Giannis Admits Eastern Conference 'Definitely Open' with LeBron James on Lakers

Paul KasabianSenior ContributorMay 17, 2019

MILWAUKEE, WISCONSIN - MAY 15:  Giannis Antetokounmpo #34 of the Milwaukee Bucks dribbles the ball while being guarded by Marc Gasol #33 of the Toronto Raptors in the fourth quarter in Game One of the Eastern Conference Finals of the 2019 NBA Playoffs at the Fiserv Forum on May 15, 2019 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

The Eastern Conference Finals do not feature LeBron James for the first time since 2010, and Milwaukee Bucks forward Giannis Antetokounmpo recognized how open the conference playoffs have become since the four-time NBA MVP moved to the Los Angeles Lakers.

"I didn't see it as open," Antetokounmpo said per Malika Andrews of ESPN. "But now that I look back and see how everything went, it's definitely open, not having LeBron in the East and not trying to go through him."

Antetokounmpo's Bucks lead the Toronto Raptors 1-0 in the Eastern Conference Finals, which James won each season from 2011-18 as a member of the Cleveland Cavaliers or Miami Heat.

The Eastern Conference has commonly featured a dominant player or team running the show and preventing other talented franchises from making the NBA Finals. 

Bill Russell and Bob Cousy led the Boston Celtics to East titles from 1957-1966. The Moses Malone-Julius Erving Philadelphia 76ers and the Larry Bird-led Celtics were the only teams representing the East from 1980-1987, and then the Bad Boy Detroit Pistons took over from 1988-1990. Michael Jordan's Chicago Bulls won the NBA Finals from 1991-1993 and again in 1996-1998.

A mix of East teams took turns making the NBA Finals before James starting leading the East's championship representatives.

Antetokounmpo may note the open nature of the East playoffs, but that may not actually be the case as soon as this year.

The likely 2018-19 NBA MVP is arguably the game's best and most talented player and could easily lead the Bucks to NBA Finals for the next decade. He doesn't even turn 25 years old until next December but averaged 27.7 points and 12.5 rebounds for his 60-22 team.

Furthermore, the Eastern Conference doesn't feature many title contenders right now.

The Philadelphia 76ers, who were the East's third seed, should hang around for a while with Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid. However, the No. 2 Raptors and No. 4 Boston Celtics could be losing their best players (Kawhi Leonard and Kyrie Irving) to free agency, respectively. Only two other East teams (the Indiana Pacers and Brooklyn Nets) finished with winning records.

Ultimately, Antetokounmpo has a shot to be the next Jordan or James, the player who forces every other East team to play for second place year after year.

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