All-Stars on the move give NBA new look

Nathan Meserve

The NBA season has returned, and after a busy offseason, many new faces in new places will help decide this year’s NBA champion. While many of last season’s elite teams should be back at the forefront, their title aspriations will reside in the hands of their new additions.

A Crown for the King?

Cleveland gave up relatively nothing to land the 15-time all star, 4-time world champion, most dominant big man in the history of the NBA. The Suns pulled the trigger mainly because of financial incentives, as they will save millions of dollars in luxury taxes due to O’Neal’s departure. Shaq is on the tail-end of his career, but he is still a frightening presence down low and will help the Cavs match up better against Orlando Magic center Dwight Howard, the East’s emerging force. The Cavs also signed ex-Celtic, Leon Powe, and will return Mo Williams, Delonte West and Zydrunaus Ilgauskas, giving LeBron James the best supporting cast of his career.

However, the East is a top-heavy conference as the rich got richer during the off-season, so the addition of Shaq may not be all it will take for King James to take his crown. The 2009-’10 season could spell the end of LeBron’s career as a Cav if it doesn’t end in a title, and the former phenom could be New York-bound by July.

Boston’s Fab Five

The Celtics reeled in versatile big man Rasheed Wallace at the price of a mid-level exception during the off-season. Wallace has proven to be just as much of a headache as he has been a fierce competitor throughout his lengthy tenure in the NBA, but the prevalence of veteran leadership on Boston should keep Wallace in check.

The emergence of Celtics’ court general Rajon Rondo during the 2009 NBA playoffs adds another dimension to the already impressive Boston basketball club. Rondo is a triple-double threat every night, and future Hall of Famers Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen couldn’t have meshed any better since general manager Danny Ainge took a huge risk and forged the Big Three during the 2007 offseason.

Can Kobe repeat?

The most exciting aspect of the ’09-’10 basketball season will hinge upon the success of the Los Angeles Lakers and the Cleveland Cavaliers, for that is the NBA Finals matchup that the league, the media and many of the fans would most like to see due to the sheer star power and deep story lines a LeBron and Shaq versus Phil and Kobe Finals would command.

The Lakers lost pivotal swingman Trevor Ariza but gained the controversial Ron Artest, who has the defensive ability to shut down some of the league’s brightest offensive stars. The Lakers have the deepest starting lineup in the league, and they will try to achieve a Zen-like balance of offensive and defense.

The quiet dynasty’s last hurrah?

The San Antonio Spurs quietly dominated the NBA from 1998-2007, and they remain more than relevant in today’s league with the addition of veteran slasher Richard Jefferson. Now allied with first-ballot Hall of Famer Tim Duncan, international stars Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker, and seasoned veterans Michael Finley and Antonio McDyess, Jefferson will join Coach Greg Poppovich and his four rings in an attempt to earn what eluded him during his tenure with the New Jersey Nets, where he reached two NBA Finals, and avoided him entirely during his short stint with the Milwaukee Bucks.

The biggest question mark with the Spurs is the team’s health during the stretch. The team’s x-factors appear to be their younger nucleus, including George Hill, Roger Mason and DeJuan Blair, but there is no question that when Duncan leaves so will the fortunes of the Spurs.

Gambling with Vinsanity

The Magic made the biggest gamble of the 2009 offseason when they allowed Hedo Turkoglu to pursue free agency and sign with the Toronto Raptors and when they dished off future impact player Courtney Lee and reliable sniper Rafer Alston coming off their NBA Finals loss to the L.A. Lakers. Carter will join a lineup of freakish athletes, which includes Dwight Howard, Rashard Lewis, Jameer Nelson and Mickael Pietrus.

The success of the Magic will largely ride of Carter’s shoulders. The team expects him to assume the role Hedo Turkoglu held: facilitator and go-to scorer. Carter is a more gifted passer and shooter than Turkoglu but can be a ball hog. This isn’t Carter’s team, so he shouldn’t be shooting 20 times per game like he did in Toronto and New Jersey, but old habits die hard with NBA stars. Hopefully for Magic fans Carter is much more of an asset in Orlando than Allen Iverson was with Detroit.

Surprise of ’09-’10: Golden State Warriors

The Golden State Warriors, one of the best offensive teams in the NBA for the past few seasons, can’t play defense to compete with the best teams in the NBA on a consistent basis. But the emergence of last year’s top pick Anthony Randolph and the drafting of future-star Stephen Curry of Davidson make Golden State a team to be reckoned with in the West. The lightning-quick Monta Ellis and the tall, long, and talented Andris Biedrins comprise Coach Don Nelson’s foundations for a solid basketball team.

Stephen Jackson’s admission of captaincy after initially rejecting it also spells good news for the Warriors, as they could afford to drop his contract and deal him to a contender at midseason for a future high draft pick.