Young Star

The NBA reloaded

DEFINITELY MAYBE - Carl Francis M. Ramirez -

If there’s anything we learned from the ’08-’09 NBA Champion Los Angeles Lakers, it’s that even with a great player, you have to continue improving on the fly to keep getting a shot at the title.

What once was a team of Kobe Bryant, Lamar Odom and a bunch scrubs was transformed in a few years’ time to a champion team with Pau Gasol, Andrew Bynum and Trevor Ariza. In a league where good teams just keep getting better (Portland, Atlanta) and bad teams keep getting worse (Sacramento, LA Clippers), the contenders have to keep reloading to stay up top. And this year, almost everyone with a chance at the pot went all-in. In the Eastern Conference in particular, the high rollers have gotten serious.

The biggest move this season, figuratively and literally, was Shaquille O’Neal moving to Cleveland and beginning his quest to “win a ring for the king.” After a disappointing series against Orlando last year, where it was practically five-on-LeBron, the Cleveland Cavaliers decided on acquiring Shaq with the hopes that he could do for LeBron what he did for Kobe and Dwyane Wade. The only problem is Shaq is 37 years old and four years removed from his last title.

If you look at his most recent stint with a league MVP, you can hardly be impressed. The Shaq and Steve Nash-led Phoenix suns were terribly disappointing, despite a rejuvenated season from The Big Cactus. Was this a good move for the Cavs? You certainly can’t say they gave up a lot to get Shaq. The Cavaliers lost Sasha Pavlovic and Ben Wallace’s corpse, so from that standpoint, it’s pretty low risk. Still, you can’t help but wonder if Shaq is enough to overcome the equally splashy offseason moves the rest of the East contenders made.

The Boston Celtics, on the other hand, addressed two major weaknesses during offseason. They acquired a big man to back up Kevin Garnett and Kendrick Perkins (a position previously held by Glen “Big Baby” Davis, Brian Scalabrine and Mikki Moore) and a swingman to rotate with Paul Pierce and Ray Allen (a position formerly held by renowned dunderhead Tony Allen). Rasheed Wallace is past his prime, but he certainly is an upgrade over anybody they had last year. With KG’s knees ailing, Sheed is not a bad insurance policy. As for Marquis Daniels, who was never spectacular but always serviceable, the Celtics have that option of once again going small. This was something they moved away from since the departure of James Posey and winning the NBA Championship in 2008.

Last Year’s Eastern champs, the Orlando Magic, probably took the most risk in their quest to return to the NBA Finals. The Magic lost three starters: Rafer Alston, Courtney Lee and most notably Hedo Turkoglu. I was always of the opinion that Turkoglu was what made the Magic title contenders. He was the X-factor. His sharpshooting, ball-handling and ability to create mismatches complemented the size and muscle of Dwight Howard.

With Hedo defecting to the Toronto Raptors, the Magic have replaced him with the once-relevant Vince Carter. Carter is more talented and a bigger name than Hedo Turkoglu, so the deal probably looks good on paper. The trio of Dwight-Rashard Lewis-Carter looks extremely potent. That being said, Carter does not replace what Hedo did for Orlando. Hedo was a leader, de facto point guard and the Magic’s go-to guy in crunch time. 

With the Magic losing 60 percent of its top five guys and the other Beasts of the East reloading with new ammunition, the Eastern Conference is once again looking like a three-horse race. Any one of these teams can come out on top and I wouldn’t be surprised any which way it pans out. The hands have been dealt. Let the games begin.

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For questions, comments or corrections, please e-mail me at carlfrancisramirez@gmail.com.

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