The trade deadline has passed, and it’s been a frenetic time – more so than any other in living memory. All starting with KG & Ray-ray to Boston, then followed up with big trades – Pau Gasol being stolen like a thief in the night by Los Angeles… Shaq landing meteor-like in Phoenix… and Jason Kidd returns to his NBA-roots in Dallas… Ben Wallace moves his show to Cleveland.
But who ends up being the strongest from this? Who comes out of the East, who ends up still standing in the wild, wild West?
Despite the presence of Superman in Orlando – and the improved performance of that team, and even tho’ the Cavaliers obtained Ben Wallace, Delonte West and Wally Szcerbiak… there are still only two teams that can seriously be considered as coming out of the Eastern Conference. The top 4 in East at the end of the season will be Boston, Detroit, Orlando and Cleveland… but the Eastern Conference finals will be between the Boston Celtics, and the Detroit Pistons. And whilst the first two rounds shouldn’t provide too much difficulty for these two Eastern powerhouses, the Conference final should be an incredible battle.
Boston have the ‘big three’ of Garnett, Pierce & Shuttleworth Allen, but little depth post that – despite the decent play on occasions from Glen Davis and Rajon Rondo. Detroit lack the star power that the Celtics have, but their depth is excellent. On any night, it could be ‘Sheed, Tayshaun, Rip or Mr Big Shot himself, Chauncey Billups who could play the role of cold-hearted assassin.
So – who wins that marquis match-up? A very tough question – as tough a match-up as any of the myriad of combinations we’ll see in the Western Conference final. For me, despite the lack of depth I cannot see Kevin Garnett letting this one slip him by. He’s made a huge difference in Beantown merely with his attitude to the game. Forget Paul Pierce’s longevity at Boston, this Garnett’s team. Boston win in an all-out war in 7… on KG’s will alone.
Out West, it’s a far, far different picture. Theoretically, any team currently ranked from 1-10 could possibly win the Conference title. Realistically though, only Phoenix, Los Angeles, San Antonio, Dallas, Utah or New Orleans are at that level of game-play. Whilst Portland, Houston, Denver and Golden State are all doing well, does anyone really think that one of those teams comes out of the West to meet the Eastern Conference champion?
Despite the Hornets’ record now, they are the first team I’ll eliminate from the conversation. And this despite the fact that Chris Paul is perhaps the best point-man in basketball today. If none of the trade moves occurred, then maybe New Orleans stays in the picture, but not due to talent, but rather a lack of experience, New Orleans will find themselves a casualty of what will be a very brutal playoff war. Watch out for them next season though.
San Antonio managed to add both Damon Stoudemire and Kurt Thomas, but I don’t think that this is quite enough in a season where the Spurs have looked a step slower. Tim Duncan’s a year older, and whilst he’s still perhaps the pre-eminent big man in the league, the gap between him and others is far smaller than it once was. What Timmy’s had in recent years has been more than ample support from Manu Ginobli and Tony Parker. Whilst Manu is as much Manu as he’s ever been, Tony Parker’s injuries have to be of concern to San Antonio – and thus they acquire journeyman Stoudemire. Unfortunately for the Spurs, and fortunately for the rest of the West, they don’t quite have enough this year.
Utah’s a team that’s playing very, very well at the moment, and the addition of Kyle Korver to a strong unit was inspired. Not a huge impact signing like many we’ve seen in the last few weeks, the impact of adding Korver to the Jazz has been very big indeed. The coverage that both Carlos Boozer and Deron Williams demand means that a pure shooter like Korver is often left uncovered, and now that teams are realizing how deadly a decision that can be, it opens up the game for the afore-mentioned Boozer/D-Will combination.
The Jazz are one of the best 4 teams in the West, and will be right there towards the end.
In what’s been declared as veritable robbery, the Los Angeles Lakers acquired Pau Gasol from the Memphis Grizzlies, forever changing the landscape of the Western Conference. It provided further impetus for an energized LA squad, and it’s been many a year since Kobe had so much bounce in his step. Gasol has fueled a resurgence in LA, and he has slotted in perfectly. The big question is when Bynum returns. If Bynum returns at full strength, Gasol can make the transition to power forward… and the team chemistry that’s working so well doesn’t change, then this is a team that can win a title. Does any other franchise have a better starting line up than Fisher, Bryant, Odom, Gasol and Bynum? Not on your life. And their bench – with Farmar, Walton, Turiaf, Ariza is as good as any in the league. Clearly a top 4 team… But all rests on Bynum’s return.
Dallas recently traded to get Jason Kidd, in a move that has many split as to whether it helps or hinders the Mavericks. As far as playing ability goes, Devin Harris will never achieve what Jason Kidd has. However, Kidd’s not young any more, and overall I think Harris brings more to the court now, than Kidd. The key to this however is that Jason Kidd brings a few intangible qualities to Dallas that they sorely lack. J-Kidd has the leadership skills and the killer instinct that has found Dallas lacking over the past few years, and perhaps this trade gets them over the hump.
The Suns pulled off a stunner only a week ago with the trade that landed the Big Fella (or ‘the Big Cactus’ as he’s been anointed) in Phoenix. Trade Shawn Marion for Shaquille O’Neal? A guy who many have as ‘past it’, and had Miami thinking that his contract was as immovable as the big guy appeared himself? Traded the seemingly slow, cumbersome O’Neal to a team that ran the fastest offense in the league?
Like with Kidd, it’s the intangibles that will either make or break this trade. Reportedly, Amare Stoudemire’s bouncing off the walls with joy at having the guy he veritably worshipped as a youngster at the same team. Additionally, the absence of Shawn Marion means that Stoudemire’s game has to pick up – if his game against the Lakers was any indication, Amare’s up to it.
Shaq’s mere presence demands attention – both on the court and off it.
And if his first game with the Suns was any indication, this is a trade that might well have had Maxwell Smart stating: “It’s so crazy, it just might work!”
So, the top 4 teams out in the wild ‘n’ wooly West will be: Utah, Phoenix, Dallas and LA. From that mix, it will be Los Angeles versus the surprising Utah… and LA will rise – if Bynum comes back at where he left off.
In the finals that would mean a match up of LA versus Boston – and wouldn’t the NBA hierarchy love that?
If that comes about (operating on the assumption that Bynum’s back at full-strength), LA match up pretty well against Boston. 3 guys 6’11” or taller (Bynum/Gasol/Odom), a veteran presence at point in Fisher with a more than able back-up, Jordan Farmar. And of course, Kobe. And that’s not mentioning that the LA bench is far, far deeper than anything Boston can throw at it.
LA wins – in 6 (oh gods, I hope I haven’t put a moxie on them!)…
There’s more to come during the next week on this – other authors from other blogs to have their say… stay tuned…