NBA's growing conference imbalance makes East as appealing as ever

Jay Asser 00:01 04/07/2017
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West migration: Paul George and Jimmy Butler. Picture: Getty Images.

Conference imbalance has been a point of contention in the NBA for years and the schism has only widened this offseason to the point the East has never been more inviting.

The poles in both conferences remain entrenched as Golden State’s ‘superteam’ rules the West and LeBron James continues to have a tight grasp on the East. It’s the pecking order and shifting star power behind the top dogs, however, that has thrown the league’s balance further out of whack.

Already this offseason, which is just three weeks old, the West has added three 2017 East All-Stars with Chicago trading Jimmy Butler to Minnesota, Indiana dealing Paul George to Oklahoma City and former Atlanta Hawks forward Paul Millsap signing with Denver.

Depending on Gordon Hayward’s imminent decision on whether to stay in Utah or migrate East to Boston or Miami, the West could potentially retain all their stars as well. That’s not even mentioning Carmelo Anthony’s interest in Houston, which would require him to either waive his no-trade clause or negotiate a buyout.

More moves are to come, but when the dust settles this summer, the West will be a gauntlet rich with talent and star power, resulting in even more of a slog for teams trying to climb the ladder just to ultimately get ousted by the Warriors.

That begs the question: isn’t the East the ideal conference to be? Logic suggests stars should be clamouring to head East to appease both personal and competitive desires, and yet that hasn’t been the case so far.

Granted, Butler and George didn’t have a say in where they went, but the latter already had plans to return home to the West Coast and join the Los Angeles Lakers in free agency next summer.

Millsap, meanwhile, chose to leave a team that was the fifth seed in the East, for one that didn’t even make the playoffs in the West.

Though that decision was influenced by foresight and teams’ interest in the 32-year-old, it was Millsap’s call nonetheless.

Chris Paul, similarly, could have had his pick of cities to make his new home, yet stayed in the West by facilitating a trade from the Los Angeles Clippers to the Rockets.

After seeing how the weight scales have significantly tilted as of late, the prospect of joining the Celtics or the Heat should look even better to Hayward.

From a winning standpoint, the only true threat in the East is LeBron, and both Boston and Miami could be the second-best team in the conference with the swingman.

Utah, on the other hand, with or without Hayward, aren’t likely to vault Golden State, Houston and San Antonio. And who knows how much-improved squads like Minnesota and Denver will fare.

The odds of a deep playoff run and a Finals appearances are heavily skewed in favour of sides in the East, and the conference could be blown wide open if LeBron heads West next summer, as rumours have suggested is a possibility.

Plus, it’s exponentially easier to be named an All-Star in the shallow East and in turn, receive more personal recognition.

It’s a combination of factors that should be hard to turn down for stars and eventually, it will become too tempting to resist.

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