As the opening tip of the 2009-10 NBA season approaches, this year’s league will be complete with its new issues and questions…
- Will Kobe and Ron Artest get along enough to bring L.A. another title?
- Will a healthy Gilbert Arenas make the Wizards significant once again?
- Will number one draft pick Blake Griffin be the latest blue chipper to go down in flames with the Chippers organization?
But the more things change, the more they stay the same. And while there was much wheeling and dealing in the off-season, the Eastern Conference’s elite will remain untouched. The Cleveland Cavaliers, Orlando Magic and Boston Celtics will continue to be the front-runners in the East. These teams have the a strong returning core of players (the Magic have some notable roster changes) that have developed chemistry and know how to play winning basketball. They are well coached, and will probably be the leaders in their respective divisions.
But most importantly, each of these squads has a big man with the potential to make them a winner. Let’s take a look at each of them:
Boston Celtics – Kevin Garnett:
The 2007-08 season was a dream for Kevin Garnett. After toiling in mediocrity with a Minnesota franchise headed nowhere, Garnett was traded to a Celtics team who had just acquired Ray Allen, and who already has an unmotivated Paul Pierce on its roster. They instantly became known as “The Big Three.” While the expectations that come along with having three All-Stars on the same roster was great, they lived up to them and won the NBA championship.
Last year, Garnett was injured late in the season and, predictably, the C’s were not able to get to the conference finals. This year, Garnett is back. And he definitely has to knock the rust off due to the bone spur that was discovered in his knee. But he has more help in the form of Rasheed Wallace – who hasn’t tasted postseason success since a 2005 Finals appearance against the Spurs (which he and the Pistons lost). If Boston is at the top of the standings come playoff time, it’s because Wallace and Garnett have been efficient – both offensively and defensively.
Cleveland Cavaliers – Shaquille O’Neal:
LeBron James looks like the best player in the NBA for the next 10 years. But LeBron has proven that he cannot get the job done by himself. OK – just bring in Shaq and get him a title.
Wait…not so fast – Shaq is old, slow and quite frankly, a shadow of his former self. In reality, however, 50% of Shaq might just be all that James needs to take that next step.
Shaq will come out motivated this year. There’s absolutely no way that’s he’s going to come out flat playing alongside last year’s NBA MVP. So, if the Cavs aren’t clicking this season it won’t be from a lack of effort. It will be because we’ll finally be witnessing the demise of Superman.
Orlando Magic – Dwight Howard:
The media darling has taken the NBA by storm. Howard has improved every season, and he has continued his ascension into an iconic NBA figure. Analysts say that he needs to develop a “true” post-up game and, perhaps, a face up jump shot.
I disagree. Howard should stick with his game and remain the most dominant presence in the paint. Changing his game might encourage him to abandon his physical nature, and that’s the last thing that you want from a 7-footer. Howard’s combination of quickness, strength and explosion are extremely rare (and reminiscent of another former Orlando Magic center).
With Orlando’s loss of playmaker Hedo Turgoklu, Howard will have to be more naturally aggressive and pursue scoring opportunities. And on the defensive end, he will remain a nightmare for opponents penetrating the lane.
Don’t be surprised to see these teams as the top three in the East once again this season. And if so, we’ll be in store for a treat down the home stretch and during the playoffs.