Motivated to contemplate the relative strength of the Eastern and Western NBA conference, I return to this key phrase from my beloved Shanghai Noon. At least at the present time it is a bit of an overstatement. And the highest draft picks haven't consistently gone east during this run of western superiority. So the pendulum may have cheated to the left this tick. Still, the ongoing rhetoric about the vast chasm separating the exalted West from the lowly East is more lingering odor than reality.
Consider the comparison in terms of the following five categories, submitted for your merciless abuse: Legitimate Title Contender, Strong/Could Surprise, Playoff Expectations, Lottery Bound, Just Plain Bad. A warning out of the kindness of my heart - though it pains even me, the Kings are in the category that sounds like old yogurt.
The defending champions are just ridiculous, and that's all I have to say about that. The San Antonio Spurs are aging but just that good, and would surprise no one if they entered the playoffs as a five seed and ran the table. The Boston Celtics are also of the long tooth, but surely no one thinks they cannot and/or will not make this year count. The Orlando Magic are serious and are doing it all right, except for the inexpicable casting off of Hedo Turkoglu, a piece they will certainly discover to have been much more important than they estimated. Cleveland just went all in, and I wouldn't bet against LeBron bouncing back from being bounced back a notch with vengeance.
In the all-important category of Legit Contender, that's East - 3, West - 2.
Portland may or may not be here, but they are so truly on the rise that they do not fit in any other stable. Youth plus very good veteran point guard makes them my favorite door knocker. Dallas is still pretty solid, and they don't stop making moves to get the most from what's left of Dirk and the Kidd. I suggest they aren't falling yet. The New Orleans Hornets have had one stellar year and one hung in there year, and belong here by virtue of one Chris Paul. The Denver Nuggets could storm the castle gates or drown in the moat. Gotta love 'em. The Chicago Bulls have a man driving the truck, and have done good things to mix a very valid group around him. My favorite Bad Boy will simply not let the Detroit Pistons go away, and they will not go away. If Miami succeeds in collecting Lamar Odom along with D-Wade and Co., how do you ignore them? I can't get enough of the roller coaster Florida professional sports fans ride.
In Category Think-I-Can, that's East - 3, West - 4. Or, overall, in the two top categories, 6-6.
Call this group Playoff Expections or just PE for getting our exercize, it goes like this: Utah will be as good and as bad as they are every year in the history of professional basketball, except for a few dazzling months of Stockton/Malone. That is, they are in the playoffs, probably 50 wins, going nowhere. The Phoenix Suns are a giant question mark in the sand, too good to likely miss the second season, but not too good. The Houston Rockets are misfiring badly. A good organization with a great coach and some pretty nice pieces that just can't catch a break (or has sadly caught another break). Notably, not one of these teams is on the rise. The Toronto Maple Leaf-Wearing Dinosaurs are really good, and should be disappointed if they don't start making it count. This off-season might be the real corner-turner in making it count. If Bosh somehow stays, they may leapfrog into Legit Zone after this season. The Atlanta Hawks and our dear friend Mike Bibby are sound and may have the ingredients to rise into S/CS territory one day. This is a city and franchise that just doesn't get higher than that, period. Can't explain it. The Philadelphia 76'ers and Washington Wizards have nice pieces that barring health concerns (which haunt these clubs like few other) can be entertaining and provide competitive, albeit losing, playoff series'.
This category would be the Irrelevant Category except for one important thing. The risers are in the East. For the record, it's East - 4, West - 3 in the last arguably positive slot.
You must be thinking, isn't this everyone else? But three things make it not so. 1)Significantly, this is my post and I say it's not. 2) There is a lowlier fifth category that I choose to address and assert that it is meaningful in terms of West vs. East. 3) If you are counting you have noticed that one team from the West and two from the East in Category PE are also by mathematical necessity Lottery Bound.
Golden State could be putting together another Nelson special, ie great regular season, exciting first round playoff team. And the Oklahoma City Thunder may be creating quite a storm on the plains. They're not going anywhere this year, but they will put a whuppin' on some unsuspecting higher flyers and then maybe own the neighborhood some day...Oklahoma City. No disrespect to any self-respecting Sooner-type, but it's just wrong. The New Jersey Nets, whom I may be overestimating. The Indiana Pacers, who should again be just good enough to get the 13th pick in the 2010 NBA draft. And the Charlotte Bobcats, who are temporarily coached by Larry Brown, so they will be better than they ever were or will be again, briefly.
Because I'm doing this with every category, for what it's worth: East - 3, West - 2.
You may have noticed that you haven't run across the name Sacramento, or the plural noun Kings. I offer this comfort, coming from a meaningless source (except that it is the only source writing this post): The Kings are risers, just not with jets. I am convinced that this is the last year in this category. Next year Category LB. The following year Category PE, and so on. Keeping company with ours truly...ouch!...are Memphis, Minnesota and the Los Angeles Clippers, three of the most inept organizations in professional kid games. I believe that the New York Knickerbockers will again reside in the basement, despite the very fine people who have been put in place to excavate them from the muck. And I just cannot accept any notion that Brandon Jennings will be the difference maker to lift Milwaukee, Wisconsin from Just Plain Bad..
To summarize, the elite of the NBA is populated by three Eastern Conference and two Western Conference franchises. the dungeon is the home of two Eastern Conference and four Western Conference disasters. Portland and Oklahoma City have real up-and-coming potential from the West, while four teams, Chicago, Detroit, Miami and Toronto can make upward movement that might stand the test of more than a couple seasons.
No longer accept the notion of "the loaded West."