Those darned media folks tend to get pretty carried away nowadays. They'll up and drag the fans with them in their hyperbolic pronouncements.
There has been no shortage of proclamations that the NBA balance of power was finally shifting from the Western Conference to the Eastern Conference, but it just doesn't make any sense.
What caused this misconception?
Two of the bigger free agent signings involved a conference change. Amare Stoudemire left Phoenix in favor of New York, and Carlos Boozer (with Kyle Korver in tow) moved from Salt Lake City to Chicago.
I'm sorry, that's all I've got.
The pontiffs certainly couldn't be all excited about Jordan Farmar, C.J. Watson, Anthony Morrow, Ronnie Brewer, and Drew Gooden moving to Eastern Conference teams, could they?
Outside of those moves, the only thing that may have contributed to this notion of a balance shift would be the creation of a super-team down in Miami, but that is completely offset by the destruction of the Cleveland Cavaliers, winners of more regular season games over the past two years than any other team in the league.
The Eastern Conference has had the reputation of being the weaker sibling for years now, and rightly so.
Looking at just the last five seasons, and using a couple of hand-made definitions, we can see as plain as day that the Western Conference has been the superior conference from top to bottom.
Finishing over .500 does not impress me. That makes you average. For our purposes here, my crack research department has concluded that teams must win at least 50 games to be considered "very good." Conversely, losing 50 or more games will get you the "epically bad" label.
Which conference the champion calls home is interesting, and will be noted, but it is moot. It is common enough to have a great team emerge from a mediocre conference as to be irrelevant.
I've put the number of "very good" teams by conference and by year, with the number of "epically bad" teams in parentheses, into this easy-to-understand table for purposes of illustration.
To the table!
|2009-10||4 (6)||8 (4)||Lakers|
|2008-09||3 (2)||6 (6)||Lakers|
|2007-08||3 (4)||8 (4)||Celtics|
|2006-07||2 (3)||5 (4)||Spurs|
|2005-06||3 (4)||3 (1)||Heat|
As you can see, the Western Conference has had at least twice as many very good teams than the Eastern Conference in each of the last four seasons. Even in 2005-06, when the almost the entire league was struggling to be average, the Western Conference had far fewer epically bad teams.
As for 2010-11, I expect more of the same.
The Western Conference is again loaded. If you are trying to predict the Western Conference playoff teams, and you allow for successful returns from injury by a few key players, then there are at least 10 teams that you have to seriously consider. There will almost certainly be at least seven teams that produce 50 or more wins, and there is a solid chance that three of the four epically bad teams improve enough to simply be bad (sorry Minnesota fans).
Looking at the Eastern Conference, I don't see more than five teams reaching 50 wins, and probably just four. Several teams will be improved this year, and the playoff race will be quite interesting, but it will largely be a battle between average teams for those final three or four playoff spots.
There is every chance that the Eastern Conference will again house the team with the best regular season record, likely the two best records. There is also a great chance that the champion will rise from the Eastern Conference this season (Celtics). Neither of those things indicates a shift in the balance of power.
The Western Conference has been the better top-to-bottom conference for over a decade, and it is going to take a lot more than Stoudemire and Boozer to change that.