In the last week, the Western Conference lost free agent big men Amare Stoudemire (from PHO to NYK) and Carlos Boozer (UTA to CHI), and saw Chris Bosh (TOR to MIA), Dwyane Wade (MIA) and (check anywhere at 6:00 Eastern to confirm) LeBron James (?) stay in the East.
In fact, nearly every major move in free agency has had a far greater impact on the right than the left Coast.
Other than a few players re-signing with their current teams, (see: Dirk Nowitzki/Brendan Haywood in Dallas, Rudy Gay in Memphis and Channing Frye in Phoenix), it’s been mostly quiet on the Western front.
As such, while the Lakers return their core players (including Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol, Andrew Bynum, Lamar Odom and Ron Artest), hope to re-sign Derek Fisher and have added Blake, has their road to winning the West for a fourth straight season gotten any more difficult?
Let’s take a snap shot:
The Lakers’ opponent in the Western Conference Finals, Phoenix, brings back Steve Nash and most of his crew, and while re-signing Frye and adding of Warrick could help, losing Stoudemire is a big blow.
L.A.’s second round opponent, Utah, lost Boozer to the Bulls, leaving the starting power forward slot for the capable Paul Millsap. That could hurt weaken Utah’s bench, but the Jazz did add No. 9 overall pick Gordon Hayward out of Butler.
The West’s best young team, Oklahoma City, locked up Kevin Durant for the foreseeable future and traded for the rights to rookie center Cole Aldrich out of Kansas, and promises to be a threat.
The veteran teams – Denver, Dallas and San Antonio – remain almost fully intact (S.A.’s Richard Jefferson opted out of his deal and is a free agent), and can’t be counted out.
Three teams expect key injured big men back. Houston gets Yao Ming, Portland returns Greg Oden, and the Clippers debut last year’s No. 1 pick Blake Griffin. The Hornets, meanwhile, look forward to a full season of oft-injured-last-year Chris Paul.
Memphis gets Gay back, and has some nice talent (Zach Randolph, Marc Gasol, O.J. Mayo) now joined by No. 12 pick Xavier Henry.
Finally come the teams full of young talent but likely far away from contending: Golden State (traded Maggette to Milwaukee, but boast Monta Ellis and Stephen Curry); Sacramento (building around R.O.Y. Tyreke Evans and No. 5 pick DeMarcus Cousins); and Minnesota (No. 4 pick Wesley Johnson, rights to Ricky Rubio, Love/Jefferson).
And of course, things could change with a Western team’s potential acquisition of a player like David Lee, formerly of the Knicks, and still unsigned.
But what does it all mean to the Lakers?
Perhaps not much at all.
For the third straight season, it’s very clear that the path to the NBA Finals goes directly through Los Angeles.