After the recent relocation of several of the NBA’s bigger names, there has been some rumblings that the balance of power has shifted from the always-strong West to a seemingly suddenly- stacked East. With big name power forwards such as Amare Stoudemire and Carlos Boozer shipping East, as well as the most prized free agent of all, LeBron James, remaining in the Conference, albeit on a different team, it seems that such speculations may actually have some merit.
The Eastern Conference has only produced three champions since Michael’s shot over Byron Russell, as the League has been largely dominated by Western Conference dynasties like the Spurs and the Lakers. However, this summer’s shuffling of stars provides hope to many itching for Conference equality. Not only does the East finally have a team that may be able to challenge the Lakers (both on the court and in off court media appeal) in Miami, but it retains the core of each of the past two Conference champions, and also appears to contain a couple other up-and-coming contenders, like Charlotte and Chicago.
The West on the other hand, lost some star power, and the sun is beginning to set on several of its other aging attractions, forcing one to wonder if we are about to see the end of an era. Sure the Lakers are still the NBA’s strongest team, but the Conference caliber drops significantly after the defending champs.
The once-imposing Nuggets seem to have plateaued, and no other squad seems willing to step up and snag the spot of second best. You have to wonder if the championship window has closed on once-promising squads such as the Suns and Mavericks, whose extreme regular season success throughout the past decade never equated to a championship banner. A quick glance up and down each of these team’s rosters shows that neither is in position to make that deep playoff push. If Nash couldn’t do it with Amare and Joe Johnson, he’s not going to do it with Jason Richardson and Channing Frye. The same can be said for Dirk Nowitzki’s Mavs (In fact, you could spot the Mavericks an 11-quarter NBA Finals lead and they may still come away empty-handed. Oh, wait..).
The super-successful Spurs squad remains largely unchanged, but with age and injury issues it is questionable whether the team has enough in the tank to make another run at the title. Although I would never count out a Duncan/Popavich-led team, but after being swept by the Suns in the Playoffs last season it doesn’t seem as though they have the tools to compete with the League’s top teams any longer. The Blazers are putting the pieces in place, but are still a year or two away from being a true contender, and the same can be said for the Thunder, although they have progressed quicker than anyone initially imagined, helped in large part by Kevin Durant’s development into a bona fide superstar.
And just as the sun sets in the West, it shines on the East, which now boasts three legitimate contenders in Miami, Orlando and Boston,a second-tier team who is a personnel change or two away from contention (Atlanta), and a Chicago team with the ascension of Derrick Rose to superstar status and the acquisition of Carlos Boozer, who look to be a prominent fixture in the future of the Conference. So although the supposed “shift” may not be as obvious or sudden as some are suggesting, the days of Western domination are numbered, as a new day is about to dawn.