Welcome to part II of our analysis of how each team did with their moves in the off-season. For those who missed it, part I was on the Atlantic Division, and today we move on to the Central Division. The upcoming parts will look at the Southeast Division, Pacific Division, Southwest Division and Northwest Division. Here’s a rehash of the rules/methodology (it’s the same as yesterday’s, so those who read it can skip down to the team listings):
1. Rather than a standard A through F grade or going for a scale of 1-10, we shall use a system that my friend Noriko loves: -5 through +5. It helps differentiate things a bit more, ‘cuz like if a team gets a C-, it’s better than an F, but is it good? With this scale, you can instead give the team a +1, which shows that they improved the team, but only marginally. Or maybe they get a zero ‘cuz they didn’t hurt the team or help it.
2. These grades are not, I repeat, NOT, about how good teams will be. It’s purely about how good their summer moves were. For instance, the Sacramento Kings may get a higher grade than say the Orlando Magic, but that doesn’t mean I’m insane and think the Kings will be better than the Magic. It simply means I like the Kings’ draft of DeMarcus Cousins more than the Magic’s signings of Quentin Richardson and Chris Duhon (although I haven’t fully examined those teams yet, so I dunno what grades they’ll get).
3. The grades are not just based on how good the players are, but also their contracts. Joe Johnson is definitely a top 30 player, but with Atlanta giving him $120 million/6 yrs, the largest contract of anyone this summer, his signing turns into a negative.
4. Grades will be scaled based on what each team could have done. Meaning the Lakers, a team over the salary cap, get major kudos for snagging Steve Blake, Matt Barnes, Theo Ratliff and bringing back Shannon Brown with their limited financial flexibility, but if say the Knicks, with all their cap space, had only made those moves, I’d pan ‘em.
5. Fit matters. I like Kirk Hinrich a ton, and had he gone to the Pacers (a team that desperately need a point guard before yesterday’s Collison trade), I would’ve raved about the move. However, Washington acquiring him is a bit odd considering they already have PGs in John Wall and Gilbert Arenas.
The Central Division
Chicago Bulls – Like the Nets, they failed to nab any of the top three big free agents. However, like the Knicks, they didn’t come away empty-handed, as they snagged the talented (albeit oft-injured) Carlos Boozer. Considering they’ve been looking for a big man with offensive skills for a while, it was a pretty good get. Although for some reason people keep referring to Booze as the low-post threat they’ve wanted even though he (much like Amar’e Stoudemire) really works more out of the high-post shooting jumpers and rolling to the basket after setting a pick (which should work brilliantly with Derrick Rose). They also added nice surrounding pieces in shooter Kyle Korver, fellow former Jazzman Ronnie Brewer, backup defensive stalwart Kurt Thomas (to replace departing Brad Miller at a fraction of the cost Miller’s getting paid). They did lose reliable Kirk Hinrich, but considering his large salary, it was a decent move. Additional low-cost pieces in CJ Watson and Keith Bogans could contribute too. In addition, hiring the Boston Celtics’ defensive guru Tom Thibodeau as the new coach was brilliant. Yes, signing LeBron & Bosh would’ve trumped all that, but still, Bulls fans have to be pretty happy. These moves should give Chicago entry up into the East’s elite four.
Cleveland Cavaliers – Um, I like that they got Byron Scott as coach? Okay, they got publicly pants-ed when LeBron James announced he was taking his talents to South Beach. Like with the Raptors one could argue that they didn’t screw up this off-season, but rather in past summers by not getting him enough talent to win a ring. Although they surrounded him with enough to get him the best record in the league for two years running, only to see him disappear during the playoffs… But we’re not here to hang LeBron again (okay, maybe just tighten the noose a bit). Dan Gilbert’s claims that this team will win a ring before the King is just ridiculous, particularly considering the minimal moves they’ve made. Acquiring Ramon Sessions and the athletic, potentially-intriguing Ryan Hollins for Delonte West was a decent move, but after losing LeBron you need major changes, not just a tweak. Plus, getting rid of general manager Danny Ferry and coach Mike Brown seemed wrong after they brought so much success to this franchise. Oh, and they struck out in their high-profile bid for Tom Izzo.
Detroit Pistons – Greg Monroe seems like a solid pick at #7, despite the pre-hype billing of this year being a five player draft. Hanging onto Ben Wallace and energetic Will Bynum was done using reasonable contracts. A crazy amount of health injuries torpedoed this team last season, so they should be better even by not doing anything. But that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t have done anything. It’s time to blow this baby up. Get something for Rip Hamilton and Tayshaun Prince before their arthritis starts to kick in. Oh wait, they did make a move: they signed Tracy McGrady. That could be really big. If it was five years ago. Nothing worse than stasis for an already mediocre team.
Indiana Pacers – After searching for a point guard all summer, the Pacers finally snagged a pretty good one in young Darren Collison. He was phenomenal as just a rookie last season and could blossom into the real deal. However, losing Troy Murphy does leave them with a huge question mark at the four-spot since Tyler Hansbrough still suffers from vertigo and no one’s excited about giving Josh McRoberts extended minutes. They might not be much better this year, but now with Collison and Danny Granger at least they have two young studs to build around. It would’ve been nice if they did a bit more, but it’s understandable that they’re waiting until next summer when they’ll drop $32 million off their payroll due to the expiring contracts of Mike Dunleavy, Jeff Foster, TJ Ford and yes, believe it or not, the last remains of Jamaal Tinsley (the Pacers will pay $14 million this season for a point guard duo of Ford & Tinsley who won’t play a minute for the team).
Grade: +2 (if not for the Collison trade they would’ve gotten a -1 or -2)
Milwaukee Bucks – They began the summer great, trading away dead weight Charlie Bell and Dan Gadzuric for the offensively talented Corey Maggette. Last season the Bucks were one of the worst teams in terms of drawing free throws, and Maggette is one of the best in the league at getting to the line. So a nice match. The trade for Jon Brockman also seemed good. Likewise, getting Chris Douglas-Roberts for just a second round pick was excellent. However, it then seemed odd to give John Salmons a 5-year/$39 million contract. Particularly with Michael Redd expected to return this season. Yes, it’s Redd’s final year, so it seems Milwaukee is likely preparing to let Redd walk and have Salmons as their future answer at the 2. But the Drew Gooden 5-year/$32 million signing was pretty shaky. They’ve now got a solid, but non-elite starting five (Gooden, Salmons, Maggette, plus Brandon Jennings and Andrew Bogut) locked in for the next three seasons. They won’t have to worry about making it to the playoffs, but they also won’t have to worry about making it past the second round since they’ll never get there.
Grade: +1 (if they hadn’t signed Gooden, or only signed him for a one or two year contract, it’d be +2)
If you want to see how we think these teams will stack up against each other during the season, look at our Eastern Conference Playoff Preview.