NBA Central Division preview: Best case, worst case scenarios

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It was an offseason of change in the Central Division with star players traded away as teams looked to rebuild. Let’s dive into the best and worst case scenarios for each of the five teams.

Chicago Bulls

Last season: 41-41, lost first round (Celtics) 4-2

Best case: Chicago traded Jimmy Butler to Minnesota to get younger and rebuild the team in coach Fred Hoiberg’s image. In the best case scenario, Zach LaVine gets back to his explosive best, Kris Dunn starts resembling a number five draft pick and Finnish first-round selection Lauri Markkanen flashes the kind of potential we saw from Kristaps Porzingis in his rookie year. Driven by this young athletic core the Bulls win 40 games and scrape into the playoffs. They are swept by the Cleveland Cavaliers but the groundwork has been laid for an exciting rebuild.

Worst case: LaVine doesn't look like the same player following his torn ACL, Dunn remains lost on offense and Markkanen is physically outmatched in the NBA. The Bulls finish with their first losing record since 2008 and miss the playoffs. The decision to trade Butler to Minnesota looks increasingly foolish as Butler leads the Timberwolves to a top seed in the Western Conference.

Prediction: Worst case

Cleveland Cavaliers

Last season: 51-32, lost NBA Finals (Warriors) 4-1

Best case: Isaiah Thomas continues to defy his size and is one of the best offensive players in the NBA, hitting clutch shots as the Cavs storm to the number one seed in the Eastern Conference. Dwyane Wade is rejuvenated by rejoining his best friend James and looks back to his best as Cleveland easily advance back to the NBA Finals for round four with the Warriors. In The Finals, Cleveland exacts revenge for last year's humiliation with James hitting a series-ending three-pointer at the buzzer over Kevin Durant. Having won his fourth championship, Wade retires from the league on a high while LeBron resists the advances of the Lakers and agrees to see out the rest of his career in Cleveland.

Worst: New point guard Thomas’ season is hampered by recurrences of the hip problem that ended his 2017 season. Despite this setback, the Cavs limp into the playoffs led by an increasingly frustrated LeBron, despite the erratic play of Derrick Rose. Meanwhile, the Celtics’ new look roster looks fantastic and is led by MVP candidate Kyrie Irving. The Celtics and Cavs face off in the Eastern Conference finals again, only this time the Cavs are beaten by the new top dogs in the East. LeBron seeks pastures new in the offseason, joining the young Lakers for one last shot at a ring.

Prediction: Worst case


Indiana Pacers

Last season: 42-40, lost first round (Cavaliers) 4-0

Best case: Myles Turner establishes himself as one of the finest centers in the NBA. Turner adds a lethal three-pointer to his game and comes in fifth in MVP voting. Victor Oladipo thrives in the space offered by the double-teams Turner commands and Bojan Bogdanovic is electric off the bench claiming the Sixth Man of the Year award. Despite Turner's breakout season, the Pacers can only manage 44 wins and the sixth seed in the playoffs. In the first round, Indiana faces off against the Washington Wizards and in one of the best series in recent memory, the Pacers give the Wizards all they can handle. Indiana falls agonizingly short, losing Game 7 in double overtime. However, the post-Paul George era isn’t as disastrous as expected.

Worst: Without George, the Pacers look lost all season as the new additions fail to gel into a coherent lineup. Head coach Nate McMillan is fired just three months into the season as the Pacers fall to a 4-25 start. Under new head coach Scott Skiles the Pacers rally in the second half of the season to finish with 32 wins, missing out on both the playoffs and a top draft pick. The franchise is left in limbo and looking for direction. 

Prediction: Best case

Detroit Pistons

Last season: 37-34, missed playoffs

Best case: New addition Avery Bradley rekindles the hard-nosed defensive basketball that made the Pistons feared in the late 80s and early 90s. Stanley Johnson finally adds an offensive game to go with his tenacity on defense, whilst Andre Drummond learns to hit free throws. Behind their smothering defense, the Pistons win 45 games and claim the fifth seed in the playoffs. In the postseason, the Pistons upset the Raptors in six games before bowing out to the Cavaliers in the conference semifinals. In their first season back in downtown Detroit, the Pistons rediscover the spirit of The Palace at Auburn Hills and look set to contend for the years ahead.

Worst case: Andre Drummond continues to look like a throwback to a different era as the Pistons struggle to get anything going offensively all season. The first game back on the site of The Palace is a let down as Drummond misses 15 straight free throws in front of a disbelieving crowd. The Pistons win just 17 games and are the worst team in the league. However, the lottery balls don’t fall their way and they are given the fifth overall pick.

Prediction: Worst case

Milwaukee Bucks


Last season: 42-40, lost first round (Raptors) 4-2

Best case: The young Bucks, led by Giannis Antetokounmpo, take the league by storm, winning 58 games and claiming the first seed in the Eastern Conference. Antetokounmpo wins MVP honors having averaged 28 points, nine rebounds and seven assists for the season. Malcolm Brogdon continues to impress and young Australian center Thon Maker anchors the league's top-ranked defense. In the playoffs, the Bucks confound expectations by making the NBA Finals where they face off against the Golden State Warriors. The Bucks surprise the Warriors with their sheer energy and jump out to a 2-1 lead. However, the Warriors' experience wins out and they defeat Milwaukee in six games.

Worst case: Injuries plague the Bucks again as forward Jabari Parker misses significant time for yet another season. The disruptions to the lineup stunt Giannis’ growth and Milwaukee stand still for a season. They make the playoffs as the fifth seed but are defeated by the Raptors for the second season in a row. 

Prediction: Worst case

What do you think are the best and worst case scenarios for your team? Comment below!

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