(All Stats are as of 12/21/14 6:30 PM)
Over the past two NBA seasons it has become evident that there is much more talent in the Western Conference than in the Eastern Conference. The LeBron James-Paul George rivalry has been the only thing keeping the Eastern Conference relevant recently, but after LeBron’s return to Cleveland and George’s gruesome injury, the East has really fallen off the map.
We are currently about one third of the way through the 2014-2015 NBA season, and things don’t look like they are going to get better for the East anytime soon. The Cavaliers haven’t quite found their groove just yet, as they find themselves in 5th place. The Raptors sit atop the East, and the Wizards and Hawks follow them respectively. None of these teams have really proven themselves as legitimate contenders to anyone in the West, as they are all up and comers.
The Raptors are lead by Kyle Lowry, who has been one of the better point guards in the league this season averaging 19.4 ppg, 7.8 ast, and 1.4 stls. They have managed without All-Star shooting guard Demar Derozan, posting a 9-2 record since he went down with a groin injury. The revitalization of Lou Williams has certainly helped carry the load, but this is the first time in a while the Raptors have been this good, so we really have no baseline of what to expect for the rest of the season.
The Wizards and Hawks are in the same boat. A backcourt tandem of John Wall and Bradley Beal leads the Wizards. Wall has really taken his game to another level this season, and Beal’s return has certainly helped propel Washington to 6 straight wins. The Hawks have talent all around, as veterans like Al Horford and Paul Millsap guide them. It will be interesting to see how things shake out in the East throughout the rest of the season.
Now we shift to the West, where seemingly all the talent in the world lies. To help put it in perspective, the Kings are currently in 11th place, would be in 8th place and in the playoffs if the played in the East. There are not many glaring weaknesses in the top tier teams. Superstars like Steph Curry, James Harden, Anthony Davis, Dwight Howard, Lamarcus Aldridge, Chris Paul and Blake Griffin all have their teams battling it out for playoff position. That doesn’t even include Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and Kobe Bryant whose teams struggled to get going out of the gate.
As an example let’s use the Lakers. The Lakers have struggled mightily this season, and are stuck in the cellar of the conference. If we shift them to the East they would be in 11th place and just 3 games out of a playoff spot. Due to this gigantic disparity, the argument for a conference realignment has been gaining some steam over the past few weeks.
Mark Cuban offered a plan for a conference realignment that would result in the leveling of the playing field. Cuban suggests the Mavs, San Antonio Spurs, Houston Rockets and New Orleans Pelicans would move to the Eastern Conference. The Chicago Bulls, Indiana Pacers, Detroit Pistons and Milwaukee Bucks would move to the West. Cuban went on to explain that the teams moving to the west are approximately the same distance from Portland as Dallas, and those cities are even closer than San Antonio, Houston and New Orleans.
Adam Silver is well aware of these suggestions and has come up with alternative plans as well. One idea that has been swirling around is a 16-team playoff bracket. This would eliminate the conferences completely and just take the 16 best teams in the league and play a winner take all tournament. If that was the case for last season, 9 teams from the West would make it, including the Suns who did not make the playoffs under the current format. The Pacers, who were the number one seed in the East, would have been the 4th overall seed in, as they finished with the fourth best record in the league.
The league could handle this in a multitude of ways. Adam Silver could be facing his biggest decision since the Donald Sterling case if he chooses to switch things up a little bit. There have also been discussions about changing the current lottery system the NBA to determine its draft order to prevent teams from tanking. It is clear that the front office is interested in making the league more competitive for the short term, and this could mean the NBA is in for a serious makeover.