Staff Writer: Ryan Ward
Coming into this NBA season the defending NBA champion Los Angeles Lakers look like they had a hell of a chance of competing for another NBA title in a repeat campaign. Not only was the team relatively intact at the beginning of the season, but their only real loss was not be able to sign free-agent Trevor Ariza in the off-season who chose to sign with the Houston Rockets instead.
Even though the defending champs were unable to sign quite possibly the most promising young player, they were able to get their hands on former defensive player of the year in Ron Artest. Despite Artest getting tossed from multiple games in the playoff series between the Lakers and Rockets last season because of scuffles with Kobe Bryant, the defensive minded forward embrace the idea of being able to compete for a championship with Kobe Bryant and company signed a contract in a heartbeat.
This free-agent signing was obviously nothing but good news for the Los Angeles Lakers been very bad news for all the teams in the Western Conference thought to be a contender season. Even though Ron Artest brought a much-needed toughness and defensive intensity, he hasn’t really panned out as a blockbuster free agent signing usually does.
Even though some people think that Ron Artest is a bust and probably not the best move the Lakers have made recently, the defending champs are still a number one seed in the Western Conference and will be just that headed into the playoffs for third consecutive season.
Before the season began, the Denver Nuggets and the San Antonio Spurs were thought to be the two teams in the Western Conference that can actually give the defending NBA champion Los Angeles Lakers run for their money, but as we head to the end of the NBA regular season it seems as though two other teams in the West might be able to contend with Kobe and company much better than the Nuggets in the Spurs.
In the off-season, the Phoenix Suns made a trade which sent their starting center and former Laker great Shaquille O’Neal to the Cleveland Cavaliers for basically nothing in exchange. This move was basically a salary dump in Shaq was due a lot of money this season.
Most people believed that this move would do nothing more than destroy the Phoenix Suns chances of competing in whatever years are left and the Steve Nash era in Phoenix, but fortunately enough the franchise’s gotten back to their run and gun offense and as of right now are the number two seed in the Western Conference with a good chance of heading into the postseason just behind the Lakers.
Along with the Phoenix Suns, Jerry Sloan’s Utah Jazz have also come out of nowhere and Elton compete with the best of the best in the Western Conference. The beginning of the season the Jazz started out slow and were thought to make some major deals in the NBA trade deadline which would’ve included All-Star caliber forward Carlos Boozer.
Fortunately, the Jazz not making a move was the best move they could have made because they completely turned it around in the second half of the season and will compete with the Suns for the second seed in the Western Conference heading into the playoffs.
In the past, both of these teams have given Los Angeles Lakers trouble, but Kobe Bryant and company on another level now and in my opinion don’t have an equal in the Western Conference and should advance to the third straight NBA Finals.