Fort Lauderdale, Fla. With the conclusion of the playoffs, at least the humiliation was over for the Eastern Conference, right?
Well, not exactly. Despite a flurry of activity at the NBA Draft, the league's lesser half essentially remains just that.
Of the first nine selections, Western Conference teams exercised seven. Think about that: The East finished with a 188-232 record against the West this season (188-236 if you count the Finals), but still couldn't bumble itself into prime draft position. The lone East picks among the top nine were small (Chicago, Jay Williams) and smaller (Cleveland, Dajuan Wagner).
Say what you want about New York getting busy, Orlando getting creative, New Orleans getting out before it could get in, but no one in the East made significant strides.
Yes, the Knicks got a certified All-Star in Antonio McDyess, but please, enough about New York finally landing a low-post option who draws double teams. McDyess is athletic, aggressive and ambulatory (a significant upgrade, right there, on Marcus Camby), but tends to get his points at the rim.
The Knicks went into the draft with concerns in the post and at point guard. They exited the same way. Kurt Thomas remains at center. Instead of Charlie Ward, Howard Eisley and Mark Jackson at the point, it's Ward, Eisley and Frank Williams.
Philadelphia also was somewhat active, dealing point guard Speedy Claxton and adding University of Miami forward John Salmons. But questions remain at point guard and power forward. Eric Snow still can't make a shot; replacements have yet to arrive for George Lynch and Tyrone Hill.
Orlando entered in need of size and promptly traded the draft's top domestically produced center (Curtis Borchardt) for an undersized power forward (Ryan Humphrey).
Milwaukee (Marcus Haislip) and Indiana (Fred Jones) drafted for depth, with double-take selections.
Boston, New Orleans, Toronto and New Jersey essentially sat out the process. Detroit (Tayshaun Prince) and Atlanta (Dan Dickau) added only late first-round picks.
With Jay Williams, the Bulls made a major strides but from what depths? Until Eddie Curry and Tyson Chandler pass through puberty, it remains a waiting game.
With Wagner, the Cavaliers continued to founder loads of guards, little up front, seemingly a complete lack of structure from a franchise available to the highest bidder.
Washington created a buzz with its additions of skeletal Jared Jeffries and scrawny Juan Dixon and well could be a contender in the welterweight division if not the Atlantic. It all still comes down to Michael.
As for the Heat, it's as if it is bracing for the real reason Caron Butler slid to No. 10. It was the rare instance in the East where the draft offered unadulterated hope.
Yet throw the conference together and there still is not a team capable of stepping up against the Western powers.
Yes, McDyess came East on Wednesday night, but so did Nick Anderson, Mark Bryant and Lindsey Hunter. Now there's a shift in the balance of power for you.
Wednesday changed nothing. Talent continued to flow west.
Advantage New York
The McDyess trade impacted both sides of the Hudson.
Instead of invoking his opt-out clause after next season, Nets guard Jason Kidd had hoped to possibly form an alliance with McDyess in New Jersey. Instead, in accepting his trade to New York, McDyess waived a similar opt-out clause in his contract.
That leaves Kidd with one fewer reason to remain with the Nets, instead of hooking up with Tim Duncan in San Antonio or Tracy McGrady and Grant Hill in Orlando a year from now.
As hungry as the Heat might for an upgrade at point guard, Minnesota will go into free agency with equal concerns.
Starting point guard Terrell Brandon remains an iffy proposition to ever return following knee surgery. Backup Chauncey Billups last week decided to upgrade his $2.7 million contract for '02-03 through free agency. The 'Wolves willingly hoisted William Avery into the free-agent pool. And Robert Pack also is through with his brief Minnesota contract.
The 'Wolves tried to move up in the draft to select Frank Williams or Dickau, but the Knicks and Hawks had more to offer to land those spots in the 20s.
Here's the rub: If Minnesota had not been stripped of its first-round pick because of its salary-cap circumvention with Joe Smith, it would have selected at No. 24 in position to draft either Williams or Dickau.
Not only could a bid from the Heat impact the free-agent decision of Lakers forward Devean George, but the Heat's other decisions could impact the Lakers, with Los Angeles possibly casting an eye toward Heat free agents Jim Jackson and Kendall Gill.