2015-16 NBA Central Division Capsules
Team capsules for the NBA’s Central Division, listed in AP Basketball Writer Tim Reynolds’ predicted order of finish:
LAST SEASON: 53-29, lost to Golden State 4-2 in NBA Finals.
STARTING FIVE: G Kyrie Irving (21.7 ppg, 5.2 apg, 3.2 rpg), G J.R. Smith (12.7 ppg, 3.5 rpg, 2.5 apg), F LeBron James (25.3 ppg, 7.4 apg, 6.0 apg), F Kevin Love (16.4 ppg, 9.7 rpg, 2.2 apg), C Timofey Mozgov (10.6 ppg. 6.9 rpg, 1.2 bpg).
KEY ADDITIONS: G Mo Williams (free agent, Hornets), F Richard Jefferson (free agent, Mavericks), C Sasha Kaun (free agent, Russia).
KEY LOSSES: F Shawn Marion (retired).
COACH: David Blatt, second season with Cavaliers and overall; 53-29.
EYES ON: Irving. He starts the season on the sideline as he continues to recover from a fractured kneecap sustained in Game 1 of the Finals. There’s no timetable on his return, leaving Williams to help James run Cleveland’s offense. Irving emerged as one of the league’s elite point guards, though is dogged by injuries. The Cavs need him to drive and create shots – for himself and others.
OUTLOOK: As long as the peerless James stays healthy, the Cavs should win the Eastern Conference and return to the Finals. Blatt seems more comfortable in his second year and better prepared to handle everything that comes with the grind of an NBA season. The additions of Williams and Jefferson will help in case of injuries. Tristan Thompson’s contract holdout could become an issue if it drags on, depriving the Cavs of frontline depth.
LAST SEASON: 50-32, lost to Cleveland Cavaliers 4-2 in second round.
STARTING FIVE: G Derrick Rose (17.7 ppg, 4.9 apg, 3.2 rpg), G Jimmy Butler (20 ppg, 3.3 apg, 5.8 rpg), F Mike Dunleavy Jr. (9.4 ppg, 3.9 rpg, 1.8 apg), F Pau Gasol (18.5 ppg, 11.8 rpg, 2.7 apg), C Joakim Noah (7.2 ppg, 9.6 rpg, 4.7 apg).
KEY ADDITIONS: F Bobby Portis (draft, No. 22).
KEY LOSSES: None.
COACH: Fred Hoiberg, first season with Bulls and overall.
EYES ON: Hoiberg. The Bulls hope Hoiberg and his fast-paced offense make all the difference after they fired Tom Thibodeau following a falling out with management. A former Chicago player, Hoiberg led his alma mater Iowa State to a 115-56 back-to-back Big 12 tournament championships.
OUTLOOK: The Bulls’ success still largely hinges on Rose’s ability to stay healthy, and he’s recovering from a broken orbital bone – his latest of many issues. Noah struggled last season after knee surgery, Gibson had ankle surgery in June, and Dunleavy had back surgery in September.
LAST SEASON: 41-41, lost to Chicago Bulls 4-2 in first round.
STARTING FIVE: G Michael Carter-Williams (14.6 ppg, 5.3 rpg, 6.7 apg), G Khris Middleton (13.4 ppg, 4.4 rpg, 2.3 apg), F Giannis Antetokounmpo (12.7 ppg, 6.7 rpg, 2.6 apg), F Jabari Parker (12.3 ppg, 5.5 rpg, 1.7 apg), C-F Greg Monroe (15.9 ppg, 10.2 rpg, 2.1 apg).
KEY ADDITIONS: F-C Monroe (free agent, Pistons), F Chris Copeland (free agent, Pacers), G Greivis Vasquez (trade, Raptors); G Rashad Vaughn (draft, No. 17).
KEY LOSSES: F Ersan Ilyasova (trade, Pistons), C Zaza Pachulia (trade, Pistons), F Jared Dudley (trade, Wizards).
COACH: Jason Kidd, second season with Bucks and third overall; 85-79.
EYES ON: Parker. The Bucks are proceeding with caution with the second overall pick of the 2014 draft after Parker tore his left ACL 25 games into his rookie season. Parker has muscled up his upper body to prepare for more jostling in the paint.
OUTLOOK: After a 41-win season and surprise run to the playoffs in Kidd’s first year as coach, the Bucks are poised for long-term success with an emerging core. But the team won’t catch anyone by surprise anymore, and must deal with the new challenge of expectations.
LAST SEASON: 38-44, missed playoffs.
STARTING FIVE: G George Hill (16.1 ppg, 4.1 rpg, 5.1 apg), G Monta Ellis (18.9 ppg, 4.1 apg, 1.9 spg), F C.J. Miles (13.5 ppg, 3.1 rpg, 1.1 apg), F Paul George (8.8 ppg, 3.7 rpg, 1.0 apg), C Ian Mahinmi (4.3 ppg, 5.8 rpg, 0.8 bpg)
KEY ADDITIONS: G Ellis (free agent, Mavericks), F Jordan Hill (free agent, Lakers), F/C Myles Turner (draft, No. 11), F Chase Budinger (trade, Timberwolves), G Toney Douglas (free agent, Pelicans), G Joe Young (draft, No. 43).
KEY LOSSES: C Roy Hibbert (trade, Lakers), F David West (free agent, Spurs), F Luis Scola (free agent, Raptors), G C.J. Watson (free agent, Magic), G Donald Sloan (free agent, Nets).
COACH: Frank Vogel, sixth season with Pacers and overall; 205-144.
EYES ON: George. After missing all but six games last season with a broken right leg, the two-time All-Star hopes to find his old form. When George returned late last season, he wasn’t the same player. But a summer of work has given him confidence and George has looked good in the preseason.
OUTLOOK: Larry Bird thinks he has at least three legitimate double-digit scorers in George, Ellis and Hill. If George is healthy, Hill is as aggressive as he was late last season and Ellis plays like himself, the Pacers could be in the playoff hunt.
LAST SEASON: 32-50, missed playoffs.
STARTING FIVE: G Reggie Jackson (14.5 ppg, 6.0 apg, 4.2 rpg), G Kentavious Caldwell-Pope (12.7 ppg, 3.1 rpg, 1.3 apg), F Marcus Morris (10.4 ppg, 4.8 rpg, 1.6 apg), F Ersan Ilyasova (11.5 ppg, 4.8 rpg, 1.0 apg), C Andre Drummond (13.8 ppg, 13.5 rpg, 0.7 apg).
KEY ADDITIONS: Morris (trade, Suns), Ilyasova (trade, Bucks), F Stanley Johnson (draft, No. 8).
KEY LOSSES: F Greg Monroe (free agent, Bucks).
COACH: Stan Van Gundy, second season with Pistons and 10th overall, 403-258.
EYES ON: Johnson. The Pistons have had a hard time acquiring any major help via free agency in recent years, so they need to make good on their lottery picks. Johnson could fill a need on the wing.
OUTLOOK: The Pistons haven’t made the playoffs since 2009, and although Van Gundy’s track record is a successful one, taking over in Detroit was a major challenge. The loss of Monroe means Drummond will be under pressure to take another big step toward stardom.