The NBA is back, and Sportsnet is breaking down everything you need to know about each of the 30 teams in the lead-up to tipoff on Tues., Dec. 22.
Today, we look at best- and worst-case scenarios for the Eastern Conference’s Central Division. (Teams are listed in the order in which we believe they’ll finish in the 2020–21 standings.)
2019–20 finish: 56-17, first in the Central, lost in the second round.
Major additions: D.J. Augustin, Bryn Forbes, Jrue Holiday, Bobby Portis.
Major subtractions: Eric Bledsoe, George Hill, Ersan Ilyasova, Robin Lopez.
Best-case scenario: With Giannis Antetokounmpo’s extension taken care of, all eyes are on a championship. The team traded away three future first-rounders to acquire Jrue Holiday, who they’re hoping will give Milwaukee more of a punch on both ends of the floor — particularly in the playoffs — and finally allow the two-time defending MVP to bring Milwaukee to the promised land for the first time since Kareem Abdul-Jabbar did it in 1971.
Worst-case scenario: Falling short of the Eastern Conference finals for a second year would be bad, but let’s be honest: The real worst-case scenario has already been avoided. What happens this season (and afterwards) won’t make or break the franchise. Giannis is re-signed through at least 2024–25, and the sky has not fallen in Milwaukee.
2020–21 season prediction: 44-28, first in the East.
2019–20 finish: 45-28, second in the Central, lost in the first round.
Major additions: New head coach Nate Bjorkgren.
Major subtractions: Fired coach Nate McMillan.
Best-case scenario: The Pacers are an odd team to project. When you think about the talent they have — Malcolm Brogdon, T.J. Warren, Victor Oladipo, Domantas Sabonis — you can see good things happening here. There’s no guarantee, of course, and we still don’t know what kind of player Oladipo will be now after looking like he returned too early from injury in the bubble, but an Eastern Conference Finals appearance would be a realistic best-case scenario for the Pacers as they, theoretically, do have the horses to make it happen.
Worst-case scenario: Even though the potential is there for Indiana to go deep in the playoffs, there’s as much of a chance that this team gets bounced in the first round … again. Indiana’s been eliminated in the first round of the playoffs for five straight seasons and simply can’t allow that to happen for a sixth. This is a team with a lot of potential, and it’s time it starts showing it.
2020–21 season prediction: 38-34, seventh in the East.
2019–20 finish: 22-43, third in the Central, didn’t make the bubble.
Major additions: New head coach Billy Donovan, Garrett Temple, Patrick Williams (R).
Major subtractions: Kris Dunn
Best-case scenario: The Bulls have an exciting scorer in Zach LaVine, who took strides last season to become a near all-star. With that said, while Chicago would certainly benefit from a greater veteran presence to help teach the youngsters on this team how to win, but unless the Bulls pull off a slew of trades that simply isn’t going to happen. Looking around, you see players like Coby White and Lauri Markkanen, who could become good players. But, quite frankly, they're not enough to help LaVine take this franchise anywhere significant. So a best-case scenario for Chicago will probably revolve around playing for a better draft pick in what’s promising to be a loaded 2021 NBA Draft class.
Worst-case scenario: The Bulls are in such a bad spot right now competitively that the only way they can possibly screw this season up is if new president Arturas Karnisovas opts to leverage the future at the trade deadline for a chance to be semi-competitive this season. Hopefully for Bulls fans that doesn’t happen.
2020–21 season prediction: 29-43, 12th in the East.
2019–20 finish: 20-46, fourth in the Central, 13th in the East.
Major additions: Wayne Ellington, Jerami Grant, Killian Hayes (R), Josh Jackson, Jahlil Okafor, Mason Plumlee, Delon Wright.
Major subtractions: Luke Kennard, Tony Snell, Christian Wood.
Best-case scenario: When you’re a team as seemingly rudderless as the Pistons are, you end up with an off-season like theirs — they made a flurry of moves, but none that seem likely to help them win. Blake Griffin’s albatross deal is still on their books, and he and the aging Derrick Rose will be relied upon heavily to get the Pistons through the season. The acquisition of Grant would’ve been a big move if Detroit was actually a contender, but they aren’t, so he feels like a wasted piece on this team. The best thing the Pistons can do this season is bottom out to make a run at someone like Jalen Suggs, Cade Cunningham, Jalen Green or Jonathan Kuminga in the draft.
Worst-case scenario: If the draft lottery comes around and the Pistons don’t have a top-five pick, things have gone very, very wrong.
2020–21 season prediction: 24-28, 13th in the East.
2019–20 finish: 19-46, fifth in the Central, didn’t make the bubble.
Major additions: JaVale McGee, Isaac Okoro (R).
Major subtractions: Jordan Bell, Alfonzo McKinnie.
Best-case scenario: The Cavaliers will likely be the worst team in the NBA this season. As such, there’s only one goal: win the draft lottery.
Worst-case scenario: Again, the Cavaliers will likely be the worst team in the NBA this season. They need a franchise cornerstone, and nothing less.
2020–21 season prediction: 22-50, 15th in the East.