Is The Power Shifting To The Eastern Conference?

Sean BafaroContributor IIAugust 6, 2009

Over the past decade, the NBA’s Western Conference has been the dominant Conference in the NBA. From the Los Angeles Lakers 3-peat at the beginning of the decade, to the San Antonio Spurs consistently being among the leagues elite and basically winning a title every second year, to the Lakers winning their fourth NBA Championship of the decade this past season, the Western Conference has been the cream of the crop in the NBA this past decade.

In fact, the NBA Champions have come out of the Western Conference seven times this decade. Over the past ten seasons, the Western Conference playoff teams have a winning percentage of 0.643 which is significantly superior to the Eastern Conference’s winning percentage of 0.574 during the same ten years.

Make no mistake about it, the West has been home to the best of the best for the last ten years and just may have been the toughest conference in NBA history, but is that still the case?

The Eastern Conference has begun to pick it up over the past two seasons and last season was the first time this decade that the collective winning percentage of the playoff teams in the Eastern Conference was above 60%. Three of the top 4 teams in the NBA were apart of the Eastern Conference last season in the Boston Celtics, Orlando Magic and Cleveland Cavaliers.

The biggest knock on the East this past season was that aside from these three team, they had little to no depth in the rest of the conference, but with some of the moves that have been made during this offseason, I don’t know if that is the case anymore.

The second tier teams of the Eastern Conference have definitely improved by a great deal this offseason.

The Washington Wizards made a trade just prior to the draft and in the process added some much needed depth to the lineup by acquiring Mike Miller and Randy Foye from the Minnesota Timberwolves.

Combine that deal with the fact that it seems like Gilbert Arenas is going to be healthy for the first time in two seasons and that they have their starting center in Brendan Haywood back healthy as well, the Wizards are certainly looking much better than the abysmal 19-63 team that they were last season and are more than capable of competing for a middle of the pack playoff seed assuming that everybody stays healthy.

The Atlanta Hawks didn’t make too many moves during the offseason, but they did make one trade with the Golden State Warriors which say them acquire explosive scorer Jamal Crawford who looks poised to give the Hawks a potent scoring threat off of the bench.

They also added another dangerous scorer by the name of Jeff Teague, their first round pick in this years NBA Draft. Most important of all perhaps, they managed to resign veteran point guard Mike Bibby who may be the most important player on the Hawks roster.

The thing about the Hawks though is that this is a team that didn’t need to make a bunch of moves this past offseason as they are coming off of a 47-35 season and a fourth place finish in the Eastern Conference despite being a relatively young team.

They are counting on a lot of internal growth from the likes of Josh Smith, Al Horford and Marvin Williams, and if the past few seasons is any indication, their is a good chance that they will get that growth. Even if their young three are basically the same players as last season, they will still be a team to be reckoned with in the Eastern Conference and capable of knocking anybody off on any given night.

The Chicago Bulls lost their leading scorer from the past season in Ben Gordon, but there is absolutely no reason to write them off because of that. Fresh off of his Rookie Of The Year season, look for Derrick Rose to take the next step in his game and become the undisputed leader of this upstart Bulls team. Rose has a tremendous amount of potential and it would not surprise me one bit to see him become one of the top 5 point guards in the entire NBA next season.

The Bulls are also going to get promising young small forward Luol Deng back and he is more than capable of making up for some of the scoring that they will miss with Gordon leaving. The Bulls are another young team and are counting on young big men Tyrus Thomas and Joakim Noah to become better players, and having an entire training camp to completely implement John Salmons and Brad Miller into the mix is only going to help the Bulls as well.

Last season we say that Bulls give the defending NBA Champion Boston Celtics all that they could handle and more in their epic first round matchup, and the young Bulls are looking to take the next step as a team, which they are more than capable of doing.

The Toronto Raptors underwent a complete roster overhaul this past season and are looking much better off as a result. They added the very versatile Hedo Turkoglu to their roster.

Having Turkoglu on the floor addresses one of the Raptors biggest needs which is a talented, perimeter playmaker. Last season the Raptors had arguably the worst perimeter rotation in the entire league, and adding Turkoglu, a guy who is very adapt at creating for others, scoring himself and is a dependable late game performer, is going to help out the Raptors tremendously.

Another one of the Raptors biggest problems last season was that they had nobody to turn to with the clock winding down as all of their perimeter players are not good at creating for theirselves, which is just another thing that Hedo is going to add to the team as he is one of the best late game performers in the entire NBA.

The Raptors also added some toughness down low by trading Jason Kapono to the Philadelphia 76′ers for rugged Reggie Evans as well as signing former Raptor, Rasho Nesterovic.

Evans is one of the most ferocious rebounders in the entire NBA and is the consummate hustle player that gets after you every second that he is one the floor. Nesterovic gives the Raptors a good interior defender, a capable rebounder and a great veteran big man off of the bench and presence in the locker room.

The Raptors also addressed the gaping hole that was their backup point guard by signing former Indiana Pacer Jarrett Jack. Having Jack as the backup point guard will give the Raptors a very familiar change of pace point guard combo that they had so much success with when TJ Ford and Jose Calderon were playing together.

Jack was not the only backcourt player that they added as they also acquired defensive specialist Antoine Wright from the Dallas Mavericks and talented, albeit unproven, Marco Belinelli from the Golden State Warriors. These two, along with first round draft pick DeMar DeRozan, will be battling it out for shooting guard supremacy all season long, and is a significant upgrade from last seasons rotation of Anthony Parker and Jason Kapono.

The Raptors have underwent a complete makeover, gone is Shawn Marion, Jason Kapono, Anthony Parker, Joey Graham, Kris Humphries and Nathan Jawai. Coming to Toronto is Hedo Turkoglu, Reggie Evans, Marco Belinelli, Jarrett Jack, DeMar DeRozan and Rasho Nesterovic.

The Raptors had three glaring weaknesses last season and those were perimeter talent, depth and defense. Bryan Colangelo has managed to address two of those three weaknesses and the Raptors are looking like much better than the 33-49 team that we say last season and a team that is poised to make a serious push for the playoffs.

The Miami Heat and Philadelphia 76′ers didn’t make much noise this offseason, but I am never going to count out a team that has a healthy Dwyane Wade on it.

We also have to keep in mind that rookies Mario Chalmers and Michael Beasley are bound to make improvements to their game and provide Wade with some more help on the floor. If Jermaine O’Neal can stay healthy he will give them a good interior defender and shot blockers well.

The Sixers lost Andre Miller which is a huge blow, but they will have a healthy Elton Brand on the team and if he is able to mesh well with the team they can be very dangerous. Andre Iguodala and Thaddeus Young are both young and improving, and if Louis Williams can step up to be a legit starting point guard in the NBA, the Sixers aren’t a team to mess around with either.

The Detroit Pistons are another team that is worth mentioning as they had a fairly busy offseason by signing Ben Gordon, Charlie Villanueva and Chris Wilcox. Although I am not a huge fan of the moves that the Pistons made, with a lineup of Stuckey/Hamilton/Prince/Villanueva/Wilcox with Ben Gordon off of the bench just may prove me wrong.

So all of the moves that the second tier teams in the Eastern Conference made this past offseason, combined with the fact that the Celtics, Magic and Cavaliers all made what many consider to be improvements to their roster as well as the fact that teams like the Houston Rockets and Phoenix Suns look like they might fall off this season, is the power shifting to the Eastern Conference?