CENTRAL DIVISION

INDIANA PACERS

LAST SEASON: 49-32, lost to Miami Heat 4-3 in Eastern Conference finals.

STARTING FIVE: G George Hill (14.2 points, 3.7 rebounds, 4.7 assists), G Lance Stephenson (8.8, points 3.9 rebounds, 2.9 assists) or Danny Granger (5.4 points, 1.8 rebounds, 0.6 assists), F Paul George (17.4 points, 7.6 rebounds, 4.1 assists), F David West (17.1 points, 7.7 rebounds, 2.9 assists), C Roy Hibbert (11.9 points, 8.3 rebounds, 1.4 assists).

KEY ADDITIONS: F Luis Scola (trade, Suns), F Chris Copeland (free agent, Knicks), G C.J. Watson (free agent, Nets), F Solomon Hill (draft, No. 23), G Donald Sloan (free agent, Pelicans).

Indiana Pacers George Hill (3) maneuvers around Houston Rockets Jeremy Lin (7) during a preseason game in Taipei, Taiwan, Sunday, Oct. 13, 2013. The
Indiana Pacers George Hill (3) maneuvers around Houston Rockets Jeremy Lin (7) during a preseason game in Taipei, Taiwan, Sunday, Oct. 13, 2013. The Rockets beat the Pacers 107-98. ((AP Photo/Wally Santana))

KEY LOSSES: F Tyler Hansbrough (free agent, Raptors), G Gerald Green (trade, Suns).

COACH: Frank Vogel, fourth season with Pacers, 111-74.

EYES ON: Granger. The Pacers came within one win of reaching the NBA Finals despite losing the former All-Star for all but five games because of a bad left knee in 2012-13. After undergoing surgery in April, teammates and coaches say Granger is looking like his old self. If he plays that way, the Pacers will either add scoring punch to an already stout starting five or have a strong scoring presence coming off a bench that they believe will be vastly improved.


Advertisement

OUTLOOK: The defending Central Division champions believe they're ready to take another step after going from playoff team in 2010-11 to a second-round exit in 2011-12 to the conference finals last season. President of basketball operations Larry Bird says the Pacers are "all in" to win the title this season, and they certainly behaved that way during a creative offseason. They have improved their biggest weakness, the bench. George and Stephenson continue to get better and if Granger is healthy, the Pacers could contend. But they would still have to get past two-time defending champion Miami.

CHICAGO BULLS

LAST SEASON: 45-37, lost to Miami Heat 4-1 in second round.

STARTING FIVE: G Derrick Rose (21.8 points, 3.4 rebounds, 7.9 assists in 2011-12), G Jimmy Butler (8.6 points, 4.0 rebounds, 1.4 assists), F Luol Deng (16.5 points, 6.3 rebounds, 3.0 assists), F Carlos Boozer (16.2 points, 9.8 rebounds, 2.3 assists), C Joakim Noah (11.9 points, 11.1 rebounds, 2.1 blocks).

KEY ADDITIONS: G Mike Dunleavy Jr. (free agent, Bucks).

KEY LOSSES: G Richard Hamilton (waived), G Nate Robinson (free agent, Nuggets), G Marco Belinelli (free agent, Spurs).

COACH: Tom Thibodeau, fourth season with Bulls, 157-73.

EYES ON: Rose. The Return is now The Reality. Rose is back after missing last season while recovering from surgery to repair a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee. The big cloud hanging over the team last season is gone, the debate about when and whether he should return a thing of the past. Now, the only question is how soon he regains his dominant form.

OUTLOOK: Simply put, with a healthy Rose, the Bulls believe they are back to being championship contenders and challenging Miami for supremacy in the Eastern Conference. Indiana, New York and Brooklyn might have something to say about that, but Chicago is locked and loaded again. The Bulls earned the top seed in back-to-back seasons before Rose went down in the 2012 playoff opener against Philadelphia, and they see no reason they can't challenge for it again.

DETROIT PISTONS

LAST SEASON: 29-53, missed playoffs.

STARTING FIVE: G Brandon Jennings (17.5 points, 3.1 rebounds, 6.5 assists), G Rodney Stuckey (11.5 points, 2.8 rebounds, 3.6 assists), F Josh Smith (17.5 points, 8.4 rebounds, 4.2 assists), F Greg Monroe (16.0 points, 9.6 rebounds, 3.5 assists), C Andre Drummond (7.9 points, 7.6 rebounds, 1.6 blocks).

KEY ADDITIONS: Smith (free agent, Hawks), Jennings (trade, Bucks), G Luigi Datome (free agent, Europe), G Chauncey Billups (free agent, Clippers).

KEY LOSSES: G Brandon Knight (trade, Bucks), G Jose Calderon (free agent, Mavericks), F Jason Maxiell (free agent, Magic).

COACH: Maurice Cheeks, first season with Pistons, ninth season overall, 284-286.

EYES ON: Jennings. The Pistons made an early splash this offseason by signing Smith, but the acquisition of Jennings might mean more once he takes the court. He has proven he can score as a point guard, but Jennings will also be responsible for making sure the Pistons click offensively with a number of new faces. Cheeks will be expected to win right away in his new job, and he's hoping Jennings can make everyone around him better.

OUTLOOK: The talent upgrade this offseason was obvious, and after four consecutive seasons without a playoff berth, the Pistons look ready to take a step forward after adding Smith and Jennings to a roster that already included young big men Monroe and Drummond. Chemistry and cohesiveness will determine how much this team improves.

CLEVELAND CAVALIERS

LAST SEASON: 24-58, missed playoffs.

STARTING FIVE: G Kyrie Irving (22.5 points, 5.9 assists, 3.7 rebounds), G Dion Waiters (14.7 points, 2.4 rebounds, 3.0 assists), C Anderson Varejao (14.1 points, 14.4 rebounds), F Tristan Thompson (11.7 points, 9.4 rebounds), F Earl Clark (7.3 points, 5.5 rebounds).

KEY ADDITIONS: Clark (free agent, Lakers), G Jarrett Jack (free agent, Warriors), C Andrew Bynum (free agent, 76ers), F Anthony Bennett (draft, No. 1).

KEY LOSSES: G Omri Casspi (free agent, Rockets), C Marreese Speights (free agent, Warriors), G/F Shaun Livingston (free agent, Nets), G Wayne Ellington (free agent, Mavericks).

COACH: Mike Brown, returns to Cavaliers, eighth season overall, 481-314.

EYES ON: Irving. Entering his third NBA season, the talented 21-year-old aspires to be the league's best player. For that to happen, or for him to even be in that conversation, he needs to stay healthy, become more of a leader, play better defense and take the Cavs to the playoffs for the first time since LeBron James left town. Irving has superstar potential, and it's time for him to live up to it.

OUTLOOK: Brown shouldn't have been fired in 2010, and Cavs owner Dan Gilbert has acknowledged as much. In his second stint, Brown must improve one of the league's poorest defensive teams before the Cavs can be considered a legit playoff contender. Also, they need to show they're better to have any shot at convincing James to return home next summer.

MILWAUKEE BUCKS

LAST SEASON: 38-44, lost to Miami Heat 4-0 in first round.

STARTING FIVE: G Brandon Knight (13.3 points, 3.3 rebounds, 4.0 assists), G O.J. Mayo (15.3 points, 3.5 rebounds, 4.4 assists), F Caron Butler (10.4 points, 2.9 rebounds, 1.0 assists), F Ersan Ilyasova (13.2 points, 7.1 rebounds, 1.6 assists), C Larry Sanders (9.8 points, 9.5 rebounds, 2.8 blocks).

KEY ADDITIONS: Knight (trade, Pistons), Mayo (free agent, Mavericks), Butler (trade, Suns), G Gary Neal (free agent, Spurs), F/G Carlos Delfino (free agent, Rockets), G Luke Ridnour (trade, Timberwolves), F Giannis Antetokounmpo (draft, No. 15).

KEY LOSSES: G Brandon Jennings (trade, Pistons), G Monta Ellis (free agent, Mavericks), G Mike Dunleavy Jr. (free agent, Bulls), G J.J. Redick (trade, Clippers).

COACH: Larry Drew, first season with Bucks, fourth season overall, 128-102.

EYES ON: All the new guys. So many new players to meld under a new coach. The team placed an emphasis on character when acquiring players to renovate the roster. Most of the attention will likely fall on how the new backcourt of Knight and Mayo replaces the production of Jennings and Ellis (combined 36.7 points), and the continued maturation of Sanders, anointed a franchise cornerstone after receiving an offseason contract extension.

OUTLOOK: Optimistic about the chemistry among the new arrivals and Sanders' future as force in the middle. Replenished talent and depth on the perimeter. But Drew faces the challenge of implementing new systems on both sides of the ball to an unfamiliar roster. Preseason injuries to Delfino and Ilyasova have also slowed the learning process.

-- ASSOCIATED PRESS