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New NBA season, same old story: Western Conference set to outclass East once again

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West is best once again in NBA

After a whirlwind off-season that saw seven 2017 all-stars and a few other future Hall-of-Famers switch teams, one thing will almost certainly stay the same: the league's Western Conference will outclass the East. It may be a new season, but it's the same old story. Here's why

When the NBA season starts there will be 24 players who have made multiple All-NBA teams since the 2010-11 season, and 20 of them will suit up in the Western Conference.

When the NBA regular season kicks off Tuesday, a recurring storyline will be at play: the continued dominance of the league's Western Conference.

The competitive imbalance between the East and West has been a feature of the league since Michael Jordan left the Chicago Bulls in 1998. In the 19 seasons since, Eastern Conference teams have won the championship just six times.

Why? Elite talents play in the Western Conference. Whether it's winning percentage, the number of teams with winning records or the number of All-NBA players from each conference, the numbers tell the story: In the NBA, West is best. If it weren't for LeBron James, who has played his entire career in the East, the disparity would likely be a lot worse.

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This upcoming season may end up being the most lopsided in recent memory. Notable players such as Paul George, Jimmy Butler, Paul Millsap, Carmelo Anthony, Jeff Teague, Rajon Rondo and Brook Lopez are all recent all-stars who moved westward in the off-season. Only Gordon Hayward went in the other direction. There will be 24 players who have made multiple All-NBA teams since the 2010-11 season, and 20 of them will suit up in the Western Conference.

Legend: Western Conference Eastern Conference
Season, date Player Original Team New Team
2017 Off-season
June 22, 2017 Jimmy Butler Chicago Bulls Minnesota Timberwolves
July 6, 2017 Paul George Indiana Pacers Oklahoma City Thunder
July 13, 2017 Paul Millsap Atlanta Hawks Denver Nuggets
July 14, 2017 Gordon Hayward Utah Jazz Boston Celtics
August 30, 2017 Isaiah Thomas Boston Celtics Cleveland Cavaliers
August 30, 2017 Kyrie Irving Cleveland Cavaliers Boston Celtics
September 25, 2017 Carmelo Anthony New York Knicks Oklahoma City Thunder

The West's overall winning percentage has been better than the East's in each of the past seven seasons. The gap is even clearer when you only look at interconference games, with the West averaging a winning percentage of .574.

It's not surprising then that the West routinely has more teams finishing the season with winning records. Only the 2015-16 season bucks the trend in recent history. The reason? The Golden State Warriors won a record 73 games, and the San Antonio Spurs won 67, steamrolling the rest of the league. The number of really good and elite teams (50– and 60-win seasons, respectively) has also skewed heavily West in the same period.

The imbalance is primarily driven by the amount of elite talent in the conference. Since the start of the 2010-11 season, the West has averaged 10.29 players per year on the All-NBA team. In each of the last three seasons, only one player from the East garnered first-team All-NBA honours. Unsurprisingly, it was James each time.

The talent divide also exists off the court, with the Coach of the Year and Executive of the Year coming from the West five of the last seven years.

Individual Eastern Conference teams have also been consistently worse. Only the Chicago Bulls have been spared a losing season since 2010. Nine different Western teams have averaged winning records to the East's six, while 10 teams from the West have had multiple 50-win seasons compared with seven from the East.

All of this begs the question: Why does the West consistently have better talent?

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It isn't because talented players are moving west en masse. A player has gone to the Western Conference and won all-star or All-NBA honours with his new team only three times since the 2010 off-season (David Lee, Dwight Howard and Andre Iguodala).

Legend: Western Conference Eastern Conference
Season, date Player Original Team New Team
2010 Off-season
July 9, 2010 David Lee New York Knicks Golden State Warriors
July 9, 2010 Amar'e Stoudemire Phoenix Suns New York Knicks
July 10, 2010 LeBron James Cleveland Cavaliers Miami Heat
July 10, 2010 Chris Bosh Toronto Raptors Miami Heat
2010-11 Season
February 22, 2011 Carmelo Anthony Denver Nuggets New York Knicks
February 23, 2011 Deron Williams Utah Jazz New Jersey Nets
2011 Off-season
December 10, 2011 Tyson Chandler Dallas Mavericks New York Knicks
December 14, 2011 Chris Paul New Orleans Hornets Los Angeles Clippers
2011-12 Season
No All-Stars or All-NBA players switched teams
2012 Off-season
July 11, 2012 Joe Johnson Atlanta Hawks Brooklyn Nets
July 11, 2012 Kyle Lowry Houston Rockets Toronto Raptors
July 19, 2012 Goran Dragic Houston Rockets Phoenix Suns
August 10, 2012 Dwight Howard Orlando Magic Los Angeles Lakers
August 10, 2012 Andre Iguodala Philadelphia 76ers Denver Nuggets
October 27, 2012 James Harden Oklahoma City Thunder Houston Rockets
2012-13 Season
No All-Stars or All-NBA players switched teams
2013 Off-season
July 10, 2013 Al Jefferson Utah Jazz Charlotte Bobcats
July 10, 2013 Paul Millsap Utah Jazz Atlanta Hawks
July 12, 2013 Kevin Garnett Boston Celtics Brooklyn Nets
July 13, 2013 Dwight Howard Los Angeles Lakers Houston Rockets
2013-14 Season
No All-Stars or All-NBA players switched teams
2014 Off-season
July 12, 2014 LeBron James Miami Heat Cleveland Cavaliers
July 18, 2014 Pau Gasol Los Angeles Lakers Chicago Bulls
August 23, 2014 Kevin Love Minnesota Timberwolves Cleveland Cavaliers
2014-15 Season
February 19, 2015 Isaiah Thomas Phoenix Suns Boston Celtics
2015 Off-season
July 9, 2015 LaMarcus Aldridge Portland Trail Blazers San Antonio Spurs
2015-16 Season
No All-Stars or All-NBA players switched teams
2016 Off-season
July 7, 2016 Kevin Durant Oklahoma City Thunder Golden State Warriors
July 8, 2016 Al Horford Atlanta Hawks Boston Celtics
2016-17 Season
February 20, 2017 DeMarcus Cousins Sacramento Kings New Orleans Pelicans

Where the West excels is drafting and retaining talented players. Since 2010-1011, Western Conference teams have drafted 24 all-stars and 23 All-NBA players who earned those honours with that same team, compared with 19 and 16, respectively, by Eastern Conference teams.

Seventeen different players have made multiple All-NBA teams while only playing in the West, and 10 of those stars have only played for one team. Only two Eastern Conference players with multiple All-NBA honours, James and Dwyane Wade, have spent their entire careers in the East, and neither has played for just one team.


The LeBron factor

LeBron James has made the finals for seven straight years and is responsible for half the Eastern Conference's titles since the 1997-98 season. The last time a non-James team from the East lifted the Larry O'Brien Championship Trophy was the 2007-08 Boston Celtics.

James's teams have also been the second-best regular season team over the past seven seasons, behind only the machine-like Spurs. The NBA rumour mill is already churning with the possibility of James leaving for the Los Angeles Lakers next summer when he's a free agent. If this is his last season playing in the East, it could get ugly and prompt the league office to finally take a look at the issue.


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