NBA offseason grades: Breaking down the moves in the Central Division
A flurry of noteworthy trades and signings dominated the NBA offseason, but this summer was also notable for the moves that didn't materialize. With a new campaign on the horizon, we look at how each team fared over the past few months.
The Milwaukee Bucks are once again the Central Division favorites, but a fifth straight divisional crown isn't a foregone conclusion. The Cleveland Cavaliers made a huge splash this offseason, adding three-time All-Star Donovan Mitchell to their talented young core. Meanwhile, the Chicago Bulls retained starting guard Zach LaVine and finished just five games back of the Bucks a season ago.
The Detroit Pistons should improve upon their 23-win campaign after picking up Bojan Bogdanovic and snagging Jaden Ivey and Jalen Duren in the draft this past summer. On the flip side, the Indiana Pacers appear committed to a rebuild after trading Malcolm Brogdon and could offload more veterans to acquire additional assets.
Last season: 51-31 (.622), lost in second round
Departed: Rayjon Tucker (Australia)
Drafted: MarJon Beauchamp (No. 24); Hugo Besson (No. 58 via IND)
Re-signed: Bobby Portis; Wes Matthews; Jevon Carter; Serge Ibaka; Jordan Nwora; Luca Vildoza; Lindell Wigginton
Added: Joe Ingles (POR)
Milwaukee returns virtually the same roster that fell to the eventual East champion Boston Celtics. The front office's decision to run it back isn't necessarily a bad thing as the Giannis Antetokounmpo, Jrue Holiday, and Khris Middleton core guided the Bucks to their second NBA title in franchise history just a year ago. The club might've reached a second straight NBA Finals had Middleton been healthy against Boston.
Team ownership should be commended for continually paying the luxury tax amid the Greek Freak's prime years. Milwaukee rewarded Portis with a four-year deal and extended 3-and-D wing Pat Connaughton through the 2025-26 campaign. Veteran big man Ibaka provides some insurance behind starting five Brook Lopez, while Matthews and Carter are both solid on-ball perimeter defenders.
Ingles represents the Bucks' big offseason splash. The 34-year-old was a reliable secondary playmaker and 3-point shooter during his time with the Utah Jazz but is coming off a torn ACL. Beauchamp is an intriguing prospect at the same position, though it's unlikely he'll crack the rotation as a rookie.
A second Larry O'Brien Trophy in three years is certainly attainable with Milwaukee's star trio leading the way. However, it's fair to have some concern about the age and health around that core.
Last season: 46-36 (.561), lost in first round
Departed: Tristan Thompson (FA); Matt Thomas (FA); Tyler Cook (FA); Troy Brown Jr. (LAL)
Drafted: Dalen Terry (No. 18)
Re-signed: Zach LaVine; Derrick Jones Jr.; Malcolm Hill
Added: Andre Drummond (BKN); Goran Dragic (BKN); Kostas Antetokounmpo (Europe); Carlik Jones (DEN)
Chicago took care of its most important piece of business early in free agency, inking LaVine to a five-year, $215.2-million maximum contract. The move allows the Bulls to build around LaVine moving forward and keeps the high-scoring guard alongside DeMar DeRozan for at least two more seasons.
Chicago also strengthened its second unit without exceeding the luxury tax. Drummond, who backed up Joel Embiid last season, should provide serviceable minutes behind two-time All-Star Nikola Vucevic and bolster the team's 28th-ranked rebounding unit. The UConn product has averaged 13.3 boards and captured four rebounding titles since breaking into the Association a decade ago.
Meanwhile, Dragic gives the Bulls an experienced point guard off the bench who can start if needed. Lonzo Ball made a career-low 35 appearances in his debut campaign with Chicago and is already out at least four-to-six weeks after undergoing another knee procedure.
Arturas Karnisovas had a productive offseason overall despite being limited financially, but he failed to address the club's perimeter shooting. The Bulls made the second-fewest triples per game in 2021-22 and shot just 28.3% from deep in their opening-round playoff loss to the Bucks.
Last season: 44-38 (.537), lost in play-in tournament
Departed: Collin Sexton (UTA); Lauri Markkanen (UTA); Rajon Rondo (FA); Moses Brown (LAC); Ed Davis (FA); Brandon Goodwin (FA); Norvel Pelle (IND)
Drafted: Khalifa Diop (No. 39); Isaiah Mobley (No. 49); Luke Travers (No. 56)
Re-signed: RJ Nembhard
Added: Donovan Mitchell (UTA); Ricky Rubio (IND); Robin Lopez (ORL); Raul Neto (WAS); Sharife Cooper (ATL)
Cleveland would've been just fine if it hadn't made a major move this summer. The club was finally on the upswing in the post-LeBron James era thanks to a young core that exceeded expectations.
The Cavs locked up rising guard Darius Garland with a five-year max extension, added center depth in Lopez on the veteran's minimum, signed Dean Wade to a team-friendly extension, and brought Rubio back after a strong 34-game stint with the team last season.
Koby Altman's job was pretty much done until the Jazz started fielding trade offers for Mitchell. The opportunity to acquire a game-changing talent of Mitchell's caliber doesn't come around often, and Cleveland managed to do so without giving up Garland or Evan Mobley. Most importantly, the Louisville product will have a chance to grow alongside the organization's budding talent as he's under contract for at least three more seasons.
Mitchell and Garland are unquestionably among the league's top backcourts on paper. The ex-Jazz guard's elite shot creation should complement Garland's passing ability. Although Mitchell's defensive struggles were well-documented during last season's playoffs, the towering rim-protecting duo of Mobley and Jarrett Allen might be enough to cover that glaring flaw.
Last season: 25-57 (.305), missed playoffs
Departed: Malcolm Brogdon (BOS); Ricky Rubio (CLE); T.J. Warren (BKN); Lance Stephenson (FA); Duane Washington Jr. (PHX); Keifer Sykes (DET)
Drafted: Bennedict Mathurin (No. 6); Andrew Nembhard (No. 31); Kendall Brown (No. 48 via MIN)
Re-signed: Jalen Smith; Justin Anderson
Added: Daniel Theis (BOS); Aaron Nesmith (BOS); Deividas Sirvydis (DET); Langston Galloway (MIL); Norvel Pelle (CLE)
It's unlikely Indiana will improve upon the 2021-22 campaign after the team posted the third-worst record in franchise history. The Pacers continued their roster teardown this summer, shipping starting point guard Brogdon to the Celtics for a bit of an underwhelming package.
Theis probably isn't the club's long-term answer at the five, Nesmith's outside shooting hasn't carried over to the NBA, and the 2023 first-round pick coming over from Boston will likely be a late selection. At a minimum, Brogdon's departure gives Tyrese Haliburton a chance to run the show.
Indiana's offseason has also been defined by the moves that never came to fruition. Myles Turner and Buddy Hield remain with the Pacers despite being linked to other teams for several months. The organization even made a play for Deandre Ayton only to have the Phoenix Suns quickly match an NBA-record four-year, $133-million offer sheet. As if that wasn't bad enough, Indiana had to waive promising rookie guard Duane Washington to free up cap space for the move.
The Pacers now have nearly $28 million in cap space that may be used to take on unwanted contracts and add more draft capital. How the front office navigates this could have significant implications down the line.
Last season: 23-59 (.280), missed playoffs
Departed: Jerami Grant (POR); Kelly Olynyk (UTA); Saben Lee (UTA); Luka Garza (MIN); Frank Jackson (PHX); Carsen Edwards (FA); Micah Potter (UTA)
Drafted: Jaden Ivey (No. 5); Jalen Duren (No. 13 via CHO); Gabriele Procida (No. 36 via POR)
Re-signed: Marvin Bagley; Rodney McGruder
Added: Bojan Bogdanovic (UTA); Alec Burks (NYK); Nerlens Noel (NYK); Kemba Walker (NYK); Kevin Knox (ATL); Keifer Sykes (IND)
There are brighter days ahead for Deee-troit Basketball! General manager Troy Weaver kicked off a productive summer by trading Grant to the Portland Trail Blazers on the eve of the draft. The deal gave the Pistons $43 million in cap space, which they subsequently used to acquire Burks and Noel from the New York Knicks along with a pair of future second-rounders.
Both players should factor prominently into the club's rotation this season. Burks is a proven outside threat that will complement point guard Cade Cunningham, while Noel's rim-protecting presence should help a Detroit squad that surrendered the eighth-most points in the paint last campaign. The Pistons hold team options on both for 2023-24 but could elect to flip either at the trade deadline.
Detroit also used the 2025 first-round pick obtained in the Grant trade to acquire Duren's draft rights from the Knicks in a separate deal. Duren and Ivey, who boast tremendous upside, join an exciting young core that's poised to push for a play-in tournament berth in 2022-23.
The Pistons made a late impact move as well, adding Bogdanovic from the Jazz without forking over a draft pick. The career 39.2% 3-point shooter fills a hole on the wing. He can play either forward position and should be a welcome addition to a youthful locker room. In the event things don't work out, Bogdanovic's expiring deal becomes an appealing trade chip.
The lone blemish on Weaver's offseason work was the three-year, $37.5-million contract he handed to Bagley. The former No. 2 overall pick secured a fully guaranteed deal and an average annual salary of $12.5 million despite a history of injuries. It's undoubtedly a risky contract, and only time will tell if the Pistons' gamble pays off.
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