The Central division can be summed up in two words: LeBron James.
Chicago is riding high after the best first-round NBA playoff series in history against the Boston Celtics, but they are no match for James' Cleveland crew. All eyes will be in Cleveland as James and The Big Witness begin their march for a championship.
Oh, and regardless if Cleveland wins a championship, James will sign with Cleveland. So all you fans of other central teams, don't start getting your hopes up for the summer of 2010; he isn't going anywhere.
1. Cleveland Cavaliers
This is probably the easiest call to make as far as a division winner goes. The only way Cleveland loses the division is if James gets injured for an extended period of time. Shaq should add to an already dominant team and Anderson Varejao will continue to look like an all-star from all the nifty passes he receives from James.
I suppose Cleveland could lose the division if Delonte West shows up to work with his collection of 18 guns one day (Too soon? I know, disgruntled employee jokes aren't funny, they're dangerous people).
2. Chicago Bulls
It pains me to write this, but they have established themselves as the second best team in the division. Derrick Rose was great last year, and assuming he added a jump shot during the offseason, he is going to be near unstoppable at times. And did Joakim Noah cut off Kareem Abdul Jabbar's hands and surgically connect them to his arms? I'm not sure when Noah got that soft touch he has been showing, but it scares me.
The Bulls will also be one of the deepest teams in the league, boasting, Kirk Hinrich Jannero Pargo, Taj Gibson, Brad Miller and James Johnson. The shooting guard position has some questions, but John Salmons is a good, consistent player.
3. Detroit Pistons
The Pistons have received a lot of criticism this offseason, but they are not as bad as some people think. Yes, they overpaid for Ben Gordon and Charlie Villanueva, but people cannot forget they are both still very good players. Rodney Stuckey should continue to improve and Rip Hamilton and Tayshaun Prince are always a handful.
They have plenty of question marks on defense, except for Stuckey and Prince who are both top notch. They also don't have much in the front court other than Jason Maxiell and at times Chris Wilcox. They better hope Austin Daye was the right choice, because they will need all the help they can get up front.
4. Milwaukee Bucks
I refuse to ever pick the Bucks to finish last. And I also actually think they are better than the Indiana Pacers. Michael Redd and Andrew Bogut NEED to stay healthy this season as there is not much firepower behind them. Luc Richard Mbah a Moute should break out as one of the league's best defenders and Brandon Jennings is going to at least make people remember Milwaukee has a basketball team again.
The darkhorse: Hakim Warrick. Expect big things out of him this season. He had a great preseason and I think he will turn heads. The Bucks are also deep at the forward position with Warrick, Ersan Ilyasova, Mbah a Moute, Carlos Delfino and Joe Alexander. Rebounds will be key for this team.
5. Indiana Pacers
Some experts think they are on the upswing, but as long as Jim O'Brien is coaching it won't matter. Brandon Rush seems ready to bust out and Danny Granger is one of the league's best players. Roy Hibbert is good, but O'Brien loves Josh McRobert's facial hair so he will play the wrong person most of the time. Everyone debates Tyler Hansbrough's worth, but it wont matter because this team isn't going to win many games either way. That's just what happens when you don't have a bench.
They lost Jarrett Jack and Marquis Daniels in the offseason; two huge assets off the bench. Now they boast intimidating players such as Solomon Jones, Luther Head, A.J. Price and Travis Diener. Sounds scary (for Pacers fans).