Boston won't be back next year.
This was their year from Day One, and the same edge won't quite be there again. Kevin Garnett has been a career loser ... he has his one championship from riding Paul Pierce's coat tails. Ray Allen will decline a bit further. Pierce and the aforementioned and overrated Garnett will likely have trouble staying healthy for the full season.
Their bench will return to earth. Glenn "Big Baby" Davis ... stinks. He played part of one game in this year's finals. Leon Powe ... OK, but as good now as he will ever be. House ... forget it. Sam Cassell ... gone or a non-factor. P.J. Brown ... gone or a non-factor. Brian Scalabrine ... he's a joke. James Posey will re-sign. He hit his peak, too. Tony Allen ... he'll at least bring more value. Who else ... Alonzo Mourning? Robert Horry? Michael Finley?
Barring significant injury, the Lakers look to have the best chance again from the West. The roster that ended the season adds Andrew Bynum and Trevor Ariza (who really wasn't back despite playing a bit in the last two series). That's like having a top-three pick and a mid-first rounder already having proven NBA ability joining the squad. Both upgrade the defense considerably ... inside and out.
In addition, they will likely re-sign Sasha Vujacic and Ronny Turiaf ... at least Vujacic. And, who knows, they may be able to deal Luke Walton or Vladimir Radmanovic. They have only two players over 30 (and one is Kobe). That's a young team that now has championship experience ... and all the motivation it needs from watching Boston's disgraceful and classless celebratory behavior down the stretch of Game Six.
And the Finals weren't exactly the dismantling as many have portrayed. That perception is largely because of the meltdown in Game Six (in Boston, where the Celtics were nearly unbeatable). The Lakers won two games in the series, after all.
They weren't swept away like the Cavaliers in 2007. The Lakers should have won Game Four, of course (up by 20 with 18 minutes left) and Games One and Two were winnable by either team ... Boston prevailing, as always, on its home court. Nevertheless, Boston was certainly the better, MORE EXPERIENCED and more poised team ... but not a great team by historical standards (3-9 on the road in the playoffs).
In the West ... San Antonio will be no better and no worse. Golden State? ... Worse. Denver? ... Worse. Phoenix? ... Worse. Utah? ... Same as this year. New Orleans? ... A little better. Houston? ... Has a shot, but that McGrady/Yao combination still spells playoff elimination. Portland? ... Better, but too young to win the West. The Blazers replace the Nuggets in the top-eight seeds, though. Other than the Blazers, the non-playoff teams in the West this past season will still be the lottery teams next year.
So the Lakers have the inside track right now in the West for 2008-09. The East? Pistons? Cavs? Magic? Raptors? HEAT? Bulls? Bucks? Wizards? Am I leaving anyone out?