To bolster the bench, Memphis drafted offensive-minded guards Xavier Henry of Kansas and Greivis Vazquez of Maryland in the first round and signed former Celtics swingman Tony Allen to a three-year, $10 million deal. "Tony brings a big energy," says Hollins. "He's an active personality. When practice starts, he turns it on."
The Hornets, who finished last in the division last season, have a healthy Chris Paul. That's the good news. The bad news is that the All-Star point guard reportedly requested a trade. Paul eventually declared his desire to stay, but the organization—which has undergone an overhaul with the hirings of general manager Dell Demps and coach Monty Williams—needs results to dissuade Paul from leaving as a free agent in the summer of '12. To that end Demps loaded the roster with shooters, adding Ariza and guards Marco Belinelli and Willie Green to incumbents Peja Stojakovic and Marcus Thornton. "Chris is a once-in-a-generation point guard," says Williams. "But we can't put all that pressure on him. With the guys we have, we should be able to space the floor and give Chris room to operate."
Operate? That's not a word anyone wants to hear in Houston. Yao's health will be the key to the division race—and even the local media appreciate how important he is to the Rockets' hopes. When a reporter accidentally stepped on Yao's toe in a postgame gaggle earlier this month, the rest of the group jumped back a step, an instinctive attempt to avoid any more contact. Yao shouldn't expect the same kind of consideration from opponents. But if he's healthy and effective, he could help create separation between Houston and the rest of the division.