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2017 NBA Free Agency: The decline of the Eastern (Conference) Civilization calls for amendments

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Competitive NBA Imbalance: The Western Conference will soon take a dump on the East.

NBA All-Star Game 2017 Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

The White Chocolate-led Sacramento Kings played a huge role in making me the NBA super fan I am today, but the rest of the credit has to be given to the now defunct NBA Live franchise and the subsequent battles in a laundry room that was “converted” into a bed room — or at least a room with a mattress on the floor. Travis — my partner in season tickets and writing mockumentaries — moved in with our friend Chris to create the epicenter of our just out of high school hangout universe.

In the late ‘90s Travis was in a pretty popular band in the local punk rock community, I was heavily involved in booking DIY gigs for touring and local punk, hardcore and indie rock bands and Chris was entering the world of sound engineering and producing. Travis had given up the opportunity to live in an actual room in order to create a drum room for this very primitive prototype to what would become the current masterpiece of a studio built into the guts of a former Baptist Church — the Living Room Studio — where hundreds of great records (and thousands of other records) were made and two episodes of Treme were filmed. Travis’ band would practice in the garage, touring bands would crash at the house/studio and it was the nucleus of our social scene — a scene that often included NBA Live tournaments, BBQs and way too much under-aged drinking.

This offseason reminds me some of those tournaments. NBA Live was, I think, the first video game to allow you to hold a fantasy draft, which we would do from time to time before these battles. We all had our own styles of building teams, but most of us had a pretty good understanding of player value and where guys would fall over the course of these drafts. I would most often grab Chris Webber in the first round and try to snag Shareef Abdur-Rahim (just throwing in my 2nd pick because he was not as appreciated as he should have been in my mind) in the second and then fill out from there. Chris would always go for Tim Duncan first and Travis would go with Shaq. However, we had another friend — Ryan — that would always pick Steve Kerr in the first round because he was his favorite player. No matter how many times we all tried to explain you could get Kerr in round 7 he would end up going in the first round. Ryan is the Eastern Conference.

The E-League has become a the biggest cakewalk ever thought possible for LeBron James and his Cavaliers — especially if Boston or Miami cannot seduce Gordon Hayward away from the Utah Jazz. Meanwhile, the tumbleweeds out West have razor blades taped to them. Let’s look at some of the player pairings that have formed in the Bestern Conference since last offseason:

Golden State Warriors: Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant, Draymond Green, Klay Thompson, Andre Iguodala, Shaun Livingston and David West

Los Angeles Clippers: Blake Griffin, DeAndre Jordan, Patrick Beverley, Jamal Crawford and Lou Williams (and are rumored to be working out a Danilo Gallinari sign and trade)

Houston Rockets: James Harden, Chris Paul, Eric Gordon, Ryan Anderson, Trevor Ariza, Clint Capela and PJ Tucker

Memphis Grizzlies: Marc Gasol and Mike Conley

New Orleans Pelicans: Anthony Davis, DeMarcus Cousins and Jrue Holiday

San Antonio Spurs: Kawhi Leonard, LaMarcus Aldridge, Danny Green and Patty Mills (and Gregg Popovich)

Denver Nuggets: Nikola Jokic, Gary Harris, Paul Millsap, Jamal Murray and Wilson Chandler

Minnesota Timberwolves: Jimmy Butler, Karl-Anthony Towns, Andrew Wiggins, Taj Gibson and Jeff Teague

Oklahoma City: Russell Westbrook, Paul George, Steven Adams and Enes Kanter

Portland: Damian Lillard, CJ McCollum and Jusuf Nurkic

Utah: Rudy Gobert, Ricky Rubio, Derrick Favors and Joe Johnson (and maybe Gordon Hayward and/or Joe Ingles)

That’s eleven teams comprised of at least two players that were either MVP, 6th Man of the Year, All-Stars, All-NBA, All-defense, All-Rookie, or where at least in those discussions, as possibilities or snubs at some point in their careers.

We also have to think about how the Lakers have some nice young talent and will have significant cap space, glamor and pedigree to add a star or two next offseason — rumblings of a LeBron and PG13 union are already circulating. The Kings have added some nice young pieces to their core, have given themselves a lot of cap flexibility and have put in an substantial offer to Wizards’ RFA Otto Porter. The Suns have a roster that needs adjusting, but have building blocks in Devin Booker, TJ Warren, Marquese Chriss Josh Jackson and Dragan Bender as well as a nice trade piece in Eric Bledsoe to net further assets or dump other overpaid veterans. Dallas has one of the best coaches in the NBA and they still have Dirk. They also have a better than I imagined Harrison Barnes and more than likely Nerlens Noel to pair with Dennis Smith Jr., Wesley Matthews and Seth Curry. It’s the kind of treacherous path to the playoffs that one would expect from a game of Oregon Trail with the difficulty level set to, “Everyone starts with dysentery and the bears have guns.”

Meanwhile in the Eastern Conference, let’s take a live look at one LeBron James training for another run to the Finals:

Cleveland is obviously the kings of the hill, but even they come with question marks. How does Kevin Love respond to all of the hypothetical trades he was thrown into? Is Tristan Thompson done? Will Iman Shumpert be traded? If not, will he find his game? Will LeBron get through another season injury free? How will the team respond to the constant questions about LBJ bolting for Hollywood? Turmoil could be on the horizon. We’ve already heard that Jimmy Butler was concerned about being traded to the Cavs.

In Boston, Danny Ainge continues to be that guy with the ‘69 Camaro with the primered fender, busted hoses and worn out brake pads sitting in his garage for years — while also sitting on $500 of NAPA gift cards. The Celtics will be really nice whenever he finishes them. Still, even in their current state of assembly, the Celtics are very good — possibly even a 6th seed in the West.

Toronto is shuffling the deck a little, but still have Kyle Lowry, DeMar DeRozan and Serge Ibaka to remain near the top of the East.

Washington and Milwaukee round out the proven good teams. The Wizards have the point guard of my dreams — John Wall, and Bradley Beal to pair with Markieff Morris and likely Otto Porter if they match his offer from the Kings as expected. The Bucks are one of the most interestingly built teams in the league and feature two of my favorite players in Giannis Antetokounmpo and Khris Middleton.

Philadelphia has assembled what looks like a very fun team that should maintain a level of success for quite a while and possibly be a playoff team this year, but they haven’t proven anything at this point and are anchored by an injury-plagued big man.

Cleveland and Boston would clearly make the playoffs in the West right now, but I could see a scenario in which none of these other teams would. I could also see a scenario where Cleveland implodes next offseason and a migration makes the West even stronger.

Selfishly, we need to care about this as Pelicans fans; however, this presents some bigger picture problems as NBA fans. If one of the criteria we assign to validating a players career is All Star appearances, things just got way harder to crack the Western Conference lineup, and some good but not great players will be All Stars in the East. Think about that asterisk that has been put on Jrue Holiday’s lone appearance — “all of the point guards were hurt that year.” This coming season a team of Western Conference All Star snubs could conceivably beat the actual Eastern Conference All Star team.

Also, will casual fans want to watch Eastern Conference play when every game between Western Conference teams looks like a part of the Gatti-Ward Trilogy?

It is time for the Conference Abolitionists and other re-alignment secret societies to stop hiding clues in their art films and blog posts and storm the NBA office. Shine light on the plight of those who want to see the best version of playoff basketball.

How do we feasibly destroy this NBA tradition?

My plan is pretty simple and surely has several points of contention to iron out, however, it seems possible. With teams having private jets, players devoted to fitness and advances in recovery/resting theories and practices — the need for a heavily regionalized scheduling has become somewhat obsolete.

  • My plan involves teams playing every other team three times a year — rotating the home court advantage for each series each year.
  • The main problem here is that many would like to see the season shortened and this would bring the game totals up from 82 to 87.
  • In my mind five extra games a year isn’t a great leap — especially with the current landscape of resting players. I also propose reducing the preseason by two games to further cut the burden.

The season could last longer and games could be further spaced apart to ease the strain on the athletes. Spacing games out more and having more to air would also be beneficial to the TV providers. Casual fans would get more chances to see teams they normally wouldn’t and increases in regular season revenue would trickle down to an increased salary cap and salaries for the players. This would also allow for the actual best 16 teams to make the playoffs, increasing the competition level and perhaps stretching some series further — again providing increased revenue and thus salary cap room.

As for the impact on All Star voting, the best 24 players get to represent the league — making the honor of selection weigh a little heavier when defining careers. This could also lead to an All Star Team draft show in which the two coaches with the best records draft their teams — again, more money for the league.

The possibilities really are endless, but one thing is for certain: the current system has been made archaic by this seemingly never-ending talent shift from East to West. Immediate changes are necessary, otherwise, expect the NBA product to suffer — no one’s going to make much of an effort to pay attention to the second-rate Eastern Conference, maybe starting as soon as this upcoming season!