If you like a good conspiracy theory, you might want to start watching the NBA. The league that once found a way to land Patrick Ewing in New York, Larry Bird and Kevin McHale in Boston and Wilt, Magic and Kareem in Los Angeles is at it again.

The Celtics border on irrelevance? Putting Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen next to Paul Pierce will revive the league's most historic franchise.

The Suns face chemistry problems and keep flaming out in the playoffs, costing one of the NBA's most supportive markets an NBA Finals? Let's send Shaquille O'Neal to Phoenix, making him the largest lab rat in the league's most intriguing in-season experiment since that time J.R. Rider tried to play without a bong beneath the bench.

The Lakers hear trade demands from Kobe Bryant and face another early-round ouster? Maybe adding a deft 7-footer who can score and pass will calm Kobe and lead to a nostalgic and ratings-busting Celtics-Lakers finals.

The Lake Show plays Target Center tonight, having gone 4-1 since adding Pau Gasol in a trade with Memphis that cost LA a few bags of confetti and one of owner Jerry Buss' stained leisure suits. A victory tonight would make the Lakers 7-2 on their Grammy-avoiding road trip, which would be the NBA's best record in nine or more continuous road games since neutral-site road games were eliminated in 1975.

A few months ago, Bryant wanted out. Now he and Gasol headline a team that has a chance to win the most dominant conference in sport.

Andrew Bynum, a dominating 7-1 post, is injured, but he has become a force this season and should be back in March. Lamar Odom, 6-10, rounds out an imposing, versatile frontcourt. Gasol, with his unselfishness and touch, fits wonderfully into the team's famed triangle offense.

Derek Fisher is a veteran point guard, the bench is deep and the coach, Phil Jackson, knows how to manage talent.

"It shows a great deal of commitment from the organization,'' Bryant said recently. "It's a great step. It's a matter of us just jelling now and putting it together. We have a great bench. We have a lot of length, a lot of versatility.

"I have to take my hat off to Jerry and [General Manager] Mitch [Kupchak] for going forward with this. Now it's up to us.''

Magically, as the NBA nears the All-Star break, most of the league's most magnetic stars have a chance to win it all.

The Celtics have The Big Three. LeBron James is a one-man playoff run. The Nuggets of 'Melo and AI can outscore anybody on any given night. Dirk Nowitzki, Baron Davis, Chris Paul, Dwight Howard and Tracy McGrady are leading players on contenders, and the Suns and Pistons might still be favorites to make the Finals.

The Suns will still run, but when they decide to walk they'll throw the ball in to the NBA's most dominant player since Michael Jordan retired. The only healthy NBA superstar who is assured of missing the playoffs this year is Dwyane Wade; even he can't overcome Ricky Davis and Mark Blount.

Blockbuster trades once were considered improbable in the NBA because of the salary cap. Now three All-Star big men have been traded to title contenders in the past eight months, and it's the Lakers who might have found the best fit.

The Celtics have been the best regular-season team, but they have old legs and no one known for dominating fourth quarters of playoff games. The Suns will be more oddity than odds-on-favorites until Shaq proves he can get past halfcourt before Steve Nash or Amare Stoudemire shoots.

The Lakers? They've got Gasol adding his arpeggio of high-post passes to an offense featuring the world's most unstoppable scorer.

NBA Commissioner David Stern has done good work revitalizing the league. Too bad even he can't help the Knicks.

Jim Souhan can be heard Sundays from 10 a.m.-noon on AM-1500 KSTP. • jsouhan@startribune.com