Two trades have shifted the balance of power in the West.
The first trade is Memphis sending Pau Gasol to the Lakers in exchange for Kwame Brown, Javaris Crittendon, Aaron McKie, two first-rounds picks and the rights to Marc Gasol. This makes the Garnett-to-Boston trade look downright fair. What was Memphis thinking? Are they telling me the Bulls, Kings and Bobcats refused to offer better packages than Kwame freakin' Brown? And why keep Pau in the West?
What they've done is made the Lakers a favorite to win the West. The Lakeshow, once everyone's healthy, will boast a starting line-up of Fisher, Bryant, Odom, Gasol and Bynum. Those are big bodies that should be handle the likes of San Antonio and Dallas, and make mincemeat of lesser teams like Houston and Portland. Who'd have thunk over the summer that the Lakers and Celtics would be so likely to be the NBA Finals teams in 2008?
The other trade is Phoenix sending Shawn Marion and Marcus Banks to Miami for Shaquille O'Neal. Shaq turns 36 next month; he's breaking down faster than a '79 Gremlin on a dirt road. This makes no sense at all for Phoenix. Sure, they need to improve their defense, but why do they think Shaq's the one to do it? He's having career-low numbers across the board. He's not much better than a Collins brother on D, and on offense, he'll barely make it to half-court by the time a Sun has already jacked up a shot. The Suns will need to get used to more half-court sets to accommodate Shaq. Less running will not make them a better team.
Not only does it hurt them this year, but it mortgages their future. Shaq's making $20 million a year until 2010. How does this help a team dying to get out from under the luxury tax, a team that's given away about five first-round picks in the past three years, a team with a thin bench as is? Nash isn't getting younger (yes, he is still playing at an All-Star level, but how many more years are left in his tank?) Amare Stoudamire and Grant Hill are injury-prone. For the rest of the West, I think they're thrilled Phoenix is doing this.
Three rhetorical questions:
1. Why is Isiah Thomas still employed?
2. With teams like Memphis, New Orleans and Seattle doing so poorly, would the NBA ever consider retracting a team?
3. Jason Kidd wants out of New Jersey, but is there a deal out there that would make sense for Jersey to take? Are you telling me the Stromile Swift-for-Jason Collins trade wasn't enough to placate Kidd?
My Power Rankings by Conference
1. Boston - It's all about the Big Three.
2. Detroit - Hindsight says it was good to let Big Ben walk away when he did.
3. Orlando - Reality's setting in, but Dwight remains an inside force.
4. Cleveland - LBJ can't do it all by himself, but he can do a lot.
5. Washington - Gee, how good will they be with Agent Zero back in the line-up?
6. Toronto - The Bosh/Bargnani show still needs more attitude.
7. Chicago - Was Skiles really the problem?
8. New Jersey - It's almost like they'd rather not make the playoffs, but too many other Eastern teams suck too much to let that happen.
9. Atlanta - Slooowly coming together. They could've learned something from Portland's rebuilding process.
10. Charlotte - MJ should hang out there more.
11. Milwaukee - Mo, Redd, Bogut, Yi... why aren't they better?
12. New York - Ahem. Isiah is still employed... why?
13. Indiana - Where will Jermaine O'Neal go before Feb. 21?
14. Philadelphia - Where will Andre Miller go before Feb. 21?
15. Miami - The Matrix will make them better. A little bit. And then he'll opt out this summer.
1. LA Lakers - I can't believe they got Pau Gasol for nothing...
2. San Antonio - Despite their recent woes, does anyone doubt they won't be ready in April?
3. Utah - Deron Williams is making it his mission to embarass anyone who made the All-Star team ahead of him. Just ask CP3.
4. Dallas - Not ready to be counted out. Dirk and Josh are quite the lethal duo.
5. Phoenix - If they get rid of the Matrix in favor of Shaq, they're going to drop.
6. New Orleans - Great starting five, not much bench.
7. Denver - How much better would A.I., Melo and Camby be under a different coach? I mean, I like George Karl, but he's not exactly consistent.
8. Portland - The kids are coming down to Earth a bit.
9. Golden State - If their record was better, maybe Baron Davis would have made the All-Star team.
10. Houston - Adelman finds himself in the same boat JVG was - the S.S. Underachieving.
11. Sacramento - They should make a move. Arco Arena's great when they have a team to root for. The Bibby-Artest-Miller combo should have been blown up a year ago. It's K-Mart's team. Ironically they'd be in the playoffs in the East.
12. LA Clippers - With Brand out, they're back to their old habits of perennial lottery attendance.
13. Seattle - Kevin Durant doesn't have much help. Maybe he'll find it in Oklahoma.
14. Minnesota - Al Jefferson doesn't have much help. Maybe he'll find it once Kevin McHale is fired.
15. Memphis - What free agent are they going to get this summer better than Pau Gasol? This may be a team on the move.