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Darius Garland (left) and Donovan Mitchell (center) will team up in Cleveland for the 2022-23 season. (Photo: Jason Miller/Getty Images)

2022 NBA Offseason Grades: Central Division

Offseason
Darius Garland (left) and Donovan Mitchell (center) will team up in Cleveland for the 2022-23 season. (Photo: Jason Miller/Getty Images)

2022 NBA Offseason Grades: Central Division

It is time to take a look back at the NBA offseason and grade how each team has performed.

Today, we’re going to look at the Central division, which has a nice blend of championship contenders, wannabees, rebuilding teams and a franchise that is caught in no man’s land.

Chicago Bulls: C

Chicago’s primary objective this offseason was to tie down star guard Zach LaVine to a long-term deal. To that end: mission accomplished. Unfortunately for the Bulls, they achieved very little else.

The Bulls re-signed the high flying Derrick Jones Jr. and brought in a pair of veterans in rebounding machine Andre Drummond and veteran point guard Goran Dragic. Neither are game changers at this point of their careers.

Chicago also picked Dalen Terry in the first round. A big 6-foot-7 combo guard with an absurd 8-feet-10-inch standing reach, Terry is the definition of upside. He has the potential to be a disruptive force on defense and a very good distributor, but he’s a long, long way off being a contributor at this point.

That said, the additions of Terry and Dragic take on more importance with the injury concerns that surround starting point guard Lonzo Ball. The 24-year-old is still unable to run or jump – both rather important when attempting to play basketball – without pain at this point. Coby White and Ayo Dosunmu are both exciting prospects, though neither is a natural distributor. Expect Dragic to play a larger role than he may have expected upon signing.

Overall, this offseason feels like a consolidation for the Bulls. In a vacuum that’s OK. In reality, the Nets will have their weapons on the floor, Philadelphia has reloaded, the Cavs and Hawks have imported All-Stars.

After finishing sixth in the conference last season, there is a very real chance that the Bulls drop into the play-in positions this time around.

Cleveland Cavaliers: A+

Given their progress over the past few years, one could forgive the Cavaliers for thinking consolidation this offseason. Get Darius Garland extended. Re-sign Collin Sexton. Flesh out a wafer-thin bench. All more than reasonable goals.

For the bulk of the offseason, that’s what it looked like the Cavs were aiming for. Garland inked a $193 million deal and the team filled out their bench with Robin Lopez, Raul Lopez and the returning Ricky Rubio. All three very solid additions. As options dried up for Sexton, returning to the Cavs looked more likely than not.

Then, out of nowhere, the Cavs turned the league on it’s head by gatecrashing the Donovan Mitchell trade party, snaring the three-time All-Star for Sexton, Lauri Markkanen, rookie Ochai Agbaji and, of course, the requisite array of draft picks.

Mitchell completes a formidable, young (at 26, Mitchell is the eldest) foursome alongside Garland, Evan Mobley and Jarrett Allen.

This writer has seen the Cavs-Mitchell move called an ‘acceleration’ of the rebuild in Cleveland. It’s worth remembering that the Cavs were third in the East last season before injuries cruelled their campaign.

The trade and indeed this entire offseason isn’t so much an acceleration as it is the cherry on top of a quite delicious looking cake.

Detroit Pistons: A

For so long a rudderless franchise, these Pistons are most certainly on the right path.

In amongst all of their good management, they received a little luck in the draft when Jaden Ivey fell into their laps at pick five. The explosive guard should be the perfect compliment to Cade Cunningham; the fire to Cade’s ice.

The Pistons finally cashed in on Jerami Grant and parlayed that pick into potentially the ideal big man partner to their new backcourt in rookie Jalen Duren, who they picked up after a series of deals between the Knicks, Hornets and themselves.

In addition to Duren, Detroit also became a willing dumping ground for bad Knicks contracts, taking on Nerlens Noel, Alec Burks – both will be rotation pieces – and the fossilized remains of Kemba Walker. Finally, just a few days ago, the Pistons picked up veteran shooter Bojan Bogdanovic from the Utah yard sale for three-fifths of bugger all.

Burks, Noel and Bogdanovic are all possible trade candidates as general manager Troy Weaver looks to accumulate more assets.

The offseason in Motor City wasn’t all 100% positive, though.

The Marvin Bagley reclamation project has been a lovely story, but signing him to a three-year, $37.5 million deal when it appears they were only bidding against themselves is confusing to say the least. They also signed – for reasons that will forever remain a mystery – the well and truly busted former lottery pick Kevin Knox.

Indiana Pacers: B-

Indiana failed to pull off their plan A, which was to sign Deandre Ayton which in turn would have allowed them to finally trade long-time starting centre Myles Turner. They were able to sign Ayton to a max offer sheet, only to see it matched by the Suns in a matter of hours.

So, for the time being, Turner remains a Pacer, as does sharp shooter Buddy Hield. The expectation is that both will be moved at some point in the next 12 months. Could a Russell Westbrook trade be in the works?

Outside of the long running Turner saga, the Pacers did some solid work.

Indy kicked off their offseason by trading away veteran guard Malcolm Brogdon to the Celtics for a first round draft pick, serviceable veteran big man Daniel Theis and a theoretical floor spacer in Aaron Nesmith. That trade, though, was mostly about the pick and handing over the reigns of the team to Tyrese Haliburton.

In the draft, they selected Bennedict Mathurin at pick six. The Canadian forward as outstanding in summer league, giving the Pacers another gem of a player to add to their perimeter core of Haliburton and Chris Duarte. They also picked up Andrew Nembhard, Kendall Brown and Hugo Besson in a solid nights work.

Milwaukee Bucks: B

You could argue that the Bucks were just a healthy Khris Middleton away from, at worst, a second consecutive Finals berth last season. With that in mind, they didn’t make any outlandish moves this offseason.

Milwaukee took care of their own, re-signing Bobby Portis to the most they were allowed to offer over four years, also tying down Pat Connaughton, Wes Matthews, Jordan Nwora, Serge Ibaka and Jevon Carter.

As for additions, the team drafted MarJon Beauchamp at pick 24. The Seattle native is strong and athletic, always playing with intensity. He shows promise as a catch and shoot player, but is not expected to contribute much this season.

The Bucks also brought in veteran Australian wing Joe Ingles, despite the fact that he’ll be unavailable until at least January as he recovers from a torn ACL. It’s an interesting move. In an ideal world, Ingles dead-eye shooting and crafty playmaking would open up the floor for Milwaukee’s stars in Giannis Antetokounmpo, Jrue Holiday and Middleton. However, Ingles will turn 35 just before the season begins. It remains to be seen how well he recovers from – and how long it takes – his knee injury. At a speed disadvantage when in his prime, will this new version of Ingles get played off the court at the defensive end of the floor?

It’s a worthwhile risk, but for a team with limited ways to improve their roster, it’s nonetheless a substantial gamble.

***

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