By Tom Waterman, WSOE Sports
In an off-season where multiple big name stars including Shaquille O’Neal, Vince Carter, Ron Artest and Rasheed Wallace have all changed teams and will be suiting up for legitimate championship contenders. This begs the question which teams have had the best off-season?
Starting off the Eastern Conference with the defending Conference Champs, the Orlando Magic have certainly addressed their biggest need; their need for an explosive wing player who can create his own shot. Their acquisition of Vince Carter provides them with just that. Also, by matching the offer sheet for backup center Marcin Gortat along with the additions of forwards Brandon Bass and Matt Barnes provide ample depth and scoring off the bench to survive the rigors of the Eastern Conference and contend with the powerhouses of the Western Conference.
Another Eastern Conference team that has made a few moves this off-season is the Boston Celtics. However, none may be more important then the healthy return of Kevin Garnett, whose injury late in the season decimated the Celtics and their chances for a repeat. The return of Garnett along with the addition of Rasheed Wallace gives the Celtics plenty of firepower to get back to the finals.
No off-season acquisition was larger, especially in the literal sense, then the Cleveland Cavaliers addition of Shaquille O’Neal to a lineup that desperately needed some help in the paint. While adding Shaq five years ago would have automatically turned your team into the favorite for the title, he is not the player he was five years ago and that is why I still rank the Cavs a step behind both the Magic and the Celtics.
Over in the Western Conference, one team has clearly improved themselves the most and that is the San Antonio Spurs. The Spurs acquired forward Richard Jefferson, Antonio McDyess and drafted DeJuan Blair and Jack McClinton, all who will provide even more depth to a team that all ready has Tony Parker, Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili.
The Spurs aren’t the only team in the Western Conference that has been busy though. The Dallas Mavericks were able to re-sign point guard Jason Kidd and also acquire forward Shawn Marion in a four-team trade this off-season. Unfortunately for the Mavericks their search for a starting center was halted when the Magic matched the offer sheet for Gortat, but the Mavs still should not be overlooked.
That brings us to the defending champs who replaced a solid player in Trevor Ariza with arguably the league’s toughest defender in Ron Artest. Artest will certainly bring a new level of tenacity to a team that already has the lethal inside outside combination of Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol.
As tough as it is to pick against the defending champs, I have to say that as of today my very, very early pick for the NBA Finals is the Orlando Magic and the San Antonio Spurs.