I'm a big believer in the pendulum. Things tend to even out over time, and the pendulum eventually swings the other way. But we must be dealing with one big ass pendulum in terms of the balance of power between the Eastern and Western Conferences in the NBA, because the West has been better than the East for a LONG time and the disparity is getting wider, not narrower.
Part of it is self-fulfilling. The NBA is a league of haves and have-nots, and if teams aren't in "win-now" mode then they are going to tend to rid themselves of expensive short term assets and stockpile cheap, long term assets. For the rebuilding team, this has the extra added bonus of allowing them to suck enough to have a good shot at a high draft pick (drafting a mega-star is still the most sure-fire route to relevance).
So it's not really surprising that the Boston Celtics today traded one of the few remaining impact players in the East, Rajon Rondo, to the Dallas Mavericks. The Mavericks want to win now, and frankly, the Celtics are perfectly happy to lose now. And free-spending Mavs owner Mark Cuban is perfectly willing to splurge on Rondo, just as he'll be thrilled to resign Rondo if he is able to this summer.
But where the hell is that pendulum we've been looking for?
Looking at the standings, one might be tempted to think that Toronto and Atlanta and Washington are somewhat relevant -- but are they? Aren't they really just "relevant in the East"? I'm not sure that any of those teams would make the playoffs in the West. (OK, maybe Toronto would.)
It didn't help matters that the deep-pocketed and free-spending East owners -- specifically James Dolan in New York and Mikhail Prokhorov in Brooklyn -- have made a string of bad decisions that left those mega-market teams mediocre or worse. The teams that are aggressively spending money AND making good decisions have pretty much all been in the West for about a decade now.
Sure, as long as LeBron James remains in the Eastern Conference whatever team he's on will have a chance to win a ring, because he's the best player in the league. LeBron's mere presence automatically makes his team a destination as well, as proven by the most significant West-to-East defection of recent years, Kevin Love. But beyond "LeBron's team" is there a marquee destination in the East right now? Chicago? I suppose. Miami? We'll see.
Ignoring the East-West question, Rondo to the Mavs creates some very interesting situations. For one thing, seven of the top eight Western Conference teams now have a two-man backcourt-frontcourt superstar combo: Paul-Griffin, Parker-Duncan, Westbrook-Durant, Harden-Howard, Conley-Gasol, Lillard-Aldridge and now Rondo-Nowitzki. Sheesh. Only Golden State doesn't boast a recent All Star big to pair with Steph Curry (no, I'm not counting David Lee) and it's not as if the Warriors are actually hurting for talent or results.
When Jrue Holiday went from Philadelphia to New Orleans a couple years back, I pointed out that while he was an All Star in the East, he wouldn't be in the top half of point guards in the West. Well, Holiday just got pushed one rung further down the ladder. (Though it must be said that John Wall, Kyrie Irving, Kyle Lowry and Jeff Teague are all representing pretty well this season -- it's a great era for point guards in the NBA.
This deal gives Dallas a pretty amazing starting five -- Rondo, Nowitzki, Chandler Parsons, Monta Ellis and Tyson Chandler -- but the trade does have some consequences. The Mavs, with Nowitzki and Chandler both in their mid-30s, are not a young team, and dealing away draft picks only exacerbates that problem. Moreover, let's not lose sight of how great Brandan Wright (one of the players they gave up in the deal) has been for them. With Wright down, Dallas is looking at a very thin front court rotation that starts with Greg Smith -- or a whole lot of small ball with the likes of Parson or Al-Farouq Aminu player the four. That may cause them some problems down the road. Nor is it just the front court -- the entire Mavs bench is suspect at this point, but with that starting five it might not matter.
At this point, the first round of the Western Conference playoffs -- all four matchups! -- will be about the equivalent of the Eastern Conference Finals. All of the top eight teams in the Western Conference have aspirations of winning a championship this season -- and all of them may actually have the talent to do so. Has that ever happened in the history of the NBA? Not that I can recall.