LA Confidential: The Good, The Bad & The Ugly - Eastern Conference (Central Division)
- By Jron Magcale, Day 1, 2026
Chicago Jailbirds (King-O-Matic Projection: 49 Wins; 4th in the East)
The Good: The boys are back, Triple C's and more! Jailbirds have a quite interesting offseason. They were able to trade for champion PG Jevon Novak to partner with Jason Cheaney and then they were able to lock Antoine Willis to a discounted $14M/4 contract add that Cheaney's best bud Keydren Carter agreed to sogn for the veteran minimum to form the banana boat gang after Dameon Clarke they have acquired Clarke from a trade last season. Pretty much solid experienced starting 5, the Triple C's won a championship a decade ago and would want to try for another one on their 10th year reunion. Could be a darkhorse as this team has so much familiarity with their players. the potential of the Novak-Carter backcourt is something to look forward to. A solid homecourt candidate for the playoffs if health wouldn't be an issue.
The Bad: Well they are one of the teams who's window is smaller than most. Clarke and Carter are 34, Novak is 32 and Cheaney is 31. Realistically the core of this team have 2 seasons max to compete at a high level. So, it is important that this season be sort of a win-now situation. Then there is depth in which always is a concern for a team with veterans but if they have a rotation plan in the works it could be something. Bottom-line is their window is now and seems like a toss up after this season.
The Ugly: A part of the problem for the Jailbirds is projecting their future. Next season Clarke, Cheaney and Willis are the only players that would be back from the veteran squad. By then Cheaney is 32, Clarke is 35 and Willis is the youngest at 25. They do have young prospects in Dennis Howard, Trevon Cage, Ray Washington, Axel Frazier, DJ Gordon and Sheldon Granger. The question is will they tank after this season to get a good pick by 2028 or still try to compete (They will have $62.6M in cap next season and 9 players assuming all options are picked up). Uncertainty is their issue and my guess is they'll decide on it as the season progresses.
Cincinnati Kings (King-O-Matic Projection: 58 Wins; 1st in the East)
The Good: Kings maintained their core added veteran help (Tezale Craig) and have their youth developed this offseason, in short they will still challenge for the #1 spot in the East and they'll likely will win 60 games. A solid collection of talent and already great cohesion will be their advantage. One of the best teams to build a homegrown team through the draft. They were so close last season as they made the Finals and this season they are likely a candidate as well to make it there again.
The Bad: They have joined the darkside of salary cap hell. They are now at $122.7M and potentially can lose a 1st rounder next season if not addressed. Keeping the core together comes with a price and re-signing Latrell Mason and Victor Olojakpoke put their cap situation in the red. Detrez Owens is the other player who is at $20M/year those 3 players alone are at $60M then Jamarcus Thybulle at $18.5M/2+1t and Richmond Benson $15M/1+1t, also Kyle Northwood's $7M and Craig's mid-level exception contract ties them down for at least 2 more seasons of limited cap flexibility unless they make a move. But if they win it all this season it will be worth it.
The Ugly: They still have that issue with their forward rotation and now they added Craig who can potentially be a ticking time bomb if things doesn't go his way. A forward rotation consists of Olojakpoke, Benson, Thybulle, DeMarco Prince and now with Craig can go both ways. Is Thybulle ok with a part-time starter role? Will Craig be ok with a lesser role? Also another issue would be their PG rotation is Eli Custer and Marcus Richardson enough for the Kings? Will be a team worth following this season for sure.
Detroit Mustangs (King-O-Matic Projection: 42 Wins; 8th in the East)
The Good: Josiah Robinson aka The Messiah is ready to take flight. After a solid season that saw him improving his advanced stats (which was the issue in his rookie season) he is much more matured and 2 seasons under his belt he is ready to fully embrace the alpha role. The team has collectively improved. A lot will be expected of JaDante Hicks and Markese Walton. The signing of Quinton Rice can be an double-edge sword but if play his role right will be good value at just mid-level exception but if not they are tied with him for the next 2 seasons. They will likely make the playoffs again piggy-back-riding on The Messiah's back.
The Bad: They are still a young team. The Messiah is still 24 years old, Hicks is just 23, Walton is just 22 and that is their core 3. Although having veterans like Isaiah McCarty and Tyler Davis, we feel like they needed more veterans to balance things out. Then there is the PG position that still a question on who to start Mehdy Brown, Tyler Davis, Andre Bender and TJ Holloway are in their rotation. This team will go as far as Messiah goes, Hicks needs to step up and their bench needs to prove that they can be a factor otherwise they will still be lurking in the bottom of the playoff seeds.
The Ugly: After this season the Mustangs will potentially have 7 players with contracts and if the 36 years old iMac decides to retire that is 6 players main players next season will be Messiah, Hicks, Rice and the young guys Duncan and Bender then minsal C JT Barrett, you say they will be in a blank slate. They need to have a steady group that will grow together moving forward and they will have that chance next season. The dual-edge sword that is Quinton Rice will play a big factor on this. Messiah needs his core and right now it seems like it's him, Hicks and Walton (who will most likely be re-signed). Next offseason will be crucial because they have the chance to build their core for the next 3-4 seasons but they need to make the best out of it.
Louisville Colonels (King-O-Matic Projection: 39 Wins; 9th in the East)
The Good: This team had quite an offseason acquiring MVP-caliber center Kelvin Hawes to pair with their developing core of Keyshawn Benjamin, Uman Akele, Trendon Knox and ROY Alex Baptiste, this is the best collection of talent that Louisville have since they entered the league in 2021. The best possible team for their Triangle Offense as well. Hawes is a huge addition for the Colonels and will benefit the young guns. They will see significant improvement this season and with the addition of Kendall Nash as an off the bench spark plug, they can surprise a lot of teams.
The Bad: Even with Hawes addition the Colonels is still a pretty young team and despite the scoring ability of KB$ and Knox they still lack perimeter scoring because Akele won't fool anybody in the perimeter and Baptiste is still developing, they did a good job on getting Nash which we assume will come off the bench to play SG/PG. Perimeter defense will also be an issue as Knox hasn't showed significant improvement there and Baptiste isn't a strong perimeter defender. Depth can also be an issue especially in the front court as they are pretty thin at C and PF this season.
The Ugly: It is not clear as what the Colonels will run this season, the safe money is triangle but there are reports that they might go post-centric to take advantage of Hawes. Their success lies to what system this team will go with, this season is more of finding the common ground for the team system-wise. We think that triangle makes more sense to take advantage of their wings and Akele's skill set. Akele is also on contract year, he hasn't necessarily taken the huge step on becoming an elite player and the Colonels may need to decide on his future because in 2 seasons it's KB$ turn to get paid a season after that Knox again and that will shape what their future will look like.
Pittsburgh Vipers (King-O-Matic Projection: 36 Wins; 11th in the East)
The Good: The Vipers have taken necessary steps to take advantage of their young developing core players. They added Leon Bowen to mentor Rashaad Haslem whom we think that can be a big impact towards his development. They improved they have a system fit PG in the 6'5" former Trojan Matt Mueller and the wing tandem of Triton Lane and Eric Greely will still be the center of attraction in Pittsburgh. GM RKG have systematically set up this team to help develop his loves Lane, Greely and Haslem, which is at this point is the best possible move for him. Slow Bo Anderson is another system-fit acquisition for the Vipers whom likely to start and if the core of Mueller-Greely-Lane-Anderson-Haslem developed together, in 3 seasons time, we'll be seeing a solid team.
The Bad: Expect the Vipers to still thread in the near bottom of the East standings as they give more room for the youngsters to learn, make mistakes, develop and progress. It is also safe to say that the Vipers may still move pieces to support their young guys development, if that is the case it is rather more practical for the Vipers to just coast this season and just focus more in the future.
The Ugly: They don't have a team yet. They probably have 5-6 players that are locked for future plans but other than that everybody else is disposable in Pittsburgh. They still are trying to find the right pieces to support their plans moving forward. Their core group is still super young, Leon Bowen is the only veteran leader they have who probably wants to win and may get frustrated if they end up losing games. So, while the plan and system is set the process make take a while and if problems starts to show it will put a dent on their progress.