The Western Conference is just plain better than the Eastern Conference in the NBA. The West is deeper, stronger and has better athletes than its Eastern counterpart.
Although it might not have been true in past decades, the idea that one conference is better than the other is clearly obvious in the past several seasons. The Western Conference has won an astounding 10 of the last 13 NBA Finals.
Recently, the Eastern Conference has made a bit of a resurgence, with the return to prominence of teams like the Boston Celtics, Miami Heat and Chicago Bulls. However, it is still the West that is the class of the NBA.
The interesting part of this discussion is not whether the West really is better, but why. There are three big factors that—while they go hand in hand—are separate, distinct reasons for this trend.
Over the past decade, the coaching in the Western Conference has been totally top-notch.
Outstanding coaching defined two of the best franchises in the West, the Los Angeles Lakers and San Antonio Spurs. In Los Angeles, Phil Jackson ran an efficient triangle offense based around Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal (later Pau Gasol).
Gregg Popovich has been even more impressive, continuously winning with team defense and offense around a solid, selfless core. These coaches were the cream of the crop in the whole NBA, and both did their work in the Western Conference.
However, the coaching depth in the West has been great. Other coaches like George Karl, Rick Carlisle and Jerry Sloan also won almost continuously.
Sloan had a championship-less, 20-year reign in Utah, while Karl is one of the most impressive coaches in the history of the NBA. Carlisle just won a championship, and has positioned himself to become a coaching great.
Even the younger Western coaches have been solid recently. Scott Brooks of Oklahoma City and Nate McMillan, formerly of Portland, have led young teams to remarkable contention, making the West much deeper than the East.
That conference, on the other hand, has had Pat Riley and possibly Doc Rivers as the only coaches anywhere near the league of guys like Jackson, Popovich and Sloan. Other coaches like Stan Van Gundy, Byron Scott and Mike Brown have also done somewhat well.
However, their successes come nowhere close to the impressiveness of the Western coaches, a deeper class of men.
The star power of the West has also been of a much higher class than that of the East, and it really still is.
Is the Western Conference better than the East?
Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal won three championships together for the Lakers—a high-caliber pair of future Hall of Famers. Bryant won twice more with Pau Gasol, another one of the best big men in the past decade.
Meanwhile, Tim Duncan—maybe the greatest power forward to ever play the game—paired with David Robinson to win his first championship.
Then, Argentinean shooting guard Manu Ginobili and French point guard Tony Parker joined the Spurs and they won a second title in 2003. Robinson retired, but Duncan and his fellow Spurs weren’t done, winning twice more in 2005 and 2007.
When you consider the superstars on the teams in the West, the East can’t compare.
Granted, the meshing of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh is impressive. However, each of those guys have been Eastern Conference guys for their whole careers; their fusion doesn’t make the East any better in this area.
Chris Paul and Blake Griffin for the L.A. Clippers. Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook for the Oklahoma City Thunder. Dirk Nowitzki and Jason Terry for the Dallas Mavericks. Steve Nash for the Phoenix Suns. Bryant, Gasol and Andrew Bynum for the Lakers. Duncan, Ginobili and Parker for the Spurs.
The East cannot compete with that type of star power spread out over that many teams.
Name the last Eastern Conference dynasty in the NBA. Don’t strain yourself.
The truth is that the last one was the Chicago Bulls of the 1990s. The Detroit Pistons had a good run in the mid-2000s, but one couldn’t call it a dynasty.
The West has had two dynasties in that span. The Spurs have been one of the most consistent dynasties in NBA history, winning four championships over an eight-year span. They’ve also won at least 50 games in each season that wasn’t shortened by a lockout since 1997.
The Lakers have had two dynasties. The first, in the early 2000s, centered around O’Neal and Bryant. They won three straight championships and appeared in four finals in five seasons. The second centered yet again around Bryant, who was this time joined by Gasol. They won two straight and are still contending each year.
The East appeared poised to finally have a dynastic answer in 2008, when Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett joined Paul Pierce for the Boston Celtics. It was not meant to be, however, as the trio won a single championship and appears to now have passed its championship window.
The Miami Heat may be the beginning of a dynasty, but it is too soon to tell. Miami hasn’t won anything yet. Oklahoma City in the West appears to be nearing a form where they can challenge Miami’s attempts at a dynasty.
The battle between East vs. West will be an undying one. Everyone has an opinion, and each side has great players and teams.
Ultimately though, the West wins out. It has a deeper list of teams, a deeper level of superstar talent and has had more dynasties over the past 15 years. It’s no contest, right?
Follow Brad on Twitter: @rossbe