Steve Nash has turned the Phoenix Suns into one of the NBA's most entertaining teams, while Shaquille O'Neal has transformed the Miami Heat into a powerhouse.
Looking for this season's leading most valuable player candidates?
Look no further than those two transplanted stars, who seem a good bet to finish first and second in the MVP race when the results are announced sometime during the playoffs.
Arguments can be made in favor of Dirk Nowitzki, Tim Duncan and others, but the success Nash and O'Neal have brought to their teams figures to be the deciding factor that separates the Heat's center and the Suns' point guard from the rest.
So, who is more deserving?
"Nash," said Portland guard Richie Frahm. "It's evident in their wins and losses. Just look at the way he has opened up their offense and the guys who are overachieving. As a shooter, you'd love to play with a guy like that. He's not a physical specimen, but he goes hard. He just makes the other guys around him better."
Strangely, for a pair of MVP contenders, Nash and O'Neal are not even the best offensive players on their teams, at least in terms of scoring. Nash ranks fourth on the Suns in points per game behind Amare Stoudemire, Shawn Marion and Joe Johnson, while O'Neal's scoring average is more than a full point below that of Dwyane Wade's.
"The best thing about Shaq is that he's learned to have the same game in the playoffs that he does in the season. He may exert more energy in the playoffs and he may try and score more in the playoffs, but that's bad for every other team. It's not bad for [Miami]," 76ers forward Chris Webber said.
One factor voters look at is how an MVP candidate made those around him better.
Nash, with his uncanny dribbling and passing abilities, has turned Stoudemire into a 56% shooter after he made 47.5% of his attempts a year ago. Stoudemire's scoring average has jumped from 20.6 to 25.8, the field goal percentages of Marion and Johnson have both gone up, and Quentin Richardson is on pace to nearly double his total of 120 3-point field goals from a season ago -- a big factor in the Suns breaking the NBA record for most threes in a season.
O'Neal's presence certainly has helped open things up for Wade, but the second-year guard's improvement from last season is more of a credit to himself than it is to O'Neal.
And then there's won-lost records.
After winning 42 games last season, Miami was on pace to reach 60 victories until losing three in a row in the past week.
Phoenix, coming off a 29-win season, is shooting for victory No. 60. The turnaround ranks as the fourth best in NBA history, and Phoenix is only the ninth team in league history to follow a 50-loss season with a 50-win season.
Ballots already have been sent out to NBA writers and broadcasters who vote on the MVP and other awards. Although the Associated Press does not participate in official balloting, here are one writer's choices for several awards:
MOST VALUABLE PLAYER: Nash. A few more statistics working in his favor: One of only three guards shooting over 50% from the field, and Nash has the highest assist average of any NBA player since John Stockton averaged 12.3 a decade ago. Nash could become only the fifth guard in league history to win the award, joining Bob Cousy, Oscar Robertson, Magic Johnson, Allen Iverson and Michael Jordan. Runner-up: O'Neal.
COACH OF THE YEAR: George Karl, Nuggets. The turnaround engineered by Karl after he replaced the fired Jeff Bzdelik and interim coach Michael Cooper has been nothing sort of phenomenal, the Nuggets winning 30 of 36 games to move from 11th place in the West, six games out of a postseason berth, to within reach of the No. 5 seed. The Nuggets have gone 5-1 under Karl in games decided by three points or fewer, have won 19 games by double-digit margins and are 13-5 on the road after starting 5-16. Karl's .833 winning percentage is the best in NBA history for a coach taking over after the season had begun. Runner-up: Rick Carlisle, Pacers.
ROOKIE OF THE YEAR: Ben Gordon, Bulls. A tough call between the No. 3 overall pick from Connecticut and Emeka Okafor, the Charlotte rookie (and Gordon's college teammate) drafted No. 2 overall. Okafor has reached double figures in points and rebounds 46 times, and he leads all rookies in scoring, rebounding and minutes.
Gordon, however, has been a major cog in the Bulls' stunning turnaround after beginning the season 0-9, and his repeated fourth-quarter heroics (20 points in the fourth against Miami on Feb. 22; 22 points in the final period March 30 at Charlotte) tip the argument in his favor. Runner-up: Okafor.
DEFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Bruce Bowen, Spurs. Assigned the task of defending the opponent's best scorer on a night-in, night-out basis, Bowen has helped the Spurs hold opponents below 80 points on 19 different occasions, and the Spurs have won 18 of them. Also, San Antonio's league-leading defense holds opponents to 88.4 points per game. Runner-up: Marcus Camby, Nuggets.
MOST IMPROVED: Wade. The second-year guard from Marquette was no slouch his rookie season, but who could have forecast Wade increasing his scoring average by eight points, his assist average going from 4.5 to 5.9 and his shooting percentage rising from 46 to 48? When Miami needs a basket late in a close game, it turns to Wade rather than O'Neal. Runner-up: Primoz Brezec, Bobcats.
EXECUTIVE OF THE YEAR: Randy Pfund, Miami. Anyone who can pull off a trade for O'Neal should win this award by default, as players of O'Neal's caliber should never, ever be dealt. Runner-up: Bryan Colangelo, Suns.
ALL-NBA: First team: Stoudemire, Nowitzki, O'Neal, Iverson, Nash. Second team: Kevin Garnett, Duncan, LeBron James, Wade, Gilbert Arenas. Third team: Yao Ming, Marion, Tracy McGrady, Vince Carter, Ray Allen.
ALL-DEFENSIVE TEAM: Bowen, Camby, Ben Wallace, Andres Nocioni, Larry Hughes.
ALL-INTERVIEW: Nash, O'Neal, Jalen Rose, Stephen Jackson, Grant Hill.