2009 NBA Preview: Central Division

This year, we’re doing a division-by-division preview with quick-hitting analysis for every team in the league. If a franchise is a legitimate championship contender, I’ll focus on what stars have to line up for a title run. If a team is a playoff “also-ran,” I’ll identify the weaknesses that have to be shored up via trade, free agency or draft over the next couple of seasons to make it a contender. If a team is likely to miss the playoffs, I’ll take a look at the salary cap, and provide a blueprint for how the team should proceed in the near future to get back in the postseason. At the end of each divisional preview, I’ll provide some (random) thoughts for the fantasy hoopsters out there.

For each division, I’ll pick the order of finish. You’ll also see the team’s league-wide preseason rank in parenthesis. Be sure to check back on Saturday for the preview of the Atlantic Division.

Cleveland Cavaliers (2)
By now, everyone knows that LeBron James is set to become a free agent next summer. Feeling the proverbial heat, the Cavs swung a trade for Shaquille O’Neal hoping that he’ll be able to put the team over the top. It would be tough for LeBron to justify bolting Cleveland if the franchise is coming off of a championship, so the Cavs are “all in.” In addition to acquiring Shaq, they signed Anthony Parker, Jamario Moon and re-upped with Anderson Varejao. It might take some time for this roster to gel, but there’s no doubt that the Cavs have enough talent to go the distance. While making the transition from a declining Zydrunas Ilgauskas to a declining Shaq has its advantages, it’s going to be tough for LeBron to find driving lanes with Shaq and Varejao clogging the lane. Neither can shoot the ball effectively outside of 10 feet, so their defenders will be better able to get to the paint to help on LeBron. Look for the Cavs to run a lot of pick-and-rolls with LeBron and Shaq, which will force Shaq’s defender away from the basket. This should help, but there still is the matter of Varejao’s man defending the basket. It’s crucial that the Cavs get good shooting from Parker, Mo Williams, Delonte West and Daniel Gibson. Those players have to make the defense pay when it sags to help on LeBron. From a salary cap perspective, the Cavs realized that it wouldn’t do any good to have cap space if the payroll number keeps falling, and the Varejao signing ate up whatever space they would have otherwise had. In the unlikely event that Shaq turns out to be a complete disaster, they could always move him before the trade deadline in a last-ditch attempt to retool before the playoffs. For obvious reasons, of all the teams in the league, the Cavs may have the most riding on the 2009-10 season.

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2008 NBA Team-by-Team Preview

Ron Artest is a Rocket, Jermaine O’Neal is a Raptor and Mo Williams is a Cavalier. Richard Jefferson is a Buck and Corey Maggette is a Warrior. Baron Davis signed up to play with Elton Brand in L.A., but Brand bolted for Philly to play with AI2 instead. And Andrew Bynum is back from injury, trying to figure out how to co-exist with Pau Gasol and Lamar Odom. There, you’re all caught up on most of the big summer news from the NBA.

Want more? We’ve got you covered. Our team-by-team preview breaks down each franchise’s offseason movement and outlook, along with a player (or situation) to keep your eye on. We also ask “The Big Question” that is haunting each team as it enters the season.

For the last two weeks, We’ve been previewing each team from #30 to #1, posting three team previews per business day, starting with the league’s bottom feeders – we’re looking at you, Thunder – and finishing up with the cream of the crop. So who will be #1? The Lakers? The Celtics? Or will there be a surprise at the top of our preseason power rankings?

Click here to see the entire preview.

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