The NBA's 64th season is now upon us. The defending champion Los Angeles Lakers begin their title defense against the now Blake Griffin-less Los Angeles Clippers, but they will look just a little different than they did last year. All of the league's top teams added a piece that they hope will get them over the top.
Shaquille O'Neal Traded to the Cleveland Cavaliers: When this move was first made, I loved it. The Cavs were one of the best teams in the league, but Orlando was a horrible match-up for them because they didn't have any front court players who could hang with Dwight Howard.
Zydrunas Ilgauskas was once a very good center, but he's not at that level anymore.
After thinking about it, the problem I have with it is Shaq's health. He's had a problem staying healthy throughout his entire career. Shaq played as many games last season as he's ever played in any season, so he's bound to miss 10 to 20 games.
Granted, that leaves him rested for the playoffs, but Mike Brown will probably only have him go for 20-25 minutes a game anyway. Will Shaq provide anything more than a presence—which is still an upgrade—in an offense that LeBron James has dominated?
This is a wait and see move.
Rasheed Wallace Signed With the Boston Celtics: Wallace is one of the few people in the league today who can match Kevin Garnett's passion and drive for the game of basketball. He came up painfully short a few times with Detroit after they won a championship in 2004, so he'll be hungrier than ever.
However, this is by no means an absolutely perfect fit. The first concern is age. Garnett has played a ridiculous amount of games for someone his age and he is coming off of knee surgery.
Paul Pierce and Ray Allen are also getting up there and Rasheed Wallace is not a young man.
The second concern is the personalities. They were already an emotional team and adding Wallace does nothing to decrease that. As long as they can stay healthy and control their emotions, they should be the class of the Eastern Conference.
Vince Carter Traded to the Orlando Magic: Vince Carter has never played on a team that is as good as this Orlando Magic squad. The closest he's ever come was probably the 2001 Toronto Raptors and that team couldn't hang with this one.
Carter was also "The Guy" on that team. Now he'll be the second or third option every time down the court.
This could work if Carter stops settling for jump shots, a bad habit that he's picked up over the last few years. They won't be better than the Celtics or the Cavs when it counts, but they will be very good. The loss of Hedo Turkoglu will hurt because he may have been a better fit for Orlando than Carter is.
Richard Jefferson Traded to the San Antonio Spurs: This was the best move by any team this offseason. He is a perfect fit for the Spurs and they gave up almost nothing to get him. Jefferson will mesh with this team nicely and help them get past the Los Angeles Lakers.
On top of this trade, the Spurs were able to steal DeJuan Blair in the draft and they added Antonio McDyess and Theo Ratliff for depth on the front line. Their version of the Big Three in Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, and Manu Ginobili are all healthy for the first time in a while as well.
As long as this team can avoid too many injuries, there are not too many teams that can play with them.
Ron Artest Signed With the Los Angeles Lakers: In this system, Artest is a downgrade from Trevor Ariza. Ariza did a lot of little things for the Lakers last year that Artest does not do. Ariza is definitely a better shooter and he came up huge in the playoffs for the Lakers.
On the other hand, Artest shrunk in the last few games of the Lakers/Rockets semifinals series last year. In addition, Artest is not the defender he was a couple of years ago.
He's still better than most on the perimeter, but he's not a lockdown guy anymore. The Lakers will be around until the very end, but they would have been better off with Ariza still in their line-up.
Allen Iverson Signed With the Memphis Grizzlies: Allen Iverson was one of the last signees of the offseason and one of the most bizarre. AI could really help out a lot of teams, but the Grizzlies are not one of them.
Will one ball be enough for the line-ups that Memphis will put on the floor? Probably not, but they will be fun to watch.
Here are a few other random thoughts and predictions for this season.
If nothing else, Oklahoma City and the Los Angeles Clippers will be very entertaining (when Blake Griffin comes back). The Thunder have a nice young core group of guys and Kevin Durant looks to have a breakout year. Same thing goes for the Clippers, especially with a motivated Baron Davis.
The Golden State Warriors are a mess. They won't be successful as long as they have Stephen Jackson.
The Utah Jazz have been consistently good for two decades now. They are on the cusp of being one of the elite teams in the league, but they always seem to run into a string of injuries. If they can avoid that down the stretch, look for them to grab the third or fourth seed out West and push the Lakers or Spurs to six or seven games.
The loss of Andre Miller really, really hurts the Sixers. Miller held everything together for Philly during his short time there and they will sorely miss that when they are trying to get into the playoffs in the last few weeks of the season. They should still get in, but his absence will really be felt in the playoffs when the game slows down.
Speaking of Miller, his new team, the Portland Trail Blazers, will probably top 50 wins again, but it will not mean much if they can't get past the Lakers and Spurs. They are widely thought to be the third best team out West, but they will need a lot to get over the hump. Greg Oden will play a big role as to whether or not they are able to do that.
The Washington Wizards will be much, much improved from where they finished last season. Gilbert Arenas is finally back at full-strength, which means a return to the playoffs.
The Dallas Mavericks will be another improved team. They were good last year, but there was never a sense that they could contend for a title. They added depth in Tim Thomas, Shawn Marion, and Drew Gooden, all of whom know how to play their roles and help a team win ball games.
Denver is flying completely under the radar coming into the season and for good reason. All of the top teams have added someone while the Nuggets stood pat. They actually lost Dante Jones and Linas Kleiza, who both played big roles for them last season.
Miami is such a difficult team to figure out. How great will Dwyane Wade have to be? Will Michael Beasley's personal problems affect his on-court play? Will Jermaine O'Neal play anywhere near the All-Star level he was once at?
Toronto can return to the playoffs this year, but what will they do if they are way out of it right before the deadline? Chris Bosh may leave at the end of this season and if the Raptors have no shot at the playoffs, they may have to think about trying to get some value for him if they think he will definitely leave at season's end.
For the first time in a long time, the Detroit Pistons enter the season with absolutely no expectations. That may work in their favor, but they don't have the talent to consistently compete with the top four or five teams in the East. They'll be lucky to sneak into the playoffs this year.
Eastern Conference Finals
Boston Celtics def. Cleveland Cavaliers, 4-2: Boston has great depth this year and Shaq will run out of gas by late-May. Boston will have an answer for everything that Cleveland will throw at them in this series and they will eventually just wear the Cavs down.
Western Conference Finals
San Antonio Spurs def. Los Angeles Lakers, 4-3. Kobe Bryant is always good to win a game or two in a series by himself. He can take over any game at anytime, without notice. However, the Spurs have seen Kobe enough through the years to know what he can do and they play great defense.
The difference is that now the Spurs have the ability to outscore any team in the league. This Laker team is not as good as the one the won the championship last year while this Spurs team is much better than they were last year.
2010 NBA Finals
San Antonio Spurs def. Boston Celtics, 4-3. The only thing that will derail the Spurs from their fifth championship in 11 years will be injuries because they do not beat themselves.
Both teams have unbelievable depth, have veteran leadership, and play great defense, but in the end it will be the Spurs who make a few more plays to claim the 2010 NBA Finals.