- Associated Press - Friday, December 17, 2010

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) - LeBron James joining the Miami Heat was the signature moment during the free-agent rush last summer.

However, it wasn’t the only move that has shaken up the Eastern Conference standings early this season.

While Miami added talent, glitz and glamour, the Chicago Bulls, New York Knicks and Indiana Pacers made acquisitions that might have received more attention most years, but were seemingly lost in the hoopla surrounding James’ televised choice to join Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh.

New York and Chicago tried desperately to land James, but they are doing fine without him.

The Bulls wanted to improve on last season’s 41-41 finish, and added Utah’s Carlos Boozer, Kyle Korver and Ronnie Brewer. The Bulls entered Thursday with a 16-8 record.

New York picked up free agent forward Amare Stoudemire and point guard Raymond Felton as part of an overhaul that brought 10 new players. The Knicks went 29-53 last season, but are 16-10.

Indiana went 32-50 last season and didn’t have the salary cap room to pursue James. The Pacers, already boasting a young core featuring Danny Granger, Roy Hibbert and Brandon Rush, waited patiently before trading for point guard Darren Collison and veteran forward James Posey in a three-way swap that sent Troy Murphy to New Jersey. The Pacers are 11-13, but they have won at Miami and the Los Angeles Lakers, and would be a playoff team if the season ended.

“Now, the East is really a totally different scenario with all the trades that happened,” Granger said. “It’s really wide open. I kind of like how it’s different than it has been in past years.”

Chicago has won seven straight, with Boozer leading the way. The power forward missed the first month of the season with a broken hand, but he has averaged 17.6 points and 8.4 rebounds since his return.

Boozer had 22 points and 18 rebounds Monday against Indiana, and 34 points and 12 rebounds Wednesday against Toronto.

“He’s a guy that is attacking the rim, which what we like to do,” Bulls point guard Derrick Rose said. “He’s starting to finish better and starting to get into the groove for the game.

Korver is averaging 10 points and shooting 42 percent from 3-point range and Brewer is adding six points per game and shooting 53 percent from the field.

Rose averages 24 points and 8.4 rebounds.

“He (Rose) has a lot of weapons and then Boozer is setting picks for him,” Pacers guard T.J. Ford said. “He’s got shooters out there like Kyle Korver and Luol Deng. You can tell they’re getting chemistry with Boozer coming back. They are one of the top teams that everyone is looking forward to competing with.”

Boozer’s breakout came just in time. Center Joakim Noah will miss eight to 10 weeks following surgery to repair a torn ligament in his right thumb.

But Boozer believes things are looking up.

“It’s still growing, which is exciting,” he said. “To be where we are, to be trying to get better _ it’s an exciting time to be a Chicago Bull because we’re improving while we’re winning.”

New York has suffered through nine straight losing seasons and looked destined for another during a 3-8 start. The Knicks have since won 13 of 15. Now, even after being spurned by James, New York is thinking about the postseason.

“The Knicks have not had a playoff team for a long time, and we needed a complete change,” Knicks president Donnie Walsh said. “It’s not that there weren’t good players here, it’s that they didn’t fit together.”

Felton and Stoudemire fit together in coach Mike D’Antoni’s up-tempo style. Stoudemire ranks second in the league with 26.7 points per game. Felton, who was a restricted free agent point guard, is averaging 18.7 points and 8.9 assists.

“They were two very good players, and they are spearheading what we’re doing right now,” Walsh said. “The other moves that we made allowed us to round out our team in the right way. We still have work to do, but we have now got all positions. We can match up with most teams.”

Stoudemire has scored 30 or more points in nine consecutive games.

“We have advantages with Amare, particularly because he’s a very difficult guy to guard,” Walsh said. “We haven’t had anybody like that with the New York Knicks since Patrick Ewing.”

Indiana has missed the playoffs the past four seasons, and has reached postseason play just once since Reggie Miller retired. But the team has a swagger that had been missing in recent years.

The additions of Collison and Posey filled key voids.

Collison gives the Pacers a playmaker who passes first and bothers opposing point guards with his speed and quickness. He learned as a rookie last season under Chris Paul in New Orleans, then stepped in and took advantage when Paul missed a significant part of the season with an injury. So far, Collison is averaging 13.5 points and 4.1 assists for Indiana.

“He’s a young point guard, so he’s still learning the ropes,” Granger said. “But his athleticism at that position is something we haven’t had in a while, so it helps us tremendously.”

Posey has been steady with his good perimeter shooting and defense. He is averaging 6.1 points in 20 minutes per game.

“I like what I’ve seen of the Pacers,” Walsh, the former Pacers CEO, said. “I think getting Collison really puts the finishing touches on them. I think the improvement of Hibbert and the emergence of Danny Granger as an elite player _ those are good pieces to have.”

Lakers guard Kobe Bryant sees the potential in the Pacers.

“I like them,” he said after scoring 31 points in a win over Indiana on Wednesday night. “I like them a lot. They play well together, they play hard, they’re well coached, and I’ll be very surprised if they are not in the playoffs at the end of the year.”

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