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The King Has Decreed, How Will The Big Three Respond?

Ray Allen, Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce. Some say there's a new Big Three in Miami. (AP)
Ray Allen, Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce. Some say there's a new Big Three in Miami. (AP)

By now you've heard that mega star LeBron James has left his home state of Ohio for the siren song of Miami's South Beach, joining fellow stars Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh to form a new beast in the East.

Seen as the greatest basketball talent in a generation, and the winner of back-to-back league MVP awards, James was the all-important domino to fall in the NBA's Summer of the Free Agent. He has committed to the Heat and thus made the Celtics' road back to the NBA Finals — through a newly stacked Eastern Conference — considerably more difficult.

After re-signing both Paul Pierce and Ray Allen, and with young star Rajon Rondo and veteran Kevin Garnett returning, the Celtics should be near the top of the conference standings come playoff time. With strengthened competition this year, however, they'll have a harder time being minutes from an NBA title.

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We won't know much until the season starts in the fall.  Fans in Miami, Chicago, Orlando, Milwaukee and Washington, however, all believe that their team has the talent to swipe the conference crown from Boston.

The Celtics beat the Miami Heat in the first-round of this year's playoffs.  At that point, Wade had no identifiable second-best player; now, after the addition of James, Wade may be the Heat's secondary option.

Without James his old Cleveland Cavaliers have completely faded away from the NBA picture like early-morning fog over Lake Erie.  But the team's midwestern rival, the Chicago Bulls, have emerged on the scene.

Led by dynamic young point guard Derrick Rose and newly acquired power forward Carlos Boozer, the Bulls look formidable both inside and out. With former Duke star Luol Deng probably coming off the bench, the Bulls also have enviable depth.

The Orlando Magic, whom the Celtics beat in last season's conference finals, still look formidable, even after failing to add top-flight talent to their roster.  The team will only go as far as star center Dwight Howard's shoulders can carry them, but they're about the broadest shoulders you've ever seen.

Milwaukee made a late run up the standings last season, though much will depend on center Andrew Bogut's recovery from an elbow injury. The Bucks have signed scorer John Salmons to pair with young stud Brandon Jennings, so the former fifth-seed has already improved.

After drafting point guard John Wall with the No. 1 pick in the 2010 NBA Draft, Washington is trending upward.  Atlanta re-signed its star, Joe Johnson, and returns its core, and New York made a splash by signing former Phoenix star Amare Stoudemire.

Dwyane Wade is all smiles now that "The King" is heading to South Beach. (AP)
Dwyane Wade is all smiles now that "The King" is heading to South Beach. (AP)

More than recent years, the Eastern Conference is truly stacked with talent. At least 12 of the conference's 15 teams should be in contention for eight playoff spots near the end of the season.

The free agent shuffle is nearly complete and the NBA landscape has been completely altered.  It is clear that the Celtics face a very difficult, though not impossible, task next season.

Pierce is back, Allen is back and coach Doc Rivers is back. Rondo has emerged as one of the NBA's top talents. And Garnett adds a wily, growling, screaming veteran defensive presence that should keep the team focused.

Center Kendrick Perkins will miss most of the season after undergoing knee surgery so the team is in dire need of frontcourt help. Celtics President Danny Ainge recently signed veteran center Jermaine O'Neal in an effort to shore up the position. Formerly a prime talent, O'Neal has aged rapidly and will be an unknown quantity heading into the season.

The window on this team's effectiveness is rapidly closing as the toils of almost 100 NBA games each year take their toll on Boston's veteran roster.

Teams across the league have completely changed their makeup through free agency and the draft. The Celtics, however, have bucked the trend and have merely re-assembled the team that stretched the Lakers to the limit last season.

The Celtics' core is another year older and the landscape around them has only gotten more difficult. Of course, many would have said the same thing last year.

This program aired on July 9, 2010. The audio for this program is not available.

Jeremy Bernfeld Producer
Jeremy Bernfeld was formerly a producer for WBUR.

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