Remember when the NBA’s Western Conference was the varsity and the East was the JV? Back then having 50 wins in the West might get you an 8th seed but 50 W’s in the East was good enough to put you in the top 4.
Well, the times they are a changing.
In the last 48 hours Carmelo Anthony and Deron Williams have departed the Nuggets and Jazz respectively for the New York/New Jersey area. What’s next? Dirk Nowitzki demanding a trade to Chicago?
This really shouldn’t come as much of a surprise. In fact, if you pay attention to NBA trends you’ll notice a pattern. Back when Jerry West brought Shaquille O’Neal from Orlando to L.A. it began a slow transition of power from the East to the West.
Before you knew it the rest of the West was gearing up for their feeble attempts to derail the Laker dynasty. All-Star player began flocking to the Western Conference as teams scrambled to arm themselves while teams in the East began compiling lottery picks in an attempt to rebuild.
Not saying that Kevin Garnett is Shaq but you can trace the resurgence in the East to his arrival in Boston. Well, that and the rise of one LeBron James in Cleveland as well. But we’re not concentrating on the ringless for this discussion. While Shaq did get another ring in Miami, it was mainly Dwyane Wade who carried the burden on that Finals trip. Shaq would soon re-return to the West where he toiled in Phoenix before eventually finding another caboose to latch onto in Cleveland and now Boston.
While the countless skeptics will shrug off the Melo and D-Will moves as player flexing their power, it is honestly just another step in the continuing trend of the Eastern Conference’s reemergence in the hoops world.
So, what does any of this have to do with our beloved Lake Show?
Simple logic might suggest that the path to future trips to the Finals might just have gotten a little smoother. Two years ago Denver looked the most deadly obstacle in the path of the Lakers. While they’re not going to sink below the T-Wolves, the Nuggets aren’t a serious title contender any longer. Utah was looking pretty promising not too long ago. But no D-Will means no chance of a title.
Naturally the Spurs will always remain relevant so long as the Tim Duncan/Manu Ginobili/Tony Parker trio is being wielded by the genius Greg Popovich. The upstart Oklahoma City Thunder is a legit post player away from contending. And we still don’t know quite what to make of Portland or if we should finally begin to take the Dallas Mavericks serious.
For the immediate future the road to three-peat is just as steep as it was two days ago when Melo and Williams were Western Conference All-Stars. Neither Utah nor Denver looked to pose much of a threat to the West’s elite. But going forward, if this trend continues, perhaps we’ll see a less competitive West which could mean a smoother ride for the Lakers.
Of course I use the term ‘smooth’ loosely. As we all know, the Lakers themselves and not the road they travel usually determines just how bumpy the ride will be.