It wasn’t that many years ago when the general consensus was that the eighth best team in the NBA’s Western Conference could defeat the best team in the Eastern Conference in an NBA Finals. That certainly is no longer the case.
The one-upmanship so far this off-season by the top teams in the East have made it clear that while the Los Angeles Lakers may be the champions, the Eastern Conference has a number of teams ready to make a run at the championship.
Certainly, the “big three” in the East remain the Orlando Magic, Boston Celtics and Cleveland Cavaliers. All three teams have made themselves better through the addition of “big name” players.
For Boston, adding Rasheed Wallace suddenly turns the “Three Amigos” into the “Fantastic Four.”
However, there is concern that like Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen, Wallace’s best days are behind him and the wear and tear of a long NBA career are starting to show.
At 35-years old, Wallace is the oldest player on the Celtics’ roster and is entering his 15th NBA campaign. Last season he played in his fewest games (66) since the 1998-99 season and had his lowest scoring average (12.0 ppg) since his rookie season.
Though Wallace may no longer be in his prime, he is a proven winner and you have to wonder if having the opportunity to again play for a team capable of winning the championship will rejuvenate him.
The Cleveland Cavaliers are looking for similar rejuvenation from their new acquisition, Shaquille O’Neal.
The pairing of O’Neal with LeBron James could either be considered a great business move or an act of desperation by the Cavaliers management.
With James still unsigned beyond next season, they had to make some major move during the off-season to illustrate that they are still committed to doing what it takes to make Cleveland a winner.
However, while they were able to bring Shaq to Cleveland, they have so far been unsuccessful in bringing any top free agents into the fold. There were rumors that either Trevor Ariza or Ron Artest was on the way to Cleveland, but they are now both off the market and headed to other locations.
For Cleveland to take the next step and advance to the NBA Finals, they will likely need to bring in another top talent either in the off-season or near next season’s trading deadline.
While the Orlando Magic’s “big name” acquisition is the only one of the “big three” without an NBA Championship on his resume, Vince Carter is, at 32-years old, the youngest of the trio.
He also is the only one who has yet to see a significant slide in production. Last season Carter averaged 20.8 points per game, marking the 10th straight season in which he has averaged more than 20 points per game.
Having the opportunity to play for a contender and the fact that Carter will be returning to his home region, having played high school ball at Mainland High School in Daytona Beach, should help Carter.
However, the question for the Magic is whether Carter is a better fit for the team than the player he is in essence replacing, Hedo Turkoglu.
Though Turkoglu’s scoring average this past season was four points per game fewer than Carter, at 6-foot-10, he had the versatility to play a wide range of position in the lineup. He also emerged as a star in the playoffs, making countless big plays to help lead Orlando to the finals.
What may be just as significant for Orlando is that unlike Boston and Cleveland, they have added a number of other players that could make their roster among the deepest in the league.
Brandon Bass, a 6-foot-8 forward who averaged 8.5 points per game last season for Dallas, provides solid depth in the frontcourt.
The Magic also surprised many by resigning backup center Marcin Gortat and added another new player in 6-foot-7 Matt Barnes.
Now that all three teams have illustrated the desire not to fall far behind in their “arms race” it will be interesting to see as the off-season continues which team will make the next move.