2018 NBA Offseason Review: Central Division

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2018 NBA Offseason Review: Central Division 

Post#1 » by RealGM Articles » Mon Oct 8, 2018 2:25 am

Chicago Bulls

Additions: Wendell Carter Jr., Antonious Cleveland, Chandler Hutchison, Jabari Parker

Subtractions: Jerian Grant, Sean Kilpatrick, David Nwaba, Noah Vonleh

2018-19 Cap Space: None. $17.9 million under Luxury Tax.

2019-20 Projected Cap Space: $40.8 million.

Analysis: The Chicago Bulls don’t really do long rebuilds. Outside of a down period following Michael Jordan’s second retirement, the Bulls haven’t missed the postseason for more than a year since drafting the aforementioned Jordan. This summer, as per usual, Chicago made moves designed to return to the postseason as quickly as possible.

At the draft, the Bulls used two first round picks to select players they believe can be cornerstones of their next playoff team. Wendell Carter Jr. was drafted seventh overall and Chandler Hutchison was added with the 22nd pick. After one standout season at Duke where he shared the frontcourt with second overall pick Marvin Bagley III, Carter showed in Summer League why so many are so high on him. He’s regularly compared to Al Horford in terms of skillset and it’s an apt comparison. Carter may not jump off the screen with any one thing he does, but he does everything well. He can handle and pass the ball at a high level for a big, and he’s adding range on his jumper all the time. His defense is near the top of his draft class, as well. Carter is expected to eventually be a center in the NBA, and with Robin Lopez entering the final year of contract, this year will be about grooming Carter to take over. He should pair well with last year’s top pick, Lauri Markkanen, in a versatile and big frontcourt.

Hutchison has further to go to make an impact, but Chicago is high on his potential. The Bulls were rumored to have promised Hutchison a draft slot in the first round, which caused him to shut down his workouts. He’s got good size and athleticism for the new-age NBA wing. He looked a little out of his element at times in the helter-skelter environment of Summer League, but shows nice touch and the ability to put the ball on the deck. Hutchison should eventually develop into a nice scorer off the bench at the very least.

After the draft, the Bulls went about retaining and upgrading their scoring talent. Chicago matched an offer sheet from the Sacramento Kings for Zach LaVine. This new deal will pay LaVine $19.5 million a year for the next four seasons. Some scoffed at that salary, but LaVine was arguably the centerpiece of the Jimmy Butler trade a year ago. After he showed he was fully recovered from the torn ACL he suffered while with Minnesota, LaVine settled back into his primary scorer ways. Chicago believes he can be a 20 points per game guy, and those players aren’t easy to find.

About a week later, the Bulls signed Jabari Parke. After not gaining much traction as a restricted free agent, Parker and the Bucks amicably agreed to part ways. Rather than making him go through the offer sheet process, the Bucks withdrew the qualifying offer and he promptly signed with Chicago. The Bulls were able to offer Parker a creatively structured two-year deal. He got the $20 million that was left of the team’s cap space, and the Bulls tacked a second year at $20 million on as well. But that second year is a team option. Should Parker struggle, Chicago can decline that option and move on easily. Even if Parker plays well, there is a good chance the Bulls will decline the option and then re-sign him to a new, bigger contract as a free agent.

The rest of Chicago’s moves were around the fringes of the roster. They traded Jerian Grant to the Orlando Magic in a move designed to clear some cap space, as well to unclutter the crowded point guard position. They re-signed Ryan Arcidiacono as a deeper bench option at the position, while upgrading the contract for scoring guard Antonio Blakeney from a Two-Way deal to a standard NBA contract.

One quibble with the Bulls summer was the restricted free agency of David Nwaba. After striking gold on the hard-playing Nwaba via a waiver claim, Chicago seemingly lost interest in retaining the wing. They let Nwaba’s restricted free agency drag out for a while before withdrawing his qualifying offer and letting him sign the Cavaliers. The loss here is that Nwaba signed a minimum contract with Cleveland, which Chicago could have easily matched, or extended the same offer themselves.

With a mix of veterans like Lopez and Justin Holiday, players entering their prime years like LaVine and Parker, and intriguing youngsters like Carter, Hutchison and Kris Dunn, the Bulls are an interesting team to watch this season. If everything goes right, they could be in the mix for a playoff spot. If the tandem of Parker and LaVine on the wing can’t stop anyone, the Bulls might be looking at a second straight playoff-less year for the first time since the post-MJ days.

Cleveland Cavaliers

Additions: Sam Dekker, Channing Frye, David Nwaba, Collin Sexton, Kobi Simmons

Subtractions: Jose Calderon, Jeff Green, LeBron James, Kendrick Perkins, Okaro White

2018-19 Cap Space: None. $8 million under Luxury Tax.

2019-20 Projected Cap Space: $19.1 million.

Analysis: No burying the lede here: For the second time, LeBron James left town as a free agent. This time he left with happy memories after delivering Cleveland its first NBA title. James is the best player in the world and there obviously isn’t any possible way the Cavaliers could have replaced him. Anything they did was going to be a step backwards. That said, the NBA world keeps moving forward, even when you lose arguably the best player in league history.

This time around James made his decision quickly and that allowed the Cavs to revamp their roster quicker than they did in 2010. That revamping started at the draft, when Cleveland selected point guard Collin Sexton. The selection of Sexton lends credence to the idea the team knew James might leave. Point guards, even ones as talented as Sexton, take time to adjust to the NBA game. He’s more scorer than passer at this point, but that’s okay. Cleveland could use some scoring punch from the lead guard spot. Sexton should stand out right away on defense. He gets after it and embraces the role of shutting down his opponent.

After drafting Sexton and seeing James leave, the logical question was: Are the Cavs going to tank? The next series of moves answered that with a resounding: No.

Cleveland moved quickly to sign Kevin Love to a long-term extension. Love and the Cavaliers added four fully guaranteed years and over $120 million to his contract. This signifies the team’s commitment to Love and his to them in return. But it’s also the type of extension we’ve seen traded before. Love will get his chance to prove he can return to his Minnesota ways, as the focal point of the offense, this season. If he can’t, Cleveland could look to move him elsewhere down the line.

The Cavs also brought back locker room favorite Channing Frye, after they traded him during the flurry of deadline moves that remade the roster. Frye will play the same bench shooting big role that he’s played for years, while being a calming voice for the squad.

After that it was a pair of intriguing moves for younger players that caught the eye. With the Clippers looking to clear some salary and roster spots, Cleveland snagged Sam Dekker for virtually nothing. Dekker has struggled to gain much traction after an injury with the Rockets and some ups and downs in Los Angeles. The Cavs hope they can pull his potential as a scoring forward out of him.

The other move was to sign David Nwaba on a minimum contract. Nwaba’s restricted free agency dragged on longer than anyone could have expected, but eventually the Bulls set him free. Chicago’s loss is Cleveland’s gain. He’s probably the Cavaliers best defensive wing, and he’s one of the hardest playing guys in the entire league. For the minimum, you can’t ask for more.

Late in the summer, after all of his other options were exhausted, Rodney Hood signed his qualifying offer to return. Hood has struggled with injuries and inconsistency throughout his career, but has the potential to be a 20 point per game scorer. With his role increased this season, he could deliver on that potential.

Cleveland is better set up for short-term success after James’ departure this time around. Veterans like Love, Tristan Thompson, George Hill, Kyle Korver and JR Smith, the Cavs will be competitive. But if things go south, all of those veterans are on relatively tradable contracts. That gives Koby Altman options moving forward, which is more than the Cavaliers had last time they lost James.

Detroit Pistons

Additions: Bruce Brown Jr., Jose Calderon, Zaza Pachulia, Glenn Robinson III, Khyri Thomas

Subtractions: Dwight Buycks, James Ennis, Eric Moreland, Jameer Nelson, Anthony Tolliver

2018-19 Cap Space: None. $481,625 under Luxury Tax.

2019-20 Projected Cap Space: None. $42.7 million over the cap.

Analysis: The Detroit Pistons made their big move at the 2018 trade deadline when they acquired Blake Griffin. For a roster that is capped out and dancing around the luxury tax, the offseason featured moving parts, but no “can’t miss” upgrades.

The biggest change in Detroit is in the front office and on the sidelines as president of basketball operations/head coach Stan Van Gundy was fired. The Pistons never really replaced his front office role, but hired 2018 Coach of the Year Dwane Casey. Casey has a track record of fantastic regular season success, followed by postseason flameouts. Detroit hopes he can bring the first with him, while reversing the second.

On the floor, the team lost veterans James Ennis and Anthony Tolliver and replaced them with Glenn Robinson III and Zaza Pachulia. Robinson gives the team a more versatile threat than Ennis did. An ankle injured ruined last season for Robinson, but he’s got great size for a wing player and a solid inside/outside offensive game. Detroit has had somewhat of an inconsistent wing rotation in recent years, so Robinson should help be a stabilizing force.

Tolliver never quite fit in as the stretch big option the Pistons hoped for and he headed back to Minnesota as a free agent. To upgrade their physicality behind Andre Drummond, the team signed Pachulia. He’ll be asked to bang on defense, rebound and set screens. Nothing more, nothing less. It’s a role Pachulia has played well for years and should continue to do so.

Jose Calderon was added to replace Jameer Nelson in the veteran third point guard spot. But a pair of guards selected at the draft could soon pass him in the pecking order. Without a first round pick due to the Griffin trade, the Pistons still snagged two highly-regarded backcourt players. They worked a draft day trade with Philadelphia to pick Khyri Thomas, who some had as having a late first round grade. He’s a solid scorer, having shot above 50 percent for his college career, and a developing playmaker. He’ll log some G League minutes early on, but could be a part of the point guard mix before long.

Detroit then added Bruce Brown Jr. out of Miami with their own second round pick. Brown was projected as a potential lottery pick in 2017, but chose to return to school for his sophomore season. He then had an up and down year that was marred by injury, but he’s got great size for a guard and is one of the better passers in his class. If he can rediscover his shot, Brown has a chance to be a solid contributor.

The Pistons are in the playoff picture at the bottom of the Eastern Conference, but the upside is limited, both now and in the immediate future. Players inked to expensive, long-term contracts by the previous regime have the cap sheet bloated for the next couple of seasons. They’ll be in the mix for the postseason, but expecting much more isn’t realistic.

Indiana Pacers

Additions: Tyreke Evans, Aaron Holiday, Alize Johnson, Doug McDermott, Kyle O’Quinn

Subtractions: Trevor Booker, Al Jefferson, Alex Poythress, Glenn Robinson III, Lance Stephenson, Joseph Young

2018-19 Cap Space: None. $15.9 million under Luxury Tax.

2019-20 Projected Cap Space: $51.9 million.

Analysis: The Pacers hit the 2018 offseason with as much flexibility as any team in the NBA. After hitting a homerun in the Paul George trade with Oklahoma City in 2017, the front office used the team’s cap space to sign players to short-term contracts with minimal financial commitment on the part of the club. That paid off this summer as Indiana was able to upgrade their bench talent across the board.

The Pacers renounced veterans Lance Stephenson, Glenn Robinson III and Trevor Booker and waived Al Jefferson. With the resulting cap space, they went about upgrading at each spot.

To replace Stephenson, Indiana added versatile wing playmaker Tyreke Evans. Evans can play 1-3 and should give the Pacers some scoring punch off the bench that they’ve been missing. He signed a one-year, $12.4 million deal, which allows the team to retain flexibility moving forward.

In an effort to add more shooting, the Pacers signed free agent forward Doug McDermott. While he’s never grown into the primary scoring role some hoped for, McDermott remains a deadeye shooter at over 40 percent for his career from behind the arc. Last season with the Mavericks, in a stable offensive system similar to the one the Pacers run, McDermott shot 49.4 percent on three-pointers. His ability to play off creators like Victor Oladipo and Evans will be a boon to an Indiana team that lacked bench shooting last season.

Up front, the club replaced the aging and ineffective Jefferson with Kyle O’Quinn. O’Quinn is a versatile big man who likes to bang on defense and can step out and hit jumpers on offense. He also got a one-year contract, for the Room Exception, which allows the Pacers to see how he fits with Myles Turner and Domantas Sabonis up front without being locked in long-term.

At the draft, Indiana selected point guard Aaron Holiday. He should eventually replace either Darren Collison or Cory Joseph in the rotation, as both are free agents following this season. This year will be about development for Holiday, as he’ll likely split time between the Pacers and the Fort Wayne Mad Ants in the G League.

Much like the summer before, minus the big trade that brought in Oladipo and Sabonis, it was an efficient, under-the-radar summer for Indiana. None of the moves grabbed headlines, but all were solid upgrades. Next up is an extension for Myles Turner, as the Pacers build around a core of him and Oladipo. Kevin Pritchard has retained the type of flexibility a small-market team has to have, and that should pay off in playoff appearances for years to come in Indiana.

Milwaukee Bucks

Additions: Pat Connaughton, Donte DiVincenzo, Tim Frazier, Ersan Ilyasova, Brook Lopez, Christian Wood

Subtractions: Brandon Jennings, Jabari Parker, Jason Terry

2018-19 Cap Space: None. $3.4 million under Luxury Tax.

2019-20 Projected Cap Space: None. $29.7 million over the cap.

Analysis: Milwaukee has built a solid group around Giannis Antetokounmpo, but has lacked that stable hand guiding the team on the sidelines. By replacing the Jason Kidd/Joe Prunty combo with Mike Budenholzer, the Bucks hope they finally have the coach to lead them past the first round of the playoffs.

Budenholzer brings a resume of building efficient offenses and solid defenses to Milwaukee. In Atlanta, he regularly used the “the whole is greater than the sum of the parts” approach to bring the Hawks to playoffs on a regular basis. With as much, or even more, talent on the Bucks, the hope is Budenholzer will lift the team into contention near the top of the Eastern Conference.

Building a scheme around the talents of Antetokounmpo is something any coach would relish. But the Bucks also have perennially underrated wing Khris Middleton and talented point guard Eric Bledsoe as building blocks. Surrounding them are a group of players who understand their roles and generally play them well. The charge for Budenholzer is to get each to raise their level of play just enough to take the Bucks from good to great.

To aid in those efforts, Jon Horst added a couple of veterans up front in Brook Lopez and Ersan Ilyasova. Lopez will give the Bucks their best offensive center since Andrew Bogut got hurt. Since becoming a credible three-point shooter over the last couple of years, Lopez has unlocked one of the NBA’s more versatile scoring games at center. He’s still capable of catching the ball in the post and getting a bucket, but now he can draw his man from the paint and regularly knock down jumpers as well. When Milwaukee needs a defensive look, they can turn to John Henson and Thon Maker to replace Lopez in the lineup.

Old friend Ilyasova is returning to Milwaukee after three seasons away, playing for five different teams over that span. Comfortable as a starter or coming off the bench, Ilyasova will allow Budenholzer some lineup flexibility. Against bigger teams, he could start with Antetokounmpo and Middleton sliding down a position. Or he can be a weapon off the bench. He can defend both fours and fives equally well. As one of the best positional defenders in the NBA, Ilyasova is regularly among the league leaders in charges drawn. On offense, he remains a solid shooter and it better off the dribble than most think.

The Bucks also added some wing depth by signing Pat Connaughton and drafting Donte DiVincenzo. Either player could hit as the bench shooter the team has long lacked. In addition, the club re-signed Shabazz Muhammad. Muhammad can still score in bunches when given the opportunity, even if he adds little else.

Milwaukee is poised to make a leap behind Antetokounmpo and a deep, versatile team. The roster has gotten pricey, and Middleton and Bledsoe are due new contracts next summer. Antetokounmpo signed an under-market extension, but that only goes so far. The Bucks need their offseason additions, including Budenholzer, to hit big.

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