NBA Conference Power Shift?

Over the past decade or so, the majority of the top NBA teams from year to year compete in the Western Conference.  The Eastern Conference, which is considered significantly weaker, typically has but a few teams each season that can compete against teams from the mighty West.

In fact, 2001-02 was the most recent season in which a team with a .500 record or better missed the playoffs in the Eastern Conference.  During that span, a team with a .500 record or worse has never made the playoffs in the Western Conference. However, it looks like that is all about to change.

The change started a couple years ago when Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen both left Western Conference teams (Minnesota and Seattle/Oklahoma City respectively) to create the “Big 3″ in Boston. The result:  two championship appearances in three years including one title.

In the free agency event of the decade, Dwayne Wade, Chris Bosh and LeBron James have all united in Miami.  Although all three of these players played in the Eastern Conference last season, having all three on the same team gives the Eastern Conference another dominant team with legitimate NBA championship potential.

The 2010 NBA free agency season also saw all-star forward Amar’e Stoudemire leave the Western Conference (Phoenix Suns) and sign with the New York Knicks. At first glance this may not seem like a significant move as it in no way makes the Knicks a championship caliber team.  However, this appears to be the first stage in bringing the New York Knicks back to relevance.

Carmelo Anthony is scheduled to become a free agent after the 2010-11 season.  The Denver Nuggets attempts to sign Anthony to a long term deal have failed and it was recently reported that Anthony is now selling his Denver house. Rumor has it that Anthony could be very interested in moving back home to New York and playing for the Knicks.

Chris Paul and the New Orleans Hornets have put themselves in a strange position this past off-season.  Paul seemed satisfied to be playing in New Orleans until his name starting coming up in trade rumors.  Paul, who has two years left on his contract, has told the Hornets that he is open to being traded.  His number one choice:  that’s right, the New York Knicks.

Assuming the Knicks get what they want during the 2011 free agent seasn, one could only assume the Heat and Knicks would be two of the best teams in the NBA.  There are also two teams that cannot be forgotten about:  the Orlando Magic and the Chicago Bulls.

Orlando is a ridiculously stacked team that can shoot the lights out.  They also have the leagues top big man in Dwight Howard.  The Bulls, who are being carried by Derrick Rose (who many anticipate will be the best point guard in the entire NBA within the next two seasons), added Carlos Boozer (from the Western Conference’s Utah Jazz) and the sharp shooting Kyle Korver.  The Bulls also have several other pieces already in place including big man Joakim Noah and Luol Deng.

Other notables include teams like the Indiana Pacers, who are quietly building a strong team through the draft and trades. The Atlanta Hawks are a young and exciting team that finished with 53-wins last season.  This off-season, the Hawks made a long term commitment to building a championship caliber team by giving Joe Johnson a 6-year-$119 million contract.

In addition to the Eastern Conference recruiting bigger talent, many teams in the Western Conference, including the San Antonio Spurs, Phoenix Suns, Utah Jazz, Denver Nuggets and Dallas Mavericks, are going to be forced into a rebuilding phase. With all this talent teaming up in the Eastern Conference, it appears the powers in the NBA will make the switch from the Western Conference to the Eastern Conference.

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2 responses to “NBA Conference Power Shift?

  1. The thing with the shift in power has to do more with the draft than anything that has happened in Free agency. Over the past couple of decades the weakest teams end up with the better draft picks. If you look back 10-15 years ago it was the western teams getting the better players in the draft. ( tim Duncan, Dirk nowitzki, Steve Nash , Kobe Bryant, Elton Brand, Kevin Garnett, Chris Webber) all started there careers in the West. While MJ was winning championships and the Celtics were still a good squad combined with a few other very competitive eastern teams (the pacers , Knicks , Pistons and the Shaq/Penny Magic).

    Now if you look at the past 5-10 years you will notice that there have been some absolute studs entering the Eastern conference all from the draft. Lebron, Wade, Bosh, Howard all went very high in the draft to very poor teams at the time. Hence, the switch in power. Althoughin the next half-decade we will see another switch in power when Kevin Durant and Tyreke Evans overtake Bron and Wade(minus Kobe) as the best wing players in the NBA.

    All I’m trying to say is that the switch in conference power is a historical thing that has been going on for decades before now. A lot of it has to do with the predictability of the NBA draft compared to other professional drafts, as well as the NBA’s collective Bargaining Agreement, but those are subjects for another day.

    Good Article Ryan. Fun Read.

    Harper.

  2. Harper, I like your take on this subject. You got me thinking of a couple of questions and instead of me doing all the hard work and figuring them out, I thought I would ask you.

    First,your point about Jordan and the Bulls is a good one. Do you think the landscape of the league today can be somewhat attributed to the Michael Jordan era or is this something the league has always fought (not that it’s necessarily a bad thing)?

    I think one could make the argument that this shift doesn’t completely make sense. In most other sports, we’ve seen the dynasty teams make the teams within their division and conference get better. This is because the teams closer to the dynasty team realize that if they’re going to win, they will inevitably have to go through the dynasty team early. Whereas teams in the other conference, for example, aren’t driven by the same competitive forces.

    I keep thinking of the Calgary Flames in the 80’s. They built their team to compete with the Oilers and only the Oilers. The Flames realized that if they were going to have any playoff success, they had to get through Edmonton. During the 80’s, the Campbell conference was represented by either the Oilers or Flames in the Stanley Cup Finals for 8 straight years (’83-’90).

    The shocking thing for me when it comes to this power shift is how little people talk about knocking off the Lakers. The same Lakers that repeated last year! The same Lakers that made it to the finals the last 3 years! Instead of rival teams trying to up the ante, everybody is simply moving to the East. It feels like many of these superstars are fine conceding championships to the Lakers and the real challenge is to collect an Eastern Conference championship.

    The Lakers have dominated and now they’re fight to more championships is about to get easier? I think everybody agrees that coming out of the East is going to be difficult. There’s going to be a lot of 7 game series and some very good and demanding basketball to be played. However, the Lakers will still be waiting in the finals, even more rested than in previous seasons. I would bet the Lakers get to the finals again in 2011, they won’t play more than 6 games in a series on their way there, and they’ll take advantage of a tired and beat up East team. Will they be better than the East team? Not necessarily. But they will likely be crowned champions.l

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