Improved East highlights camps

FRANK ZICARELLI, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:31 AM ET

In L.A., the Lakers' most pressing issue concerns Ron Artest and how the defending champions integrate Ron Ron's talent and temperament.

In Boston, the Celtics are hoping Kevin Garnett's knee can hold up and that Rasheed Wallace's temper is held in check.

The Cavs believe Shaq Daddy's presence will give King James more space to operate and a defensive presence in the post.

In central Florida, the Magic is getting ready for perhaps a magical season after reaching last season's NBA final. Vince Carter has returned home and will be given every opportunity to win games in Orlando.

Health will be an issue in San Antonio, where the aging Spurs got older by adding the likes of Richard Jefferson, Antonio McDyess and Theo Ratliff to complement a core group that realistically has one last chance of winning a championship.

In Denver, the Nuggets hope to learn from last season's long post-season run, while both the Mavs and Trail Blazers have added some nice off-season pieces.

Welcome to the start of NBA training camp, where jobs are scarce because virtually every impactful player has a guaranteed contract.

The off-season landscape, which saw its predictable share of change, has added plenty of intrigue.

On paper, there's more depth in the East in the form of Orlando, Cleveland and Boston, where one can flip coin to determine a winner.

The West should be the domain of the Lakers, barring an injury to Kobe Bryant.

The drama is embodied in Artest.

San Antonio will be good and the Nuggets will again contend because the team finally decided to play defence and finally found a player -- Chauncey Billups -- who can keep Carmelo Anthony's ego in check.

The next tier of teams in the West includes Dallas and Portland, while Utah and New Orleans appear to have taken a step back.

The Atlanta Hawks are more mature and are positioned to nail down the fourth seed in the East behind the Big Three of Orlando, Cleveland and Boston.

The Raptors definitely have improved, but their roster is not made for the playoffs.When training camp opens today in Ottawa, the team has to figure out how best to play team defence and how best to manage minutes.

With so many jump shooters and offensive options, the Raptors will be fun to watch.

Another team that should be improved and entertaining is Washington, where Flip Saunders takes over a Wizards side capable of lighting it up each and every night.

With a full camp at his disposal, a coach such as Jay Triano in Toronto can begin in earnest the process of changing a culture. Habits gets formed in camp, roles are established and an identity takes shape.

The only cloud surrounding the NBA involves its referees, who are expected to be locked out when exhibition play tips off on Oct. 1 in the wake of a labour impasse.

Strip away the cloud and one is left with plenty of league-wide curiosity. In the past, training camps have been mundane to the point of redundant.

Not this year.

New home for Graham

Ex-Raptors swingman Joey Graham has found a new home in Denver, where the Nuggets have invited the athletic wing to camp on a non-guaranteed deal.

Graham was taken 16th overall in 2005, the same year new Raptors guard Jarrett Jack went 22nd overall.

Last season was Graham's best as a pro, appearing in 78 games and making 10 starts. He posted career-highs in points (7.7) and rebounds (3.1).

Extra points

This should hardly come as a surprise, but one-time Raptors point guard Rafer Alston wants out of New Jersey.

There was no way Alston would play second-fiddle to Devin Harris.

FRANK.ZICARELLI@SUNMEDIA.CA


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