The “imbalance” of power continues in the NBA with the Western Conference dominating the league. As of this writing, there are only 3 out of the 16 teams in the East with a winning record. These are the Miami Heat, Indiana Pacers, and the Atlanta Hawks. The Hawks are in danger of falling in the standings with the loss of their star player Al Horford. There is only 1 other team at .500 (Toronto Raptors) and the rest have losing records including the league-worst Milwaukee Bucks (7-24).
Out West, the race is wide open with 8 teams sporting a winning record. Another 3 teams are just a game or two away from .500. At least 5 teams have a real shot at the title while, to my mind, there are only two relevant teams in the East (Heat and Pacers) while the rest are just fodder for the Western Conference teams. The situation can be termed as embarrassing since the gap continues to grow which leads to the question—what is happening in the East?
From the get-go, we expected several teams such as the Boston Celtics, Philadelphia 76ers and the Milwaukee Bucks to tank the season to get ahead in the 2014 NBA draft—arguably the most talented since the class of LeBron James. It was only natural to expect that others would leapfrog these teams but this has not happened.
For starters, 3 Eastern Conference teams who were supposed to be very good this year have not lived up to expectations. These are the Chicago Bulls, the Brooklyn Nets, and the New York Knicks.
The Bulls were supposed to challenge the Heat this year but another season-ending injury to star point guard Derrick Rose have dimmed their hopes. Other key players such as Luol Deng and Jimmy Butler have also missed significant time due to injuries.
Another team that is struggling is the Brooklyn Nets. Touted to be a legitimate contender with the acquisition of proven veterans Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett to join their stars Deron Williams and Joe Johnson, the Nets have spent serious money to form their current roster. The Nets have the highest payroll this season at over $100 million. It shoots up to a whopping $190 million with the luxury taxes they need to pay.
So far, the Williams and Johnson experiment have failed, miserably. Williams has been injured several times and can’t get his game going. He is no longer the top-10 star he used to be. Johnson has been exposed as one-dimensional player. The Garnett and Pierce deal, which cost the Nets 3 round draft picks (2014, 2016, and 2018) on top of the traded players, has not panned out. The two are clearly past their prime and their winning mindset can no longer be realized on the court. There are also rumors that first time coach Jason Kidd has lost the support of his players and may not be the man for the job.
The New York Knicks, meanwhile, continue to be the laughingstock of the league. This is a star-crossed franchise that has also spent a lot of money with nothing to show for it. More than just bad player moves, there is a pervading malaise with this team—no one tries hard, they play individually, and just don’t seem to care. This is a team that has pinned their future on Carmelo Anthony and oft-injured Amare Stoudemire paying both max contracts. Of course, all this starts at the top as I consider Knicks owner James Dolan the most ineffective head of any NBA franchise.
With these in mind, it is painful to watch the Eastern Conference teams lose day in and day out to the West. Some have suggested that the East stop playing and just get on with the playoff finals between the Pacers and Heat. I totally agree with this notion.