Lamar Odom has yet to resign with the L.A. Lakers
While most people seem to think that Odom's return is a forgone conclusion, keep in mind that Phoenix, San Antonio and Cleveland could all imagine Odom in a starting role, something the Lakers still cannot seem to offer the 6'10" forward who, by the way, is a New Yorker which always puts the Knicks in play now that he has acquired that elusive Championship Ring.
Still, lets assume that Odom does return to L.A. That leaves only Allen Iverson, Stephon Marbury and Shawn Marion as prime available talents and only Iverson, (who is rumored to be eyeing Chicago and Memphis???), could significantly impact a contender.
With all that being said as of July 6, 2009: 5 a.m. Central Time Zone, who are the real contenders for next season?
5. San Antonio
The Spurs have two NBA Finals MVP's on their roster in Parker and Duncan. During the team's injury plagued season of 2008-09 Parker actually played like the best PG in the league averaging 22 pts and 7 assist for the regular season and an insane 29 pts and 7 assists per during the post season.
Duncan was still able to go for 20 pts and 8 boards per game but the Spurs were in dire need of Manu Ginobli's firepower off the bench and it was not available. Enter Richard Jefferson. Ginobli has had enough time off to recuperate from the injury he sustained in the Olympics which led to his demise last season.
With Jefferson on the roster and the Spurs having the ability to have three legitimate scoring threats on the floor with Duncan, Popovich will have a field day finding open lanes and open jumpers for his wing players. The problem for the Spurs is that the Lakers are still too big in the paint and L.A. just upgraded their defense ten-fold.
Odds of winning title: 10 - 1
The Cavs have the future of the league in LeBron James, unfortunately they also have the past in Shaquille O'Neal. As O'Neal continues to chase the league's best players around in a never ending quest to one-up Kobe Bryant, this summer's free agent pool did not seem to think that "The Big Witness Protection" was the automatic ticket to the NBA Finals that he once was. Forget Ron Artest and Rasheed Wallace, the Cavs couldn't even land Trevor Ariza.
While Shaq does indeed solidify Cleveland's interior presence, his liabilities will probably come back to haunt them in the post season. James alone can almost will this team to the best regular season in the league, but Shaq will not be the answer for either Dwight Howard or the Celtic's combo of Garnett and Wallace.
Odds of winning title: 7-1
Losing Hedo Turkolu (who obviously could care less about winning an NBA title) hurt the Magic a lot. Getting Vince Carter for Rafer Alston, Tony Battie and a rookie made Turkolu's departure a non factor. The problem for Orlando wasn't losing Turkolu because Carter brings more to the table when motivated and playing in his home state with the defending conference champs should be more than enough motivation.
Orlando's problem will be if they don't resign Marcin Gortat. Dallas has already made an offer to the seven footer that has proven to be a solid NBA big. Orlando would be wise to match the Mavs offer and then they still need to find some more depth in the low post to compete with the Celtics. Here is a team screaming for Allen Iverson, unfortunately A.I. doesn't want to come off the bench so it's probably the return of the 'Tyron Lue show' to back up Jameer Nelson...not enough.
Odds of winning title: 6 - 1
Many people think that if Garnett was healthy last season the Celtics would have repeated as NBA Champions, maybe, maybe not. I do believe they would've repeated as Eastern Conference Champions however. Assuming KG returns to regular form the Celtics should be back at the top of the food chain in the East.
The signing of Rasheed Wallace certainly gives Doc River's bunch more flexibility in doling out KG's minutes which should allow the Big Ticket to be in prime condition for the post season. While there have been rumors of a Ray Allen and/or Rajan Rondo trade, GM Danny Ainge would be wise to let this team go after another title the way they are currently comprised especially with the addition of Wallace.
Although Leon Powe's departure won't have a major effect on the squad. If they cannot sign Glen Davis the Celtics' weak bench and aging veterans may not be strong enough to win all the marbles.
Odds of winning the title: 3 - 1
1. Los Angeles
Two summers ago, Kobe Bryant was almost in a Bulls uniform and GM Mitch Kupchak was scrambling around on the floor looking to pick his face up after being a "Luol Deng" away from having traded both Shaq and Kobe. Two summers later the Lakers are coming off back-to-back NBA Finals appearances, the latter resulting in the organization's 15th NBA Championship.
Now that Bryant has the 'Shaq Monkey' off his back, look for him to have what will probably be hone one of the best all-around seasons of his career. Kobe has proven his point, so now he can just play basketball. The Western Conference couldn't keep pace with the Lakers for the past two seasons and L.A.'s demolition of the Nuggets in the final two games of last season's conference finals only exacerbated that realization.
While the Spurs upgraded with the acquisition of Richard Jefferson the Lakers' landed Ron Artest and the balance of power in the NBA remained in Hollywood. Artest is like Trevor Ariza...only much better. If Carmelo Anthony, Brandon Roy, Manu Ginobli, Carlos Boozer and others in the west thought the Lakers were a hard team to outscore for the past two seasons, wait until they get a load of Ron Artest.
For a team who's toughness has been in question in recent years, they just got the NBA's ultimate tough guy and barring any major injuries (Andrew Bynum notwithstanding) Bryant breaks the three way tie between himself, Duncan and Shaq.
Odds of winning title: even