NBA EOB Roundtable: Is West still best? (2024)

NBA EOB Roundtable: Is West still best? (1)
The West has shown to be stronger than the East this year. (Getty Images)

With the Heat down 2-1 and things looking bleak, the Bulls knocked out due to Derrick Rose's injury, and Boston on what you would think to be its last stand, all the talk about the strength of the East seems a little premature. We decided to roundtable on the state of the East vs. West, and what's the better conference now and in the future.

1. Two of the three best teams were supposed to be in the East. The Derrick Rose injury is obviously a huge footnote or asterisk or subscript or whatever, but the fact remains with Miami down 2-1 and the Bulls bounced while San Antonio and the Thunder destroy everything in front of them, can we say that the West is still definitively better than the East?

Royce Young: The charge against the West has always been that the two best teams reside in the East, while the West has more depth. Well, that doesn't even appear to be the case now. It's obvious that in the middle and bottom, the West is far superior to the East. It's been that way for the last 10 years. But with the Thunder and Spurs both 6-0 in the playoffs while the two best teams in the East are probably the Celtics and Pacers right now, I think calling the West better in every way is accurate.

Of course it comes with the caveats of Rose being injured and even Chris Bosh being out for the Heat. Neither of the East's top two is at full strength while the West has everyone healthy. It's not necessarily a fair comparison at this point, but injuries are always part of the deal and there's no question that the West is the superior conference.

Matt Moore: I think the question of whether style of play impacts this is relevant. Is the defense of either Oklahoma City or San Antonio on pace with anything being played in the East? It's kind of similar to the questions in college football about the SEC vs. the Big 10 or Big 12. The East plays field goal games, the West play those high-scoring games with the spread offense.

It's such a drastic differential in styles it's impossible to get a read on how good they are. I mean, Indiana's defending LeBron James and Dwyane Wade into oblivion, Bosh or no Bosh. So I think that kind of changes things. I would probably say this. The East is more talented, the West feature better teams. But you have to wonder how much of that has to do with the consistency in roster as the Spurs, Thunder, Mavericks, Lakers, etc. have been playing together for years, while really only Boston and the Hawks have consistency in roster make up.

But overall, you still have to give the West the edge, only because they're more consistent with effort and production. Not as able, but more consistent.

Ben Golliver: The gulf between the conferences has never looked greater but it's a little bit of an illusion right now. The oldest cliche is that one injury can change everything and, this year, three injuries (Derrick Rose, Dwight Howard and Chris Bosh) have left the East looking like a AAA product compared to the basketball being played in the West. Reverse the situation -- make Rose, Howard and Bosh healthy and remove Kevin Durant, Manu Ginobili and Andrew Bynum from the playoffs -- and there's no way that we are having this conversation.

As Royce mentioned, the depth in the middle and bottom of the conferences was already firmly established in the West's favor prior to the injuries. At the top, this is more about San Antonio and Oklahoma City being two juggernauts hitting on all cylinders than total domination. The Lakers or Clippers wouldn't be massive favorites over the Celtics, Heat or Pacers in the Finals. Neither the Spurs nor the Thunder look like they are going anywhere in the foreseeable future and both boast plenty of roster depth, matched only by the Bulls in the East when fully healthy.

2. If the West is still the same, is that going to change any time soon?

Royce Young: At some point, there the guard will completely change. The Spurs will drop, the Lakers will dip and the Mavs will have to rebuild (maybe this summer). There are up-and-comers behind, but it's no guarantee that the Grizzlies, Clippers and Nuggets will rise to the level of those Western stalwarts. The East is showing some promise in the middle with the Pacers, 76ers and maybe eventually the Knicks, but the West has always been deeper. Even the teams that miss the postseason are better. It's not a coincidence that the East has had sub-.500 teams make the playoffs while the West has had its eight-seed winning 50 games.

Thing is, the Lakers might decline at some point because of the transition away from the Kobe era, but they'll be back. They're the Lakers. They don't stay down. Same goes for the Spurs. That's an organization that's too well run to stay down. And then of course the Thunder look to be an NBA contender for years to come. The Western Conference rules the NBA top to bottom, and I don't see that changing any time soon.

Matt Moore: Well, Boston's going to fall off sooner rather than later, the Pacers could be in flux with Larry Bird possibly moving on, and no way to know if ownership will stay with an increasingly expensive roster. Who knows if Miami can survive another massive failure. Orlando's looking at a blowup, the Hawks.... don't matter and Chicago has yet to get things to go their way. With the Knicks stuck in the mire by throwing all-in with Melo and the Nets' future unsure, there could be very few dominant teams in the East within two years.

The West is going to have its own turnover, but the Thunder aren't going anywhere, the Texas teams have shown their ability to consistently compete, and don't sleep on Minnesota's young core. The West is set to be in control for years. They may be more stable than the East, honestly.

Ben Golliver: I guess I believe in the league's life cycles so it would be pretty absurd to suggest that the West will reign supreme forever. But none of the top East teams right now are following the model that put the Spurs and Thunder into the rare position of being sustainably elite. The Bulls come closest but still made a big commitment in free agency (Carlos Boozer) that will limit their window). The Heat, of course, are three players and parts. The Celtics will need to be rebuilt or retooled eventually. The Pacers include a bunch of homegrown and cultivated talent but it's not true All-Star, All-NBA caliber like San Antonio's or Oklahoma City's. Orlando's cap is a trainwreck with band aid solution after band aid solution. If you're talking about league domination over the next 2 years, San Antonio and OKC are at the top of the list. If we're talking five year windows you have to like OKC the most -- by far -- with Chicago looming if they can get a little creative in their roster management and the Clippers lurking with an intriguing foundation of Chris Paul and Blake Griffin. Everyone else (especially the capped out Lakers) has major question marks.

NBA EOB Roundtable: Is West still best? (2024)
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