For the most part, the 2000's belonged to the teams in the NBA's Western Conference. The NBA Finals were never an issue, it was the winning team from the Western Conference Championship compared to the Eastern Conference Championship that usually became the next champion.
Most fans regarded the Western Conference finals as the true NBA Finals. They thought little about the teams from the East, and for the most part their feelings were correct because Eastern Conference teams were not on the same level as teams in the Western Conference.
I will go out on a limb and bet that most people forget that teams such as the Indiana Pacers, Philadelphia 76ers and New Jersey Nets all reached the NBA Finals within the last ten years.
The Boston Celtics began the turnaround in the East, and although the Los Angeles Lakers are the two-time defending champions, I truly feel as if there are actually stronger teams in the Eastern Conference.
I know that it may sound foolish, but overall, I would fear more teams in the East than I would in the West.
We have seen a balance of power in the NBA, and it can all be attributed to the Celtics three-and-a-half years ago. In their own way, they began the trend of teams acquiring a version of a "Big Three" to compete for multiple championships.
Celtics' general manager Danny Ainge said that he had a plan when he started running the team. For awhile, this plan may have seemed like trying to lose as many games as possible because he traded away some of his better players and seemingly received nothing in return.
But it all came together over the summer of 2007. After failing to win the NBA Draft Lottery, which could have netted the team either Kevin Durant or Greg Oden, Boston went for broke.
First, they traded their fifth pick (which, coincidentally, was Jeff Green—who they reacquired yesterday) and a package to the then Seattle SuperSonics (now Oklahoma City Thunder) for Ray Allen. The Celtics also dealt many of their younger superstars, including Al Jefferson, to the Minnesota Timberwolves for Kevin Garnett—a move that Celtics fans are still thanking Kevin McHale for.
The rest, as they say, is history. Boston won the NBA championship the following season and returned to the NBA Finals last season, only to lose to the Lakers in seven games.
Yes, the Lakers are in the West and I am fully aware of that fact. They do have quite an impressive trio of their own in Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol and Lamar Odom. And while I would not worry too much about the regular season and their recent struggles, this team does not look like they have the confidence and swagger that has brought the last two titles to Los Angeles.
Which team has the best chance to win the next NBA championship?
While you could still argue that the Celtics and Lakers are destined to meet once again in the NBA Finals, I strongly believe that the biggest threats to dethrone these teams reside in the NBA's Eastern Conference.
I understand that the San Antonio Spurs have the best record in the league. They are a very strong team who has championship experience, but I do not see this team being a title contender. Maybe it is their age or maybe it is that they lost to some of the top teams in the East, but as the playoffs progress, I see this team collapsing when they have to play games without much rest.
The Dallas Mavericks are also a strong team. They will probably finish as the No. 2 seed in the west, but this is another team that is always strong in the regular season, yet for one reason or another they fail in the postseason.
The Thunder actually got stronger yesterday by finally adding the size inside that they have been in dire need of. Durant is one of the best players in the game and Russell Westbrook is also a threat. Though this team has the talent, they may lack the needed experience to make it deep into the payoffs.
And sure, the Denver Nuggets, New Orleans Hornets, Portland Trailblazers and Memphis Grizzlies are all capable of giving the top teams a run for the money, but as the seasons change, these teams will get weaker with the influx of power heading to the Eastern Conference.
The Miami Heat put together perhaps the best offseason of any franchise in history. By having Dwyane Wade convince LeBron James and Chris Bosh to join him in South Beach, which is becoming the new pattern in the NBA, for better or worse, it immediately gave the team the opportunity to compete for multiple titles for many years to come.
The Bulls are building their team around one of the best players in the game in Derrick Rose. Joakim Noah is developing into a legitimate big man, and the addition of Carlos Boozer was huge this past summer. Noah has been hurt and Boozer is certainly injury prone, so it would not surprise me at all if the Bulls put on a full court press for a marquee free agent over the next couple of seasons.
The New York Knicks are in the middle of putting together their own power trio. They signed Amar'e Stoudemire this past offseason with the hopes that they would be able to bring in a pair of All-Stars to surround him with, and they completed the next step this past week by trading for Carmelo Anthony.
That means Chris Paul may be next, unless Deron Williams does not get enough talent brought in to give him a chance to compete with the New Jersey Nets.
The Orlando Magic are still a very tough team and know how to win the playoffs. They know that their window is closing quickly, especially if Dwight Howard opts to sign elsewhere in a couple of seasons. But for now, with Jason Richardson and Gilbert Arenas to go along with Howard and Jameer Nelson, the Magic have the necessary depth to advance in the postseason.
As of right now, there are 10 teams in the Western Conference with a winning record, in comparison to just six in the Eastern Conference. I know that to some that may debunk my theory, but I still feel as if the tougher teams are in the East.
So while the West may still be deeper, teams such as the Bulls, Knicks, Magic and even Atlanta Hawks could now give any of the teams out west a run for their money. The Bulls hold victories over the Thunder, Mavericks and Lakers. The Magic and Knicks also handed the Spurs a pair of losses. The East is officially back.
That has not been said for quite some time now, basically since the days of Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen.
The league has come a long way since then. Some will still argue that the West is the best. But the East is a beast once again.
If you aren't convinced quite yet, just give it some time. Wait until after the 2011 and 2012 NBA seasons, when players such as Tim Duncan, Zach Randolph, David West, Steve Nash, Kevin Love, Caron Butler, Andrew Bynum and Andrei Kirilenko can become unrestricted free agents. I can just imagine some of the teams in the east who are already preparing to assemble their new dynamic trio.