It has certainly been a wild start to the NBA free agency period with dozens of household names relocating. Kevin Durant’s move to the Bay Area last year initiated a domino pattern that has been on full display all summer. The arms race is in full effect as top teams are looking for that one player to push them over the hump. It seems each day, different ripples are released with another quality player changing uniforms. And while all this movement makes good headlines, it doesn’t necessarily make good basketball. Allow me to explain.
Lack of parity and dispersed talent has plagued the NBA over recent years. When the regular season and playoffs are all too predictable, three-quarters of the league is eliminated from playoff contention midway through the season, “resting” players is routine, and only 4% of the league has legitimate Title aspirations, the league suffers. Despite ABC’s and TNT’s best broadcasting and advertising efforts, attendance and television ratings are lower than they’ve ever been before. And yet most fans I speak with describe the last few weeks of the NBA off-season as “crazy”, “fun”, and “insane”. I prefer to use words like “embarrassing” and “disappointing”. I use this tone because these moves not only feed into but exacerbate the single greatest problem threatening the NBA today.
Have you noticed anything about where these top players are relocating to? I’m willing to say that anyone who truly believes the Eastern Conference is better than the Western Conference is mentally unstable. It must be like a Tom Hanks in “Castaway” or Will Smith in “I am Legend” kinda scenario where they’ve completely lost their minds. But as the West keeps getting better, it appears as if every week someone in the East is starting over. There are more teams in the East that are rebuilding (many to their own admission) than are in serious playoff contention. That is despicable. Atlanta is the most recent example of this by letting Paul Millsap relocate to Denver.
Need more proof? Last week, the NBA handed out their awards for the 2016-2017 season. Every SINGLE category was dominated by players in the West. From Most Valuable Player (MVP), to Coach of the Year, to Defensive Player of the Year and everything in between. In every statistical category, the Eastern Conference does not hold a candle to the Western Conference. From points to rebounds, to assists, shooting percentages, you name it. The top five, top ten, top twenty, are dominated by players in the West. If I asked you to name the top players in the NBA right now, with the exception of Lebron, how far down do you have to go until you get to someone in the East? Because if you are like most people, you have (in no particular order) Seth Curry, Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, James Harden, Klay Thompson, Kawhi Leonard, Damian Lillard, Anthony Davis, Chris Paul, Gordon Hayward, the “Greek Freak”, LaMarcus Aldridge, Blake Griffin, and Demarcus Cousins just to name a few. With that level of lopsidedness, no wonder Lebron has gone to the Finals thirty years in a row. I’d bet a year’s salary in an instant, whatever “Dream Team” he formed during his stint in the NBA would be much more threatened if he switched coasts.
Not only has the Western Conference been much more active, they’ve been much more effective. This is due in part because they made quality moves, but several of the moves were pulling players from the East. I mean just look at the teams in the West who have made improvements to their roster. Houston added Nene and Chris Paul, Denver pulled Paul Millsap from Atlanta, Golden State retained Andre Iguodala, San Antonio re-signed Patty Mills, securing their point guard of the future, Minnesota added Taj Gibson, Jeff Teague, and Otto Porter, solidifying their move from rebuilding to playoff contenders. And lastly, arguably the second best player in the Eastern Conference will now dawn a Western Conference team’s jersey as Paul George moved to Oklahoma City.
What have the top teams in the East done you ask? Other than reports of Lebron not actively recruiting for Cleveland because he has one foot out the door…again, Toronto held on to Kyle Lowry and the Wizards resigned John Wall, albeit losing Otto Porter in the process. Hopefully, Boston can salvage some pride by landing Gordon Hayward in the coming days.
Needless to say, all these moves just further cement what is bound to be another long, drawn-out, and predictable NBA season. Spoiler Alert: Cleveland will come out of the East. But in the West, instead of the Warriors facing two legitimate contenders, they will face three or four. Riveting stuff, I know. The Western Conference’s sheer and utter dominance of the East will continue at least for the foreseeable future.
It really gives credence to the saying “West Coast, Best Coast”, particularly as the “East Coast, Beast Coast” has now turned into the “Deceased Coast”.