The NBA shopping season is almost over, and some club's bagged better deals than others.
Miami is the overwhelming winner so far during the NBA's free agent signing period. In an Eastern Conference without a dominant center, the Heat claimed one of the game's best ever when they traded for Shaquille O'Neal last week.
Heat President Pat Riley gave up three solid players in Lamar Odom, Brian Grant and Caron Butler, but most experts say the trio's total value doesn't come close to matching O'Neal's, a former league MVP.
Next season, O'Neal and guard Dwayne Wade will be the overwhelming favorites in the newly formed Southeastern Division, featuring Miami, the Washington Wizards, Atlanta Hawks, and expansion Charlotte Bobcats.
The Detroit Pistons are still the favorite in the East with Indiana expected to be among the top challengers. But some observers say the Heat could supplant the New Jersey Nets, who lost high-flying free-agent forward Kenyon Martin to the Denver Nuggets last week.
New Jersey traded Martin for three first-round draft picks after signing Martin to a seven-year, $92 million contract. In two of the past three seasons, Martin helped lead the Nets to the NBA finals.
The Nets featured one of the league's best fast breaks, with All-NBA point guard Jason Kidd dishing alley-oop passes to Martin or small forward Richard Jefferson, two of the league's best leapers. In the Nets' system, Martin averaged 16.7 points, 9.5 rebounds. The Nets also will miss the 1.3 blocks per game Martin posted last season.
None of the other Eastern teams came close to the Heat in bolstering their rosters.
The Washington Wizards improved some by acquiring former Dallas Mavericks sixth man Antawn Jamison. Orlando traded Tracy McGrady for Houston Rockets guard Steve Francis and also obtained former San Antonio Spurs Hedo Turkoglu.
Detroit lost Mehmet Okur but re-signed Rasheed Wallace. The defending NBA champions hope the loss of Okur will be tempered by the emergence of Darko Milicic, the No.2 overall pick in last year's draft.
Cleveland saw one of its top players, center/forward Carlos Boozer hop to the Utah Jazz.
New York, Boston and Toronto did little to propel themselves past the middle of the pack.
In the Western Conference, several teams spent big on free agents.
By signing Martin, the Nuggets added a brick-wall defender in the post as well as one of the most athletic power forwards in the game. Guard Andre Miller is one of the conference's best assist men and the trio of Martin, Nene and Marcus Camby should provide the Nuggets with a front line that could run circles around the rest of the West.
Phoenix signed former Dallas Mavericks guard Steve Nash.
The Jazz, which missed qualifying for the post season by one game, improved with the acquisitions of Okur and Boozer. Teaming those two with all-star Andrei Kirilenko and the rest of the Jazz's overachievers could give the team the kind of balanced attack that few clubs can match.