The East Always Rises
Tim Duncan aka The Big Fundamental, leader of the San Antonio Spurs and Kobe Bryant aka Black Mamba, leader of the Los Angeles Lakers, have combined to win ten NBA titles during their career. They've even split them right down the middle, winning five apiece. Over the last sixteen years the Western Conference has won eleven titles. (The 11th belongs to Dirk Nowitzki. Tough era for him to win multiple titles in.)
The Eastern Conference has five titles during this span. A title every third year. Three belong to the Miami Heat, one to the Detroit Pistons, and one to the team of one year destiny, the Boston Celtics. All of this begs the question: will the East rise again?
Last year, the eighth seed in the Easter Conference was the Atlanta Hawks, who sneaked into the playoffs with a record of 38-44. Over in the Western Conference, the Phoenix Suns failed to make the playoffs with a record of 48-34. In fact, this record would have placed the Suns as the third seed in the East. Western domination? Definitely.
On paper, it certainly looks like the quality of teams in the East is on the rise. At the top of the heap, as always, sits Lebron James. No, he's not a team, but he is debatably the top player in the game. Where he goes, wins are surely to follow. In a coup, the Cleveland Cavs also acquired Kevin Love, a top player that arrives from the Western Conference. These two should lead the Cavs back to the upper echelon of the Eastern Conference.
Who will step up to join them? If Derrick Rose remains healthy, the Bulls will be there. The Heat and Pacers both lost key players, but both teams still have exceptional talent. Toronto, Washington, and Charlotte all have a young nucleus and will continue to get better. All of these teams have the tools in place to dethrone the Western Conference and its aging star power.
It won't be easy, of course, as not all of the Western Conference has old talent. The Clippers, Warriors, Rockets, and Thunder all have a superstar (or two) to help continue the trend of winning two out of every 3 championships. Of course, not all of these teams have tasted the Finals yet. Due to the logjam created by Tim Duncan and Kobe Bryant, only Kevin Durant, Dwight Howard, and James Harden have been to the Finals. That means if and when players such as Steph Curry, Chris Paul, and Blake Griffin get there they may be easier to take down.
If you look at the years 1983-1998, the Eastern Conference dominated in number of titles won. During this span, the Western Conference won only five titles while the East won eleven titles. This era was dominated by Michael Jordan, Larry Bird, and the Bad Boys of Motown. If you are to look closely, when momentum shifted in the late 90's, the old guard of the Eastern Conference had retired or were busy toiling away in Washington. The youth of Tim Duncan, Kobe Bryant, and Shaquille O'Neal took hold, beginning the current cycle we are in today.
We won't truly know if a new cycle begins this year for another nine months, but dominoes seem to be falling into the direction of the Eastern Conference. The East will rise again. Lebron James, playing in five championships, has carried the weight for years. It's time for other teams to follow his lead and help bring championships back to where basketball began: the East.