Raptors and 76ers power up the East

FRANK ZICARELLI

, Last Updated: 11:37 AM ET

The NBA experienced a shift in power when Elton Brand and Jermaine O'Neal, two natural power forwards, changed teams in the off-season.

Brand's controversial free-agent move from the Los Angeles Clippers to the Philadelphia 76ers brings the explosive post player back to the Eastern Conference, where he began his career with the Chicago Bulls as the first overall pick in 1999.

The Clippers thought they had a deal in principle to keep Brand in L.A., but no contract was signed, leaving the door open for the Duke product to join an emerging Sixers team that desperately needs Brand's unique skill-set to take them to the next level.

The pre-season has shown that Brand has recovered nicely from an Achilles tendon injury that threatened to end his career.

He enters the regular season in some elite company, joining Kevin Garnett, Shaquille O'Neal and Tim Duncan as the only active players to post career averages of at least 20 points and 10 rebounds.

"It makes us a little tougher and the East a little tougher," Sixers head coach Maurice Cheeks said of Brand.

Philly emerged as a playoff team last season, extending the playoff-tested Detroit Pistons to six games in last spring's post-season.

With Brand, Philly should battle for home-court advantage, much like the Raptors in the wake of Jermaine O'Neal's trade from the Indianapolis Pacers.

"This was one of the surprise talented teams," Brand said of the young and athletic Sixers.

"They were one of the better teams in the second half of the season.

"Improving on last year is the minimum goal, but depending on how we grow and mature that could dictate if we can reach that upper echelon of the Bostons, Detroits, Orlandos."

The observation easily applies to the Raptors, assuming O'Neal stays healthy.

"I don't know who's going to make more of an impact," Cheeks said.

"I know they're both going to make an impact.

"Jermaine O'Neal's an excellent player and you put him with Chris Bosh and they're already good. That makes them a little better. Same thing with Elton Brand. Bring him to our team and it makes for a tougher division."

With Duncan and Shaquille O'Neal getting longer in the tooth and with more and more Western Conference teams getting younger and athletic, the game's more accomplished power players are situated in the East.

The shift began last off-season when Garnett, a former league MVP in Minnesota, joined Boston and helped lead the Celtics to their NBA title.

Brand and O'Neal represent the two most significant off-season moves.


Photos