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.