2018-19 NBA Championship Outright: The East Broken Without LeBron
West Owns NBA Since Peak Jordan
When Michael Jordan lifted his sixth and final NBA championship, a new era of western dominance began. Western teams own 14 of the last 20 NBA titles. Since Jordan’s second three-peat, the Lakers, Spurs and Warriors have taken 13 of the last 20 titles, with the Mavericks outclassing LeBron during his first year in Miami.
During 17 the last 18 regular seasons, the west earned a better winning percentage in matchups against eastern teams. Perhaps the most unfair aspect of this imbalance involves playoff qualification – the 9th seeded team in the west finished with a better regular season record than the 8th seed in the east 14 times. All in all, the east won only 43 percent of their games against the west over this 18-year span.
LeBron and Dwayne Wade were three-time winners, combining for four of six east championships while playing for the Heat and the Cavaliers. The 2004 Detroit Pistons and the 2008 Boston Celtics took care of the Lakers when Kobe Bryant didn’t feel like sharing the ball with Shaq and Pau Gasol, an unfortunate issue glossed over by Kobe’s fistful of rings.
Discounting a remarkable playoff upset, the western conference appears primed to win yet another championship in 2019.
LeBron Was The East’s Only Hope
The only real eastern challenge for the NBA west over the last eight years was the team which employed LeBron James. Most of these seasons, even LeBron wasn’t enough. The Warriors took care of the Cavaliers in three of the last four NBA finals, while the Spurs and the Mavericks prevented LeBron from earning his own three-peat in Miami.
Objectively, LeBron hasn’t had a real shot at a ring over the past couple of years against the Golden State Warriors, earning a single win in nine games over the past two finals. The Warriors superteam was a direct response to the Cavaliers unprecedented championship win from 3-1 down, steered by LeBron James, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love. Irving moving to the Celtics could be considered a response to Durant shifting to the Warriors – without a realistic chance to win, Kyrie didn’t want to play with LeBron anymore.
Similar to Jordan’s dominance of the east during the 1990s, solid eastern teams like the Indiana Pacers, Toronto Raptors and Boston Celtics have been locked out of the NBA finals during LeBron’s reign. However, the Pacers, Raptors and Celtics were never in serious championship conversations, especially when you consider the thin Cavaliers lineup during the 2018 playoffs.
Consequences Of Western Dominance
Now that LeBron’s migrated to Los Angeles, there isn’t a team in the eastern conference which challenges the best in the west. The Boston Celtics feature +550 odds to win a title in 2019, the Philadelphia 76ers have a +1500 line while the Toronto Raptors are considered the third most likely to emerge as champs from the east at +2800.
In the west, Golden State’s a powerful favorite at -182 to win, the Los Angeles Lakers are listed at +650 while the Houston Rockets have +700 odds for NBA championship futures. If the Lakers and Rockets didn’t have to deal with the Warriors, they would have much better odds compared to the Celtics.
2018 -19 NBA Championship - Outright
Eastern Conference Odds
- Boston Celtics (+550)
- Philadelphia 76ers (+1500)
- Toronto Raptors (+2800)
- Indiana Pacers (+10000)
- Milwaukee Bucks (+10000)
- Washington Wizards (+10000)
- New York Knicks (+20000)
- Charlotte Hornets (+30000)
- Chicago Bulls (+30000)
- Detroit Pistons (+30000)
- Miami Heat (+30000)
- Atlanta Hawks (+35000)
- Brooklyn Nets (+40000)
- Cleveland Cavaliers (+40000)
- Orlando Magic (+40000)
Western Conference Odds
- Golden State Warriors (-182)
- Los Angeles Lakers (+650)
- Houston Rockets (+700)
- Oklahoma City Thunder (+4000)
- San Antonio Spurs +6600)
- Utah Jazz (+9000)
- Minnesota Timberwolves (+10000)
- Denver Nuggets (+10000)
- Portland Trail Blazers (+10000)
- New Orleans Pelicans (+12500)
- Dallas Mavericks (+15000)
- Los Angeles Clippers (+20000)
- Sacramento Kings (+40000)
- Phoenix Suns (+50000)
- Memphis Grizzlies (+50000)
The imbalance between the eastern and western conference affects mediocre east teams the most. Instead of getting a shot at a lottery pick, bad playoff teams in the east receive a late 1st rounder while western teams of similar talent end up with a lottery pick because the difficulties of making the playoffs.
Over the last eight years, middle-of-the-road eastern conference teams have no chance at winning a title and no ticket in the lottery, plunging them into a cycle of mediocrity. The Boston Celtics were a notable exception to this trend because they fleeced the Brooklyn Nets of multiple lottery picks, setting themselves up as a potential contender for the next decade. Philly entered into “The Process” through one of the hardest tanks in history, purposely finishing with an awful record for four consecutive years to draft players like Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid.
Other than Philly and Boston, it’s tough to see another eastern conference club rising to meet the challenges of the east. The Raptors will likely take a step back this season after firing Coach Dwayne Casey. Giannis Antetokounmpo will likely waste another season with the Milwaukee Bucks, who haven’t been able to build around the Greek Freak.
As such, the western conference dominating the east tends to result in continued imbalance as top free agents and draft picks find themselves on the west coast, depriving the east of talent.
NBA Polarity Will Flip – East Will Rise Again
The only decade of parity in the NBA took place during the 1970s, when eight different franchises won a ring. Prior to the seventies, Bill Russell dominated pro basketball between 1957 and 1969, with his Boston Celtics teams winning 11 championships.
During the 1980s, the Los Angeles Lakers made eight NBA finals and the Celtics earned a trip to the finals on five occasions. Jordan and Olajuwon took eight titles during the 1990s, leading to the Spurs, LeBron, Kobe and the Warriors dictating the NBA over the last couple of decades.
Out of all the major North American pro leagues, the NBA features the least parity, creating an environment where a group of elite players dominate championship results for long stretches. The NFL has Tom Brady and the Patriots, the NHL has Sidney Crosby and the Penguins, while the New York Yankees have famously purchased several World Series in an MLB without a hard cap.
None of those teams match the sheer dominance of the Golden States Warriors, LeBron James & Dwyane Wade, the San Antonio Spurs or Kobe & Shaq. The current era heavily favors western basketball clubs, but the Celtics and 76ers will almost certainly grow into serious challengers over the next half-decade if they avoid catastrophic injuries which define recent campaigns. The Knicks have a genuine potential MVP in Porzingis, Antetokounmpo might get the help he needs in Milwaukee and the Pacers quick rebuild could lift Indiana into a strong position over the next couple of years.
Rumors suggest that Kawhi Leonard wants to play in Los Angeles, but there’s a chance that Leonard will leap to the Raptors for a season. This would genuinely lift Toronto back into the championship conversation, and Kawhi could decide to stay with the Raptors if he enjoys his time in the North. Of course, the Raptors might end up renting him for a year before the Lakers sign Kawhi in free agency.
Still, now that LeBron’s left for Los Angeles, there’s little reason to expect the eastern conference to win a championship over the next few years.
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