James matured as a person and grew as a player, winning two NBA titles and taking the Heat to four straight finals. The 29-year-old has been under pressure his entire career, but never like this as the Cavaliers are expected to win a championship, something no Cleveland team has done since 1964. Blatt was a successful international coach, but will have to prove he can adjust to the NBA.
OUTLOOK: Blatt has installed an uptempo offense to maximize the Cavs’ immense firepower. Defense, though, will determine how far Cleveland goes this season along with how well all the talent meshes. It could take some time, and there are bound to be bumps in the road, but there’s no reason why this team shouldn’t win the Eastern Conference title.
LAST SEASON: 48-34, lost to Washington Wizards 4-1 in first round.
STARTING FIVE: G Derrick Rose (15.9 ppg, 3.2 rpg, 4.3 apg), G Jimmy Butler (13.1 ppg, 4.9 rpg, 2.6 apg), F Mike Dunleavy (11.3 ppg, 4.2 rpg, 2.3 agp), F Pau Gasol (17.4 ppg, 9.7 rpg, 3.4 apg), C Joakim Noah (12.6 ppg, 11.3 rpg, 5.4 apg).
KEY ADDITIONS: Gasol (free agent, Lakers), G Aaron Brooks (free agent, Nuggets), F Doug McDermott (draft, Creighton).
KEY LOSSES: F Carlos Boozer (amnesty, Lakers), G D.J. Augustin (free agent, Pistons).
COACH: Tom Thibodeau, fifth season with Bulls (205-107).
EYES ON: Rose. The former MVP’s long awaited comeback lasted all of 10 games a year ago because of a torn meniscus in his right knee. He sat out the previous season recovering from a torn ACL in his left knee. Now that he’s back again, some big questions remain. Can he stay healthy? And can he regain his old form?
OUTLOOK: The Bulls wooed Carmelo Anthony in free agency and ultimately wound up with Gasol. As consolations go, that’s not bad. With Rose back and Gasol in the mix, the Bulls believe they can contend for the Eastern Conference championship.
LAST SEASON: 56-26, lost to Miami Heat 4-2 in Eastern Conference finals.
STARTING FIVE: G George Hill (10.3 ppg, 3.7 rpg, 3.5 apg), G Rodney Stuckey (13.9 ppg, 2.3 rpg, 2.1 apg), F C.J. Miles (9.9 ppg, 2.0 rpg, 1.0 apg), F David West (14.0 ppg, 6.8 rpg, 2.8 apg), C Roy Hibbert (10.8 ppg, 6.6 rpg, 1.1 apg).
KEY ADDITIONS: G Stuckey (free agent, Pistons), F Miles (free agent, Cavaliers), F Damjan Rudez (free agent, Spain).
KEY LOSSES: G/F Paul George (broken right leg), G Lance Stephenson (free agent, Hornets), G Evan Turner (free agent, Celtics).
COACH: Frank Vogel, fifth season with Pacers (167-100).
EYES ON: The replacements. Indiana opens the season without its two most dynamic offensive players (George and Stephenson) and a supporting cast Vogel insists will make the Pacers competitive. How do the Pacers replace those scorers? Hibbert and George Hill have promised to be more aggressive, while Stuckey, Miles, Rudez, second-year swingman Solomon Hill and 3-point specialist Chris Copeland will all have bigger roles this season.
OUTLOOK: Losing Stephenson hurt. Losing George a month later will force Indiana to put the title hopes on hold. Reaching the playoffs this season would be a major feat. Advancing in the playoffs would be better than expected.
LAST SEASON: 29-53, missed playoffs.
STARTING FIVE: G Brandon Jennings (15.5 ppg, 3.1 rpg, 7.6 apg), G Jodie Meeks (15.7 ppg, 2.5 rpg, 1.8 apg), F Josh Smith (16.4 ppg, 6.8 rpg, 3.3 apg), F Greg Monroe (15.2 ppg, 9.3 rpg, 2.1 apg), C Andre Drummond (13.5 ppg, 13.2 rpg, 0.4 apg).
KEY ADDITIONS: G Meeks (free agent, Lakers), F Caron Butler (free agent, Thunder), G D.J. Augustin (free agent, Bulls), F Cartier Martin (free agent, Hawks), F Joel Anthony (trade, Celtics).
KEY LOSSES: G Rodney Stuckey (free agent, Pacers), G Chauncey Billups (retirement), F Charlie Villanueva (free agent, Mavericks), G Will Bynum (trade, Celtics).
COACH: Stan Van Gundy, first season with Pistons, ninth season overall (371-208).
EYES ON: Van Gundy not only takes over as coach, but he’s also Detroit’s new team president. He’ll have the task of trying to revive a franchise that has missed the playoffs the last five seasons. There’s some legitimate talent on this roster in Smith, Monroe and Drummond, but those big men didn’t mesh all that well in 2013-14. Perhaps a new coach can figure out how to get more out of this roster.
OUTLOOK: The Pistons tried to bolster their outside shooting with their offseason acquisitions, although Meeks is already going to miss the start of the season with a back problem. Van Gundy the coach will try to help Detroit end its playoff drought, but if the Pistons flounder again and Monroe leaves, Van Gundy the team president may be more crucial to this team’s immediate future.
LAST SEASON: 15-67, missed playoffs.
STARTING FIVE: G Brandon Knight (17.9 ppg, 3.5 rpg, 4.9 apg), G Kendall Marshall (8.0 ppg, 2.9 rpg, 8.8 apg), F Ersan Ilyasova (11.2 ppg, 6.2 rpg, 1.3 apg), F Jabari Parker (rookie), C Larry Sanders (7.7 ppg, 7.2 rpg, 0.8 apg).
KEY ADDITIONS: Parker (draft, Duke), G Marshall (free agent, Lakers), G Jerryd Bayless (free agent, Celtics), F Jared Dudley (trade, Clippers).
KEY LOSSES: G Ramon Sessions (free agent, Kings), F Jeff Adrien (free agent, Rockets).
COACH: Jason Kidd, first season with Bucks, second season overall (44-38).
EYES ON: The Bucks’ new era. From new owners, to the new coach, to first-round pick Parker, the franchise has a needed dose of fresh blood. Parker and fellow 19-year-old forward Giannis Antetokounmpo are two cornerstones in general manager John Hammond’s rebuilding plan. Progress will be slow, but the Bucks hope to re-energize fans and gain support for a new arena.
OUTLOOK: Things seemingly can only get better after last season’s 67-loss debacle. Kidd needs Sanders to shake off a 2013-14 season plagued by injuries and off-court issues, and solid point guard play from Knight and Marshall. Parker already seems like a polished veteran off the court, and Antetokounmpo is drawing attention for more than just his last name.
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