NBA's Eastern Conference will be bolstered as top Free-Agents begin to sign

Nick PoustCorrespondent IIJuly 6, 2010

PHOENIX - MAY 29:  Amar'e Stoudemire #1 of the Phoenix Suns takes a shot as Andrew Bynum #17 of the Los Angeles Lakers defends in the third quarter of Game Six of the Western Conference Finals during the 2010 NBA Playoffs at US Airways Center on May 29, 2010 in Phoenix, Arizona. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

Power forward Amar’e Stoudemire will sign a contract with the New York Knicks worth $100 million over the next five years, a ridiculously lucrative deal.

Star guard Joe Johnson signed a $119 million contract with the Atlanta Hawks as well, and many more triple-figure deals will be inked by this summer’s top free-agents in the days and weeks to come.

It appears as if LebBron James will return to Cleveland. At least that’s what the insiders and their sources predict.

Dwyane Wade will go to either Miami or Chicago. He wants to be as close to his kids as possible. They live in Chicago, therefore the Bulls seem like the ideal destination. He would be surrounded by a much better supporting cast, with Derrick Rose running the point, Luol Deng on the wing, and Joakim Noah down low anchoring the center position.

And, given how much money Chicago has to spend, a player like Bosh or Boozer could tag along. Bosh is most likely to end up in Miami or Chicago. If Wade goes to Chicago, I’d expect the Bulls to try to sign him as well. If Wade goes to Miami, I’d think Bosh would go down there with him. Boozer could re-sign with the Utah Jazz, a Western Conference power, but he could easily end up where Bosh doesn’t.

So, if LeBron goes back to Cleveland, Wade goes to Chicago, Bosh goes to Chicago, and Boozer goes to Miami, then the Eastern Conference, which has been considered in recent years to be terrible in comparison to the West, would be significantly bolstered.

The Los Angeles Lakers, Portland Trail Blazers, Houston Rockets, San Antonio Spurs, Dallas Mavericks, Oklahoma City Thunder, Utah Jazz, Denver Nuggets, Phoenix Suns, and possibly the New Orleans Hornets and Memphis Grizzlies will duke it out in the Western Conference, and the eight teams that do make the playoffs will fight tooth and nail to be the Finals participant.

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The Eastern Conference still wouldn’t be as competitive, but at least five teams would be star-laden and capable of being very successful for years to come.

Yet, if the Knicks do not get James or Wade, Stoudemire will have a difficult time turning the Knicks into a contender next season. Aside from Stoudemire, New York has eight players under contract for next year that they plan on keeping: Eddy Curry, Danilo Gallinari, Bill Walker, Wilson Chandler, Toney Douglas, Al Harrington, and second round picks Andy Rautins and Landry Fields.

They can put together a roster with that talent, but many of those players are unproven. Everyone but Curry, Galinari, and Harrington have seen limited action in the NBA, and who knows what they would receive from those inexperienced players.

The Knicks have some big names aside from Stoudemire. Curry was a good player before Mike D’Antoni took over the team and benched him for no reason. Gallinari can shoot with the best of them, and is capable of scoring over 20 points per game down the road. Harrington is versatile, and, like Gallinari, is an explosive offensive player.

The team has a lot of flexibility. The players that are under contract either have deals that expire after this next season or inexpensive longterm deals. These are valuable trade chips. So the Knicks could potentially swing a bunch of sign-and-trade deals to acquire players capable of turning Stoudemire’s new team into an immediate winner.

The Boston Celtics did that in 2007. They traded for Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen and won the title in their first season after years as a bottom-dweller. There is a problem that faces the Knicks: Would their tradeable talent actually be appetizing to potential suitors? For example, would the Spurs be willing to take Douglas, Chandler, and a couple other players for point guard Tony Parker, who has been linked to New York?

If not, New York will have a difficult time succeeding this upcoming season even if they do sign another high-profile free-agent.

The argument has been made that adding Stoudemire and subtracting Lee may not reap benefits. The New York Times’ Jonathan Abrams made a series of points to support this argument: Stoudemire has a serious injury history, as he had microscopic knee surgery a couple of years ago; Lee has only missed three games the past three years. Stoudemire put up extraordinary numbers with future Hall of Famer Steve Nash running the point, putting him in perfect pick-and-roll situations; Lee, though not as explosive or athletic, averaged a double-double as well with Chris Duhon, an average point guard who can’t shoot, running the show.

Stoudemire will also make $100 million, handcuffing the Knicks financially longterm while Lee could be signed for half that amount over the same amount of years.

Still, no matter if Lee is the better fit for the Knicks, Stoudemire is the new big-man in town now. And he may turn the Knicks into a title contender in the Eastern Conference, a historically soft league that will undergo many more changes in their effort to level the playing field with the intensely competitive West.