The Beast in the East.
Since before the NBA lockout shortened season, the NBA’s Eastern conference has taken a bad rap for being a conference for small men only. But this season things have seem to have changed. The little mans club known as the Eastern Conference is all grown up and ready to play with the big boys.
This revolution of sorts began in last years all-star game. For the first time in years the Eastern conference had some notable big men in the bunch, including Ben Wallace, Jermaine O’Neal, Jamaal Maglore, and Kenyon Martin. Then later last year came the shocking upset of the Detroit Pistons beating the Los Angeles lakers. The Pistons became the first Eastern Conference NBA champion since the Michael Jordan lead Chicago Bulls beat the Utah Jazz in 1998.
The off-season began in a huge shuffle, as it look like the East was going to lose two of its up and coming big men as power forwards Kenyon Martin, and Carlos Boozer headed west. Then comes the “Shaq Factor”. When the Los Angeles lakers traded Center Cheekily O’Neal to the Miami Heat for Lamar Odom, Caron Butler, and Brain Grant most people assumed that Shaq would be highly dominate in the smaller conference. But alas the Eastern Centers have stood up to Shaq better then most of their Western counterparts.
Besides Shaq, the East has “some pretty darned good big men” as former Bulls GM Jerry Krause put it. There is of corse the above mentioned Ben Wallace, Jermaine O’neal and Jamaal Maglore. But there is also guys who are putting up fantastic numbers which you hardly ever hear about. Such as Cleveland’s Zydrunis Illgauskas, New York’s Nazr Mohammed, Philadelphia’s Sam Dalembert, Toronto’s Chris Bosh, Chicago’s Eddy Curry and Tyson Chandler, New Jersey’s Jason Collins, Washington’s Antwan Jamison, and Charlotte’s Emeka Okafor.
Illgauskas has had an on-again-of-again career. After being drafted in 96 by the Cavs, and having a fantastic showing in the rookie game, “Big Z” spent most of the next two years suffering from injuries. Only to come roaring back in 2003 and make the All-star squad. Then to have a not so good year last year, and now is once again contributing.
Mohammed a 1998 pick from Utah was traded to Philadelphia on draft night. He spent two unsuccessful years on the bench in Philly before being traded to Atlanta in 2001. He had some highlight in Atlanta but never really panned out. now in New York he is helping the Knicks fight their way thought the Atlantic and possible to a second straight playoff appearance.
Eddy Curry, and Tyson Chandler where both picked in 2001. And from the get go both looked to be bust. And up to December 2004 they where living up to that reputation. Now like the Bulls they have been playing great basketball and have helped the Bulls get into playoff contention for the first time since the 1998 NBA Championship team.
Now after reviewing the players for the Eastern conference, its safe to say that it isn’t a conference for just the guards any more. Because the Big men have arrived.