Bradley Beal is one of many rising stars in the Eastern Conference. Photo Credit: Keith Allison, Flickr.com
For more than a decade now, the Western Conference has been considerably stronger than its counterparts in the Eastern Conference. Making the playoffs in the West tends to require a lot more wins than in the East, where below-.500 teams end up sneaking in on a regular basis (like the 37-45 Indiana Pacers two years ago).
Even this season, the West has more teams that are viewed as serious title contenders than the East; the San Antonio Spurs, Oklahoma City Thunder and Los Angeles Clippers are all viewed as teams who can win it all, while in the East, only the Miami Heat are given a serious chance, while the Pacers and the New York Knicks are viewed as having a very slim chance of breaking through.
But the West’s domination over the East will be coming to an end very soon. Even if the Eastern Conference isn’t particularly strong this year, it’s full of teams who are on the rise and will be contending for playoff spots before too long. The best example of this would have to be the Cleveland Cavaliers, who will be going forward with Kyrie Irving, a rising superstar, at the helm. Injuries to Irving and Anderson Varejao early in the season, along with being an extremely young team prevented the Cavaliers from doing much this season, but they’ll be a lot better next year, and they should be in the running for a playoff spot.
The same could also be said for the Washington Wizards. They were submarined by injuries early in the year, too–particularly that of John Wall, who was out with a knee injury until January. Without Wall, the Wizards were the worst team in the league with a record of 4-28. Since his return, the Wizards have been better than ,500. Wall hasn’t been the only bright spot, as rookie guard Bradley Beal has improved significantly as the season has progressed, and looks like a future All-Star. If Wall had played the entire season, the Wizards would be in the running for a playoff spot. If next year’s team is healthy, they have a great chance to crack the top eight.
The Detroit Pistons are also on the rise. Andre Drummond was likely the biggest steal of the 2012 draft. His athleticism is jaw dropping and when he has a chance for a dunk, he’s almost impossible to stop. The combination of Drummond and Greg Monroe up front is going to make the Pistons an extremely fearsome team. If they bring back Jose Calderon, they’ll also have the perfect point guard to work with them in the pick-and-roll.
Right now, there’s a lot of young teams in the East who aren’t good just yet, but are going to be very soon. This will inevitably mean that making the playoffs in the East will be a lot tougher than it is now. The Cavaliers, Wizards, and Pistons are all on the precipice of becoming playoff teams. Even the Toronto Raptors improved by acquiring Rudy Gay and could be in the mix next year. The Orlando Magic might be a few more years away, but they do have an excellent young center in Nikola Vucevic and a lot of young players with potential.
Pretty soon, we could see the east looking a lot more like the West, where nearly all the teams are good and legitimately solid teams get pushed out of the playoffs. Of the top eight, the team most in danger of falling out is the Brooklyn Nets, who will be brought down by the albatross contracts of Joe Johnson and Gerald Wallace. Wallace has already declined immensely, while Johnson is likely to do so in coming season. Other than that, however, most of the top teams in the East have a bright future, meaning the rise of the lower teams will create a log jam. Basically, the only team who won’t be contending for a playoff spot is the Charlotte Bobcats and even they have a decent future with Kemba Walker and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist.
The days of the East being a weak conference are over. The conference is loaded with teams who are going top be very good very soon, and making the playoffs is going to be a very difficult task. For the first time in over a decade, we are about to have a league where the East is the better conference. With stars like Irving and Beal leading their teams out of the gutter, just about every team in the conference is going to be a contender. How this will effect the league as a whole is unknown, but one thing’s for sure; this is going to be really fun to watch.