Although the Celtics remain atop the NBA standings, with a 40-9 record, the Western Conference is still the most likely to produce the eventual league champ.
Three different contenders have made moves in the past 10 days to 'upgrade':
1. Dallas. In a deal that has yet to be finalized, the Mavs were set to ship Devin Harris, Jerry Stackhouse, DeSagana Diop, Maurice Ager, and Devean George for Jason Kidd and Malik Allen. George has (as of this writing) vetoed the deal based on a provision in his contract, although the bet here is that the teams will find $ome way to get George comfortable with the potential move to New Jer$ey.
Assuming the deal gets done, the Mavs have made a major move in a very competitive conference. The move would be a return to Dallas for Kidd, who was drafted out of Cal by the Mavs management (pre-Mark Cuban), and was Rookie-of-the-Year (along with Grant Hill) before being shipped to Phoenix. Although getting long in the tooth at age 34, he would provide Dallas with a 'true' point guard who might help the Mavs fill the slot that has been empty since 2004-05 when another point guard was shipped from the Big D to Phoenix.
2. PHX. The Suns, meanwhile, rolled the dice a week ago by trading Shawn Marion and Marcus Banks for the Big Diesel. At age 35, Shaq has even more miles on the treads than Kidd (or, for that matter, Indiana Jones), but he offers the Suns something that they have not had in years: a low-post presence.
Since 1999, only one team (the 2004 Pistons) have won an NBA title without either O'Neill or Tim Duncan in the middle. The Suns, who have tried to win with a European-style fast-strike offense that has bogged down in the playoffs in each of the past three years. Despite the brilliance of back-to-back MVP Steve Nash, the Suns weren't going to win with this group.
Suns GM Tim Kerr rolled the dice with Shaq, and like Dallas, the "future is now."
3. LA Lakers. The Lakers, having seemingly settled the differences with Kobe Bryant, made their own move by acquiring Pau Gasol for his brother (Marc) and a collection of marginal NBA talent.
P. Gausol is just 27 years old, and has already been named the MVP of the FIBA World Championships (in 2006). Although the move helps the Lakers now, it also makes them contenders for the next few seasons.
The Suns and Mavs, however, can't think about tomorrow. They have to win now.