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Ha-ha! The NBA's back, my depression has lifted, and the phone is ringing off the hook. We have a lot to talk about.

It's taken a few months, but my disgust with Lamar Odom has finally subsided. So have my questions about the Lakers' legitimacy, the Hornets' staying power and Tracy McGrady's ability to get past the first round.

Actually, it was stupid for me to raise doubts about New Orleans over the summer, since the Hornets have the game's best point guard in Chris Paul, a born leader who's turned David West into an All-Star and has most of us expecting Tyson Chandler to emerge as one too.

While I'm doling out mea culpas, let me apologize to Boston fans for thinking the hunger of one superstar (Kobe Bryant) with three championships on his résumé would usurp three amigos (Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen) starving for their first.

The Celtics are the reigning champions. The Pistons are still in the picture. The 76ers have elevated to being, quite possibly, the third-best team in the East, although the Raptors and Magic will definitely have something to say about that.

The question is: How will this make LeBron feel? Challenged, for sure, and maybe trapped in Clevelandbut only until 2010. And how do the Heat fit in, especially since Dwyane Wade is back with an Olympic gold medal and a vengeance, not to mention Michael Beasley as his sidekick?

And why, exactly, are there still so many questions about the East? "That's what I ask myself all the time," says Pistons boss Joe Dumars. "I mean, come on! The West is tough, but there are legitimate teams in the East who not only can get to the Finals but can win it all. The arguments about parity need to go away. It exists now. Big time!"

I'm listening to the man.

With that as prologue, allow me to express myself on a few things, give some hints as to what's coming down the pike and get y'all ready for the season.

Aaaahhhh! Don't ya love it?!

A CELTICS REPEAT? I don't think so! I know, I know, I've got some nerve. I'll admit I'd be more inclined to root for the Celtics had it not been for some middle-aged man who screamed, "How 'bout those Nuggets!" in my direction at a rest stop on I-84. Yes,
I liked Denver to win it all a year ago, but come on, people, get a grip. Boston's case wasn't helped when James Posey left for New Orleans. I'm questioning how the C's are going to recover from that loss, especially if they meet the Lakers again.

GO, MAVS, GO! According to Rick Carlisle, it's a new day in Dallas. I asked the man if he's trying to reinvent himself as a coach who likes to run. "It's not about me reinventing myself," Carlisle says. "It's about me doing the right thing for this group of players. When you have Jason Kidd, you've got to have a strong, up-tempo game. So we're committed to getting the ball up and down the court. Listen, I've always wanted to play at a faster pace; it's more fun to coach. But it's a different kind of coaching because the majority of the decisions fall in the hands of the players. So you've got to educate them in a lot of situations as to what's best for the team, and there's a learning curve. But we're committed to it."

We'll see, Rick. We'll see.

"WE'RE GONNA RUN TOO, BABY!" When new Knicks coach Mike D'Antoni told me this, I laughed so hard, I had to turn off my tape recorder. Then the preseason arrived, and I saw Eddy Curry was getting about as many minutes as me. "I told you we were going to run," D'Antoni says.

GUARANTEE, DAWG? "The season's a failure if we don't get to the Finals, and I'm not about failing," says Ron Artest. Huh?! I'm more inclined to pay attention to his Rockets teammate McGrady. "We have the talent," T-Mac says. "If we stay healthy, there's no excuse for us not to advance at least to the conference finals."

TRADE WINDS & All eyes should be on Shawn Marion and Odom. In Miami, Marion thinks he's worth $80 million to $100 million. Pat Riley isn't about to pay him that kind of money. Since Odom, like Marion, is in the last year of his contract, a swap wouldn't be a bad idea. Imagine Marion and Kobe defending together.

I can! And if that deal happens, I'm making reservations for LA in June.