LeBron James will join forces with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, creating what certainly appears to be a championship contender in Miami. Amare Stoudemire has left Phoenix in favor of New York. Carlos Boozer has left Utah in favor of Chicago. Sense a trend here? Sure, James, Wade and Bosh already played in the Eastern Conference, but the departures of Stoudemire and Boozer strengthen the East and weaken the West.
It doesn’t ensure a fourth consecutive trip to the Finals for the two-time defending champion Lakers, but it could make it easier for them. Phoenix gave the Lakers fits in the West finals in May and Utah has been a troublesome playoff foe the last three years. The Suns won’t be as tough without Stoudemire and the Jazz won’t be as competitive without Boozer, leaving Denver, Oklahoma City and Portland as the teams to beat.
Of the three, OKC could be the biggest pests for the Lakers. Denver’s situation with Carmelo Anthony is worrisome for Nuggets fans. Signing him to an extension would solve a great deal of uncertainty. Not signing him could cause problems. Portland’s injury problems derailed any chances of a long playoff run last spring. Greg Oden’s career could be over before it even starts. As for OKC, the up-and-coming Thunder could prove to be difficult to contend with for seasons to come after giving Kevin Durant an extension.
What about the Dallas Mavericks?
Or the Clippers?
Or the San Antonio Spurs if they sign Shaq?
My prediction: if the Lakers avoid injuries, they should advance to the Finals again.