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Celtics receiving the stars' treatment

LeBron James and several of his fellow NBA Eastern Conference stars have been impressed with how the Celtics put together a star trio of Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen, and Paul Pierce in the offseason. James and Co., however, believe the jury is still out on whether the Celtics can immediately jell into an East power.

"You can't [say] that right now," said James, a three-time NBA All-Star. "They have enough talent to compete with everyone in the NBA. But you don't know until you go out there and play a game."

Said Milwaukee Bucks star Michael Redd: "Any time you get a chance to get three future Hall of Famers, you got to take that opportunity. It's a great move. At the same time, I don't think anyone's intimidated by that team in the East. But it's a terrific move for Boston. They need to win right now."

James led Cleveland to its first Eastern Conference title last season, and though the Cavaliers have done little to improve their roster in the offseason, several East stars view them as the conference favorite to repeat this season.

"You got to go with Cleveland right now," Detroit Pistons star Chauncey Billups said. "They won the East last year."

On his East pick, Miami Heat star Dwyane Wade said: "Cleveland . . . They went to the championship last year."

Picking the Cavaliers to win the East could be considered a safe bet, but James and Billups also believe the conference is wide open.

"If you look at it and sit down and analyze it, I think some people are going to say [the Pistons]," Billups said. "Some people are going to say Cleveland. Some people are going to say Boston, Miami, Chicago. There are really some good teams. I think it's wide open, I really do."

Said James: "Detroit is always going to be there. Miami is going to be there. Boston is now better off. There is Chicago. There are a lot of great teams. But we got to feel like we are the favorites because we won it."

Redd, however, picked a dark horse he's familiar with.

"Milwaukee Bucks," he said. "If we get healthy, we got a chance to do great things. We're under the radar, which is cool."

If the Celtics aren't the favorite to win the East, they should be the Atlantic Division favorite, right? New Jersey Nets star Jason Kidd isn't so sure of that, either.

"Toronto's the favorite," Kidd said. "They won it [last season]. No one talks about them anymore for some reason. But if they can stay healthy, they'll be right there at the end because they can put points on the board.

"Boston's improved. New York's improved. I thought Philly played well after the [Allen Iverson] trade. But I think Toronto's the favorite. I don't think there will be any nights off to get a win in the Atlantic."

The East stars might not favor the Celtics, but they expressed respect for their offseason improvements.

"Everybody has been looking forward to them getting better," James said. "They've had two down years and Danny Ainge has done a great job of making that team better."

Said Wade: "They have the Celtic pride back down there. They made the best moves you could make this summer. We'll see how it turns out for them."

With the Celtics opening training camp Sept. 30 in Rome, Allen is simply more concerned with his team than the rest of the conference.

"I'm from a different school of thought," he said. "I don't really worry about the other teams as much as our own team. In this league, the teams that are successful are the ones that beat the teams you're supposed to beat.

"Orlando got a little better. New York got a little better with Zach Randolph. Those teams are going to be good and what we are going to see from our perspective is the best of what every team has to offer.

"They're saying, 'We really have to get some sleep tonight because we're playing the Celtics. The Celtics are a really good team and we need to have our best mojo going on this particular night.' It will be a lot harder for us.

"But as long as we keep with ourselves and do what we need to do as a team, I don't worry about anybody. That swagger that we've developed over the last couple of weeks, it's about us forming [rather] than anybody else."

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