lebron by Matthew McKibben July 1, 2017
The Western Conference has the dominated NBA for the better part of the last two decades.
But, the recent trades of Paul George and Jimmy Butler to Western Conference teams could force a seismic shift that will force the NBA to recalibrate its playoff format.
Outside of the Cleveland Cavaliers and the Boston Celtics, eight of the top 10 teams in the NBA will play west of the Mississippi next season.
ESPN posted this graphic last night:
With Paul George moving West, only 1 of the top 14 players in last year’s #NBARank will be in the Eastern Conference. pic.twitter.com/xmexPKuWxB
— ESPN (@espn) July 1, 2017
There has been talk for a number of years the NBA would adopt a new format in which the top 16 teams overall make the postseason. What would that mean for LeBron James?
LeBron has made the NBA each of the last seven seasons and it appears that streak will continue next year.
Going into the offseason there was some talk the Boston Celtics would make the requisite moves to land several stars that would allow them to compete with the Cavs.
But if the Celtics swing and miss on Gordon Hayward, they will be left with a stockpile full of assets and some nice young players.
Maybe GM Danny Ainge is playing for 2020 instead of 2018, waiting out the Warriors dynasty and then dominating the next decade.
So are we heading for a fourth straight Finals featuring the Warriors and Cavs? And if that match-up comes to fruition, could we reasonably expect a different outcome from last year?
Barring injuries on either side, it would appear the Warriors and Cavs will meet once again in the Finals.
With George off the trading block, it will be hard for the Cavs to improve their team enough to beat the Warriors four times in a seven- game series.
They were badly outplayed in the first two games and it took an historic effort in Game 4 to pull out one victory. Unless the Cavs can find a trading partner for Kevin Love and add some 3-and-D players, it will be difficult for the Cavs to compete.
Then, there’s this scary thought: the Warriors, coming off the best three-year stretch in NBA history, still have plenty of room for improvement.
Maybe the Dubs will feature more of that flex action and high screen-and-rolls they ran in the Finals or a defense with Durant at center to protect the rim and long wings to stop penetration.
One thing we know for sure: the Warriors won’t sweep the Western Conference playoffs again next year. There are too many good teams with multiple superstars for that to happen.
If the Spurs can find a suitor for LaMarcus Aldridge and land a second star, they have a legitimate chance to push the Warriors.
With the Warriors, Spurs, Thunder, Rockets and Wolves all patrolling the Western Conference, it would be very hard for LeBron to leave the comfy confines of the East.
For the foreseeable future he is guaranteed a fairly easy route the Finals year after year.
Why would he give that up to play on a Lakers team that could be years away from contending? If LeBron is interested in winning and not building his self-proclaimed media empire, he will re-up with the Cavs at the end of next season.
The NBA will be more exciting than ever next year, but in the East the Cavs and Celtics may be the only two teams that are watchable from night to night.