The season is about to start and the Boston Celtics and Los Angeles Lakers look like they'll be back in the mix to win it all. Kevin Garnett is coming off arguably his best season. Kobe Bryant not only led the Lakers to the NBA Finals last year, but also he helped the United States return to prominence this summer in the Olympics. Both of these great players have less to prove at this point in their careers – only more to gain.
I took a trip recently to Paris and London where Carter and Wade squared off in exhibition games with little at stake. As I watched them trying to regain their timing, I realized this is the season that we see whether both deserve to be ranked among the game's top stars.
Shaq is gone in Miami. Alonzo Mourning might be headed for retirement. The Nets, meanwhile, have traded Jason Kidd and Richard Jefferson within the past eight months. Wade and Carter are now, unquestionably, the centerpieces of their respective franchises. Both also are coming off sub-par seasons by their standards.
The Nets are in the midst of a major rebuilding project. Devin Harris has shown signs of becoming an elite point guard, Yi Jianlian has outstanding upside and Brook Lopez also has promise. Of course, a team that can't realize its potential also is a team that usually gets its coach fired.
Carter, for the first time in his career, doesn't have an accomplished veteran playing next to him. Throughout Carter's career, Charles Oakley, Antonio Davis and, most recently, Kidd have been around to help with the heavy lifting. Now the spotlight is solely on Carter. He must lead the Nets not only statistically, but also emotionally.
Wade, on the other hand, exceeded expectations early in his career before Shaq came along and helped lift him to superstardom. Two injury-filled seasons since, however, have left Wade with something to prove. Barring a return from Mourning, the only other two holdovers from Miami's 2006 championship are Udonis Haslem and Dorell Wright. Shawn Marion will help and Michael Beasley can score, but neither instantly makes the Heat a title contender.
So this season will continue to help shape the legacies of Wade and Carter. Will they be remembered among the all-time great guards like Joe Dumars and Clyde Drexler? Or a rung or two below with Fat Lever, Andrew Toney and Rolando Blackman?