By: Jordan Ramirez
Remember when the Eastern conference was embarrassing? Remember when the West was clearly the dominant conference in the NBA? Remember when it seemed like there were only two “contenders” coming from the East? Well, that era in the NBA is over. It started this season with the Heatles joining forces in South Beach, it continued with Carmelo forcing a trade to the Big Apple, and the trend will only grow stronger in the coming years. The Western conference still has the better overall record between the two conferences, but it’s clear the time of the West being the power conference is near its end. With the power teams in the West, the Spurs, Lakers, Mavericks (1, 2, 3 seeds respectively) getting up there in age, the window for their championship hopes is quickly closing. While the top three teams in the West are a seasoned bunch, the top three teams in the East have just begun to grow.
The NBA has quickly turned into a league of the Young Stars vs. Experienced Veterans. What’s the cause of this sudden shift in power? The biggest reason: an NBA player’s desire to play in a more attractive city. Free agency and trades have become the season within the season in the NBA, and it’s become more of a chess game than ever before. The East has the more desirable living conditions, which drastically help its attractiveness towards free agents. Lebron James, Chris Bosh, Carmelo Anthony and Carlos Boozer are examples of this. Each left less desirable living areas (Cleveland, Toronto, Denver and Utah) for much more flashier, sexier areas (Miami, New York, Chicago). The prototypical superstar in today’s NBA would rather play for a big, attractive destination spot rather than a city where people only visit when their forced to.
“In this fall, this is very tough, in this fall I’m going to take my talents to South Beach and join the Miami Heat.”
— Interesting how Lebron mentions South Beach before he mentions the Heat. Hmm…
With the NBA becoming a league of “super” teams, the amount of young, superstar talent in the East will only attract more superstars the coming years. The 2010 free agent class was touted as the greatest in league history, but looking towards 2012, it may have some competition. Deron Williams, Dwight Howard and Chris Paul highlight the 2012 class, and there have already been discussions of where these players may end up. With Deron Williams already in New Jersey, there have been rumblings of another Big 3 joining in what would soon be the Brooklyn franchise. With Amare and Carmelo joining forces in New York, the only missing piece seems to be an elite PG. Well, two of the top PG’s in the league both are FA’s in 2012, although a recent report saying Deron and the Nets were discussing an extension. Don’t ever doubt the power of New York, and it’s almost a guarantee that the Knicks will attract at least one more formidable piece to its team.
Even with this power shift occurring, we shouldn’t write off the West just yet. The Spurs held the NBA’s best record for much of the NBA season, the Lakers still have Kobe Bryant, Mark Cuban is still willing to add any necessary piece to his puzzle and the Thunder have the most complete team in the conference. The West is still strong, very strong. But the question isn’t if they’re strong, it’s for how long. The Thunder are the only team in the West that are built for the now and the future. This isn’t to say the Lakers couldn’t lure a Dwight Howard in 2012, or the Spurs couldn’t find another Ginobli or Parker in the 2nd round, or the Mavericks couldn’t make another huge multi team deal, but it’s clear the talent pool in the NBA is shifting. The Lakers are still the World Champions, but if their last month of basketball is any indication, they won’t be champions very much longer.
Experience can only carry a team so far. The Western conference has it, the Eastern conference desires it. The East has the youth, the West has the rings. The East has the swagger, the West has the Hall of Famers. The NBA is constantly changing: coaches get fired, players get traded, players get drafted, played are signed, GM’s are hired and teams get put for sale. But through all this, it’s clear that there are a select number of teams that benefit from the constant movement. The young and the restless are now in the East. The old and the experienced are in the West. Whether youth beats out experience this year or next, it’s clear that the East has the NBA in its grasp. The East so far is unproven, but one thing is clear: the top talents in the league are moving East, and the West better make way for them.