• Alec Liebsch

Burning Questions: Central Division

Updated: Dec 21, 2020

It’s crazy to think, but the 2020-21 season is right around the corner. Rosters are mostly set as the dust settles in free agency, and the league just released its schedule for the first half of the season.

With the new season comes a flurry of new stories to be written. Star power didn’t change hands as drastically this offseason as it did last, but plenty of teams reshaped themselves in preparation for the new year. They all have questions that need to be answered, either early in the season or at some point in their playoff pursuits.

Up first was the Atlantic Division. Now we shift to the Central.

Chicago Bulls: How much was Jim Boylen’s fault?

One of the most iconic franchises in basketball has been pretty bad recently. Trading Jimmy Butler never helps, but the rebuild that followed went nowhere. Lauri Markkanen’s role in the league is mostly unknown, Wendell Carter Jr. has been used strictly as a traditional big despite his modern skill set, and the additions from last offseason didn’t add much to the bottom line despite them being legitimate upgrades.

Boylen, the head coach for the past two seasons, took most of the blame with him when the Bulls let him go. His coaching style was outdated and militant, and players’ roles were extremely limited as a result. The front office went out and hired Billy Donovan this offseason, a much more open-minded coach that should empower Chicago’s collection of talent.

Cleveland Cavaliers: How much is Collin Sexton worth?

Those rookie contracts come up on you quickly. Sexton is one year away from being able to negotiate a contract extension with the Cavs, an investment that would signal a shift towards competitiveness for the organization.

Cleveland is either confident in Sexton and company’s development this upcoming season, or completely unsure of it. They effectively did nothing in free agency other than some minor additions, banking on their trio of young guards, Kevin Love and Andre Drummond to propel them to new heights.

If Sexton is good enough, which the numbers indicate he could be in the right environment, none of this matters and you pay him something close to the max. But this season will determine how close he is to that.

Detroit Pistons: Is this the right way to support Killian Hayes?

The Pistons are up to something. No one’s sure what it is, but it’s something. New lead executive Troy Weaver has made his imprint immediately, adding three first round picks, several mid-tier free agents, and a few more distressed trade pieces.

Of all the moves Weaver has made, his most important one was the selection of Hayes at 7th overall in the 2020 Draft. Hayes is a very young and talented guard who played in France this past season, and he brings a strong skill set on both sides of the ball. Every corresponding move by Detroit seemed to be about supporting Hayes, most notably the Mason Plumlee signing. Plumlee is a superb passer at the 5, and he should make Hayes’ life easier as a secondary initiator.

Jerami Grant. Delon Wright. Saddiq Bey. Isaiah Stewart. To Detroit’s credit, every acquisition makes theoretical sense next to the high-usage guard that Hayes projects to be one day. It’s just a matter of if, and how quickly, the 19 year-old can get there.

Indiana Pacers: How does the franchise pivot from another disgruntled star?

If any team can display the struggles of operating in a small market, it’s the Pacers. They were forced to trade Paul George in 2017, developed the returning players Victor Oladipo and Domantas Sabonis from distressed assets into All-Stars, and have been consistently competitive in the post-George era thanks to them.

That era may be coming to an end. Victor Oladipo has made every indication that he wants to leave Indiana, and his injury concerns over the last two years make him an immense risk for the Pacers to extend long-term. To avoid losing him for nothing, a trade could be in order; problem is, other teams know his injury concerns too, and he’s on an expiring deal at a significant salary. His trade value is lower than ever right now.

Indiana has made lemonade out of lemons in the past, but this lemon feels especially sour.

Milwaukee Bucks: Are the new guys enough support for Giannis Antetokounmpo?

As of this writing, Antetokounmpo has yet to agree to a new contract with the Bucks. If the reigning Most Valuable Player and Defensive Player of the Year doesn’t do so before the season tips off, Milwaukee must wait until the end of the season to negotiate with him—when everyone else gets a crack.

The Bucks are doing everything in their power to keep Giannis: trading for Jrue Holiday, almost poaching Bogdan Bogdanovic and adding D.J. Augustin are all honest attempts to get commitment from the second-best player in franchise history. They’re going to surround him with as much of a blend of talent and fit as possible, or die trying.

Death is still very much in the picture. There’s no guarantee that Holiday can be a primary scoring option and/or table-setter for the Bucks. The best he’s done is be the second-best player on a second round team. Losing out on Bogdanovic makes that even worse; he would’ve filled that scorer hole quite well. The pessimistic take is that all they did is swap Eric Bledsoe and George Hill for Holiday and Augustin: Holiday is an upgrade over Bledsoe, especially with something as simple as taking an open 3 in the playoffs, but Augustin is a marginal change from Hill on a good day.

The Bucks made their roster as good as possible without making seismic changes, but an earthquake may be what they need to win with Giannis.