The 2023 offseason is mostly over, which means its time for me to do my annual division previews. Second on the list is the Central Division, which had just two playoff teams last year.

Milwaukee Bucks

Additions: Malik Beasley, Robin Lopez, Andre Jackson Jr. (36th pick in 2023 Draft), Chris Livington (58th pick in 2023 Draft)

Subtractions: Jevon Carter, Joe Ingles, Wesley Matthews, Goran Dragic, Meyers Leonard

Other: Re-signed Khris Middleton to a 3 year $102M deal, Re-signed Brook Lopez to 2 year $48M, Re-signed Jae Cowder to vet minimum

Outlook: The Bucks, largely the favorite to come out of the East last year, lost in shocking fashion to the Heat in the first round. The Bucks must think that was a fluke and/or that the Giannis injury was the primary culprit (fair), because they’re really running back the same team. Sure, Beasley will add shooting. And I love the Andre Jackson Jr. pick as an awesome defensive wing who can do some playmaking and handling. But the core is the same, and it’s getting old in a real hurry. The Bucks will be great again in the regular season as long as Giannis is healthy, and are still penciled into the contender tier – but a major drop-off from their 58 win pace last season seems quite likely.

Prediction: 52-30 (Last year predicted 53-29, actually 58-24)

Cleveland Cavaliers

Additions: Max Strus, Georges Niang, Ty Jerome, Damian Jones, Emoni Bates (two-way), Craig Porter Jr. (two-way)

Subtractions: Cedi Osman, Lamar Stevens, Raul Neto, Robin Lopez, Mamadi Diakite

Other: Re-signed Caris LeVert to a 2 year $32M deal

Outlook: The Cavaliers had an awesome 2023 regular season, winning 51 games and earning homecourt advantage in the playoffs. They then squandered a lot of that goodwill in a frankly pathetic showing against the Knicks in the playoffs, losing meekly in five games. Fortunately, they went ahead and fixed their most glaring weakness, which was a lack of reliable shooting on the wing – Strus will help immensely there, as well Niang. None of the deals, or the LeVert re-signing, were steals, but they weren’t outrageous overpays either, and should keep opponents from helping too much off Donovan Mitchell and Darius Garland. There are still concerns about the dual big lineup of Evan Mobley and Jarrett Allen on offense, but Mobley’s upside is nearly limitless, and another leap from him could vault the Cavs into true contention. Even without that, they should be a better team than last year.

Prediction: 52-30 (Last year predicted 49-33, actually 51-31)

Indiana Pacers

Additions: Bruce Brown, Jarace Walker (8th Pick in 2023 Draft), Obi Toppin, Ben Sheppard (26th pick in 2023 Draft), Isaiah Wong (two-way), Oscar Tshiebwe (two-way),

Subtractions: Oshae Brissett, Chris Duarte, George Hill, James Johnson, Gabe York

Other: Signed Trese Haliburton to a 5 year, $260M rookie max extension

Outlook: The Pacers were better than expected last year, largely because Tyrese Haliburton broke out from a highly promising youngster to true star. The Pacers didn’t bring in many veterans, but Bruce Brown should be a great fit on the court and as a champion-winning veteran, and Obi Toppin is a high-flier who should thrive next to Haliburton. Combine that with gunners Buddy Hield and Ben Mathurin, versatile rookie Jarace Walker, and the back-line defense of Myles Turner, and you have an interesting, competitive group that could be actually good if Haliburton takes another leap or another young guy shows star potential.

Prediction: 41-41 (Last year predicted 24-58, actually 35-47)

Chicago Bulls

Additions: Jevon Carter, Torrey Craig, Julian Phillips (35th pick in 2023 Draft), Adama Sonogo (two-way), Onuralp Bitim (two-way)

Subtractions: Patrick Beverley, Derrick Jones Jr., Javonte Green, Terry Taylor

Other: Re-signed Nikola Vucevic to a 3 year $60M deal, Re-signed Ayo Dosunmu to a 3 year $20M deal

Outlook: I actually thought the Bulls, based on individual moves, had a solid summer. Jevon Carter and Torrey Craig are nice role players who offer shooting, defense, and energy, and Vucevic and Dosunmu were re-signed to friendly-enough deals. But the team, as a whole, still seems lined up for mediocrity, with Lonzo Ball already ruled out for all of the 2024 season and none of the Bulls’ young guys seeming likely to amount to much more than role players. If things break right health-wise and some of their younger players do step up the Bulls could be decent, but they might be one of the most sure-fire “play-in” level teams in the NBA to me.

Prediction: 38-44 (Last year predicted 45-37, actually 40-42)

Detroit Pistons

Additions: Ausar Thompson (5th pick of 2023 Draft), Monte Morris, Joe Harris, Marcus Sasser (25th pick of 2023 Draft), Dewayne Dedmon, Malcolm Cazalon (two-way)

Subtractions: Cory Joseph, Hamidou Diallo, Rodney McGruder, R.J. Hampton, Eugene Omoruyi

Other: Replaced Dwane Casey with Monty Williams as head coach on a 6 year $78.6M deal

Outlook: I liked both big moves the Pistons made this summer – bringing in Monty as the head coach and drafting Ausar Thompson at 5 – but the Pistons are still too young to be much good, and they got screwed in the draft lottery by falling to 5 as the worst team last year. A lot of people have forgotten about Cade Cunningham since he barely played last year, but he came on strong down the stretch of the 2022 season and I’m excited to see him healthy in year three. The core of Cunningham-Jaden Ivey-Jalen Duren-Thompson is a fun one, albeit a bit shaky on shooting, so hopefully the Pistons are at least enjoyable to watch this year after being boring and mediocre or miserable and awful for nearly all of the past 15 years. Morris, Alec Burks, and Bojan Bogdanovic are all potential veteran trade chips to keep an eye on.

Prediction: 28-54 (Last year predicted 29-53, actually 17-65)

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