Posted Feb 24 2011 10:21AM
DALLAS -- Tyson Chandler wasn't speaking on behalf of the just Dallas when asked about the balance of power relocating from the Western Conference to the East. He might as well have been a spokesman for anyone with designs of winning the West after Carmelo Anthony, Chauncey Billups and Deron Williams split for Greater Gotham.
"I wish we could get Kobe and Duncan and Ginobili and all those guys over there, too," he quipped, "but I guess then it wouldn't be any fun."
No doubt there has been a seismic shift in the makeup of the two conferences. The West, for the past decade, has been considered the superior collection of teams from top to bottom. Twice in the previous three years, all eight of the West playoff teams won at least 50 games.
Not gonna happen this season.
And while the East may struggle to field more than six playoff squads with winning records, the so-called Least only figures to get more Beast in the years to come. The days of Western dominance are over, according to a certain All-Star known to wear a cape.
"We all knew this was going to happen," Orlando center Dwight Howard said. "When I first got here and when LeBron got [to Cleveland], we were all young guys and it took time for us to grow. They used to call us in the East the JV of the NBA. I don't think we're that anymore. I think we're the varsity now."
The growth of players such as two-time MVP LeBron James, former Finals MVP Dwyane Wade, Howard and Chris Bosh is one step in East expansion. Boston becoming relevant again, especially with Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen coming from the West, is another.
"It started when Kevin Garnett came to the East," Amar'e Stoudemire said. "Then everybody started to trickle over. But I think the East now is a serious powerhouse, where most of the elite players from the West are now in the East. And the East was already pretty stacked with great players. But now, it has kind of shifted over."
Free agency has brought over the likes of Stoudemire to New York, Carlos Boozer to Chicago and Joe Johnson to Atlanta. The Bulls and Hawks also added All-Stars in the Draft, with Derrick Rose and Al Horford, respectively.
The Knicks have imported 'Melo (and Billups) to Madison Square Garden in their plan to become a superpower, while New Jersey finally swings and doesn't miss. Williams could be a home run (if he stays) in owner Mickael Prokhorov's bid to not only make the Nets relevant, but make good on that five-year title pledge.
Add it up.
"The West is not dominating any more," said Utah center Al Jefferson, who started his career in Boston. "It's equal now, if not I think the East got the edge. It's a lot of great teams over there in the East, but as you know it's a dogfight every day in the West for a playoff spot. In a day you can go from [the four seed] to seven like it's nothing. But I think the East is getting to that point now."
The top three teams in the East -- Boston, Miami and Chicago -- are already thought of as elite. Each has legitimate reasons to believe it's a title contender. And while Orlando and Atlanta sit in solid position in the playoff race, one team right below and another way below are positioning themselves to become major players. The overall strength of the East will largely depend of what muscles the Knicks and Nets are able to flex.
This is not to suggest the West is a wasteland of broken down teams on blocks in someone's yard. San Antonio and the Mavericks own the best two records in the league. The Los Angeles Lakers are the two-time defending champs. Northwest Division-leading Oklahoma City fields the best young roster in the league.
"As I'm in the West, the West is still stacked, still good teams," Thunder coach Scott Brooks said. "There are teams that are always going to be there. The Lakers and the Spurs are still staples. In the West, I still think there are very good teams."
The Thunder's path to a division title appears to have cleared with the changes in Denver and Utah, though Portland isn't about to give up the chase.
"It's a shakeup," Thunder center Nick Collison said. "It affects our division for sure. We'll have to wait and see how the teams look with the new guys. I don't want to discount anybody. You never know when a team comes together. There's still a lot of talent on those teams [Denver and Utah], even though the stars shifted East. I'm not going to write anybody off yet.
"Overall, on a competitive level it's good to see those players go East, without a doubt. Initially that's our feel."
The argument can also be made that the bottom half of the West playoff picture has weakened, leaving less resistance -- especially in the first round -- for the West heavyweights. Memphis and Phoenix, for example, are two teams battling for the last four playoff spots with Utah, Denver, Portland and New Orleans.
"The balance of power is a talking point for media questions and things like that," Dallas coach Rick Carlisle said. "What's pertinent for us is how we're playing. That's the important thing to us. There are a lot of other capable teams.
"Just because some of the big-time players get traded from the West to the East doesn't mean the West isn't still good. It is. And if some teams move down that means other teams move up and those teams will become more of a factor. That's the circle of life around here."
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