Why have the NBA's western teams been better than its eastern teams in recent years?
February 19, 2009 12:06 PM   Subscribe

Is there a geographical reason the NBA's Western Conference has been so much better than the East? What's the deal?

It does seem in the past couple years the East is catching up and, who knows, maybe is better this year, but that said - the West has been dominating (at least during the regular season) for some time now. I wonder if anyone knows of any articles that specifically address WHY and HOW this happened, rather than what I see all the time, which is more about PROVING the west's superiority, using stats and such.

Given that there are no rule differences (as in MLB with the DH, for example, which leads to totally different strategy), it doesn't make any intuitive sense that teams in one half of the country would generally be better than the other - other than migration of better players to the better conference.

Ideas, theories, and resources welcome!
posted by ORthey to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (37 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
 
Better local talent pools because of better weather, in general? Basketball is one of those games that people tend to master in pickup situations and it's a lot easier to play pickup ball when it's 72 degrees every night. I'm not sure, but I feel like the temperature ranges in the average Western Conference city are much more moderate than those in the East.

Of course, there's a draft that's supposed to even those things out, but there's some information asymmetry there.
posted by downing street memo at 12:19 PM on February 19, 2009


Well, in the east college basketball is more popular. It's possible that the teams on the east coast simply can't attract enough fans given the market. The mid-Atlantic states, for example, have a number of traditional powers in the sport. Looking at the current Sagarin ratings, the top thirty is heavily biased towards the east: NC, Pitt, UConn, Duke, Memphis, Clemson, Wake Forest, Purdue, West Virginia, Louisville, Villanova, Xavier, Ohio State, and Georgetown are all "eastern," and most of the rest are midwestern.
posted by sonic meat machine at 12:34 PM on February 19, 2009 [1 favorite]


Local talent pools have nothing to do with it. Player's origins are not geographically correlated to teams.

I think it's just dumb luck that over the past several years there have been a disproportionate amount of teams in the West that had better management, drafting decisions and coaching strategies. Although the lopsided dominance may reinforce itself as free agent players may be more attracted to play for better teams.

The same thing happens in NFL for example, too. There have always been stretches where one conference dominates the other and has a disproportionate amount of dominant teams. Just the way it shakes out.
posted by gnutron at 12:37 PM on February 19, 2009 [3 favorites]


Player's origins are not geographically correlated to teams.

Maybe not high draft picks - Kobe's from Philly but plays in LA, MJ from NC but played in Chicago - but in terms of lower-round picks, or free agents who want to play close to home, surely there's some local correlation there. It just makes sense that west coast scouts would be more familiar with collegiate players in their own areas.
posted by downing street memo at 12:46 PM on February 19, 2009


The only thing that matters in Basketball is who has the top 5 players in the league. If you have one of them, you might win a championship and if you don't you won't (the only exception to that rule in recent times has been the Pistons). This is because you can give the ball to you best player and let him control the outcome of the game.

These players have tended to be in the West in recent years, but I agree that it's complete chance that it's worked out this way. The East has Lebron and KG, and they are both contending.
posted by |n$eCur3 at 12:47 PM on February 19, 2009


Maybe not high draft picks - Kobe's from Philly but plays in LA, MJ from NC but played in Chicago - but in terms of lower-round picks, or free agents who want to play close to home, surely there's some local correlation there. It just makes sense that west coast scouts would be more familiar with collegiate players in their own areas.


nope. Its a multibillion dollar league that is salary capped. location of players has nothing to do with it. Scouting is global, you only have 12 players on a roster and you have to spend up to the Salary cap. There is no incentive not to find the best 12 players you can.

More importantly this assertion:
Better local talent pools because of better weather, in general? Basketball is one of those games that people tend to master in pickup situations and it's a lot easier to play pickup ball when it's 72 degrees every night. I'm not sure, but I feel like the temperature ranges in the average Western Conference city are much more moderate than those in the East.

is also factually incorrect. Basketball talent is the least correllated with climate of the major US sports. You can play it inside. You can't play football or baseball inside.

Also remember the 80's and most of the 90's? The Western Conference was the Lakers and everyone else. Or when the AFC couldn't win a superbowl for 20 years?

It all runs in cycles.
posted by JPD at 12:55 PM on February 19, 2009 [1 favorite]


There's ABSOLUTELY NO CORRELATION to geographical location and where the players come from. The best players are usually taken out of the draft (not free agents), for example Kevin Durant, Lebron James, Kevin Garnett, and Kobe who are difference makers are all from the east coast. By the way......Even though the west coast is supposedly better Last year Boston won the championship, and the 3 years prior to that Miami (eastern coast) won two more and Detroit (also in the east) won the championship that year and was the best team in the NBA despite being in the East.
posted by The1andonly at 12:56 PM on February 19, 2009


Better local talent pools because of better weather, in general? Basketball is one of those games that people tend to master in pickup situations and it's a lot easier to play pickup ball when it's 72 degrees every night. I'm not sure, but I feel like the temperature ranges in the average Western Conference city are much more moderate than those in the East.


This is a lie.....how many players that are good come out of NY, New Jersey and surrounding areas? Basketball is NOT MASTERED in PICKUP situations most NBA talent start out playing organized basketball real early and are scouted all the way through Jr. high school, High School and College...........
posted by The1andonly at 12:59 PM on February 19, 2009 [1 favorite]


Essentially what I'm getting here is that the geography really has nothing to do with it, and that it just so happens that the NBA divides its teams up that way (unlike football and baseball - the teams are divided up geographically, but within two different conferences) - it has more to do with dumb luck, reputations, and natural shifting dominance?

By the way......Even though the west coast is supposedly better Last year Boston won the championship, and the 3 years prior to that Miami (eastern coast) won two more and Detroit (also in the east) won the championship that year and was the best team in the NBA despite being in the East.

True, but I feel like this doesn't mean much, really... we're talking about a best of seven series that is not all that reflective of the conference as a whole, and plus you only have to beat members of your own conference all the way until the final anyway. And I'm talking about the leagues as a whole, not which league has the one best team.
posted by ORthey at 1:03 PM on February 19, 2009


gnutron and insecure have it. it's just a coincidence that the west has more of the elite players, coaching, and management. although, I wouldn't say KG's quite the elite-elite player he once was.

Spurs: Duncan + Popovich + Parker + Ginobili.
Hornets: Paul + co.
Houston: Yao + Arest +McGrady + Morey.
Dallas: Nowitzki + co.
Phoenix: Nash + Stoudemire + co.
Lakers: Bryant + Gasol + hugely deep bench.
Jazz: D-Will + Boozer + co.

And so on... there isn't as much star power in the East. Wade has a medicore team around him, Howard is the only true star on the Magic (and his offensive game is limited). The Cavs this season, though, are a truly elite team, as are the Celtics.
posted by demagogue at 1:10 PM on February 19, 2009


1. A top 5 player is not just better than the average player, he is WAY better (possibly 2-5x better). Arguably, Jordan was 5-10x better than average.

2. The top 5 players in the league have been stacked toward the West post Jordan by coincidence & luck.

3. That's why the West is better right now.
posted by |n$eCur3 at 1:20 PM on February 19, 2009


Average winning percentage since 1989 (addition of Orlando and Minnesota). They won't sum to 1 because the NBA had an odd number of teams until a few years ago.
Year	West	East	Diff
1989	54.4%	45.3%	9.0%
1990	52.2%	47.7%	4.5%
1991	49.6%	50.5%	-0.9%
1992	47.9%	52.3%	-4.3%
1993	49.7%	50.4%	-0.7%
1994	50.6%	49.3%	1.3%
1995	47.8%	52.4%	-4.5%
1996	45.9%	54.4%	-8.6%
1997	46.5%	53.7%	-7.2%
1998	49.9%	50.1%	-0.3%
1999	52.0%	47.8%	4.2%
2000	55.2%	44.4%	10.8%
2001	52.0%	47.9%	4.0%
2002	53.8%	45.9%	7.9%
2003	53.9%	45.8%	8.1%
2004	54.6%	45.4%	9.1%
2005	52.2%	47.8%	4.4%
2006	52.3%	47.7%	4.6%
2007	51.4%	48.6%	2.8%


posted by milkrate at 1:27 PM on February 19, 2009


A similar thing is happening in baseball in the American League East division. Basically, there are a finite number of playoff spots, and making the playoffs is financially rewarding. But playoff spots are awarded, to a certain extent, by division. So if you have two pretty good teams in the same division, they can get into what amounts to be an arms race: each team upping the ante on the other one. If another team in the same division wants any shot at making the playoffs, they, too, need to get better. Especially in leagues with an uneven playing schedule (i.e. you play teams within your division more), there's further incentive for within-division rivalries.

The opposite can also happen -- a mediocrity spiral. In most professional sports, it is financially wise for the owners of a team to make the playoffs but not win -- you retain essentially the same amount of attention from a playoff team as a champion team without having to shell out the world champion bonuses. That's why you end up with divisions like the National League West in baseball, or the NFC West in football. As long as all the teams in your division have an unspoken understanding to stay mediocre, one of them will always make the playoffs, and which team takes the spot tends to rotate pretty evenly.

It's basically an evolutionary arms race. Occasionally, some divisions create little bubbles of pressure that create competitive imbalance.
posted by one_bean at 1:34 PM on February 19, 2009


A similar thing is happening in baseball in the American League East division.

It's not really similar at all because MLB is not salary capped. The reason the AL east is so dominating is because of the payroll arms race between the Yankees and the Red Sox that has no real equivalent in the NBA. It's not just that the AL east is "getting better," they're buying up the league.
posted by rkent at 1:42 PM on February 19, 2009


one_beam - Basketball and Football are not comparable to Baseball - which is much closer to European Soccer from an economic model.

The reason why the AL East has been stronger during the regular season is because of economics - Boston and NY are two of the biggest, wealthiest media markets in the country = high per seat ticket revenues, much much higher tv revenues allow them invest in better talent. The success these teams have had does sort of self perpetuate, but the conditions that created the original success are much more a function of demographics.


The only reason why MLB doesn't degenerate into the Premier League or Serie A where the same few teams win every year is that the relatively small number of games in a playoff series massively increase the role luck plays as opposed to probabilities.

Football has a Salary Cap, revenue sharing and a unified TV deal
Basketball has a meaningful national TV deal and a Salary Cap.
In neither sport is there a meaningful financial benefit from success.


To further support the evidence of there being no correllation between local talent and NBA success here is a google map of every NBA players birthplace
posted by JPD at 1:49 PM on February 19, 2009


It's not really similar at all because MLB is not salary capped. The reason the AL east is so dominating is because of the payroll arms race between the Yankees and the Red Sox that has no real equivalent in the NBA. It's not just that the AL east is "getting better," they're buying up the league.

Except that the team that won the AL East actually had the second-lowest payroll in baseball, and lowest in the American League.

In the NBA, as far as I know scouts / management are not included in the cap, so identifying and recruiting the best young players, constructing a TEAM rather than stars, etc. is crucial, and competition can drive that.
posted by one_bean at 1:51 PM on February 19, 2009


It could also have something to do with the draft not recognizing that competitive imbalance.
posted by one_bean at 1:54 PM on February 19, 2009 [1 favorite]


AL East Winners 1995-Today
1995 (starting April 25, 144 G) Boston Red Sox 86-58 .597 Lost ALDS to Cleveland, 3-0
1996 New York Yankees 92-70 .568 Won World Series over Atlanta, 4-2
1997 Baltimore Orioles 98-64 .605 Lost ALCS to Cleveland, 4-2
1998 New York Yankees 114-48 .704 Won World Series over San Diego, 4-0
1999 New York Yankees 98-64 .605 Won World Series over Atlanta, 4-0
2000 New York Yankees 87-74 .540 Won World Series over New York, 4-1
2001 New York Yankees 95-65 .594 Lost World Series to Arizona, 4-3
2002 New York Yankees 103-58 .640 Lost ALDS to Anaheim, 3-1
2003 New York Yankees 101-61 .623 Lost World Series to Florida, 4-2
2004 New York Yankees 101-61 .623 Lost ALCS to Boston, 4-3
2005 New York Yankees†† 95-67 .586 Lost ALDS to Los Angeles, 3-2
2006 New York Yankees 97-65 .599 Lost ALDS to Detroit, 3-1
2007 Boston Red Sox 96-66 .593 Won World Series over Colorado, 4-0
2008 Tampa Bay Rays 97-65 .599 Lost World Series to Philadelphia, 4-1

Yeah probably not much of a correllation between media market size and regular season performance.

Every once in a while a team will pop up that can use home grown talent to succeed - The Rays were that. Wait two years when that talent gets bid away. Barry Bonds used to be a Pirate. A-Rod was a Mariner.
posted by JPD at 1:58 PM on February 19, 2009


It's not really similar at all because MLB is not salary capped.
The other difference is that the basketball cap makes it so that teams get a bargain on top talent who would otherwise command 10x what they are making in a free market.


In the NBA, as far as I know scouts / management are not included in the cap, so identifying and recruiting the best young players, constructing a TEAM rather than stars, etc. is crucial
I don't see how this can be true. Teams matter in baseball--because you can't give the ball to your best player to control the outcome of the game, except in the case of a star pitcher.
posted by |n$eCur3 at 2:02 PM on February 19, 2009


2. The top 5 players in the league have been stacked toward the West post Jordan by coincidence & luck.

This is partly true.

Kobe Bryant, arguably the best player in the NBA was drafted by the Charlotte Hornets. The Lakers pulled an absolute coup in trading Vlade Divac for his service. (1996)

Dirk Nowitzki was drafted by the Milwaukee Bucks in 1998, and was immediately traded to the Dallas Mavericks where he has anchored that team for a decade.

Tim Duncan landed on the Spurs in 1997 when the Spurs received the first pick in the NBA draft during a lottery when the worst team in the league that year (Vancouver) was ineligible to select first, giving the Spurs a greater chance at Duncan.

The Detroit Pistons picked Darko Milicic 2nd in the 2003 NBA Draft, before Carmelo Anthony. Granted, the Pistons still remained a good team, but the East lost another great talent.

There was a great article on ESPN or SI fiver or so years ago detailing the circumstances of great talent winding up in the West. It ended up being a combination of terrible trades by the East and great drafts by Western Conference teams.

I tried to dig up the article, but had no luck... If I can find it, I'll post it here.
posted by clearly at 2:02 PM on February 19, 2009


Yeah probably not much of a correllation between media market size and regular season performance.

Yep, the Yankees have been a pretty succesful organization. So have the Lakers, that small-media market team. We can throw numbers back and forth forever. I appreciate that they're different situations because of the salary cap. But to say there's no financial incentive in the NBA to make the playoffs seems crazy. Is there really 100% revenue sharing in the NBA? I did not realize that. If so, I'll retract my argument. Otherwise, if there's a financial benefit to fielding a competitive team, then with an un-balanced schedule there is always the possibility of competitive imbalance between divisions/conferences/leagues.
posted by one_bean at 2:05 PM on February 19, 2009


In the NBA, as far as I know scouts / management are not included in the cap, so identifying and recruiting the best young players, constructing a TEAM rather than stars, etc. is crucial

I don't see how this can be true. Teams matter in baseball--because you can't give the ball to your best player to control the outcome of the game, except in the case of a star pitcher.


I was having this conversation with my boss the other day - his argument is that it is precisely the lack of a cap in baseball that has lead to the professionalization of talent scouting and management in that sport as opposed to the NBA and NFL where many of the GM's are ex-players who seem to lack any skill at talent evaluation.

With a cap there is no advantage to being able to figure out how to maximize the trade-off between cost/contribution. An uncapped league means the teams at a financial disadvantage MUST figure out what differentiates a winning team/player from a losing team/player so that they can figure out what skills are undervalued by the market. Once they have figured out what matters its only a matter of time untill all the clubs in the league have that same information and their advantage is arbitraged away.
posted by JPD at 2:13 PM on February 19, 2009


I think this article was the one I was looking for.
posted by clearly at 2:14 PM on February 19, 2009


Yankees Lakers = correlation /=/ causation. Look how many crappy NBA teams there are in Big markets. Look how few crappy MLB franchises there are in big markets. BTW for the purposes of this discussion you have to limit yourself to regular season outcomes so the sample size is large enough.

You could argue the Lakers success was driven more by luck:
- Kobe being a punk who refused to play for the Hornets (and was drafted at a time when the risks surrounding high schoolers wasn't well understood)
-Shaq and Anfernee Hardaway having a falling out, and the Magic betting a 6"7' swing man was a better long-term bet then the a 7"3' Center with a weight problem. And the Lakers having a bunch of cap room at that time (was Magic's contract coming off? maybe I'm not sure)

I'd also make the argument that the Yankees success was bought and that they are actually a poorly managed franchise. The Lakers have ALWAYS been one of the best run franchises in sports.
posted by JPD at 2:21 PM on February 19, 2009


The TV revenues are shared in the NBA. That is the biggest slug of revenue, but yes there is a meaningful difference between total revenues by market. The only benefit to making the playoffs is more games to sell tickets at - but the gate receipts really don't make that big a difference to bottom line as they are small and there are meaningful operating costs associated with a home game.

The Knicks are the highest grossing team in the NBA - and this includes any below market shenanigans they might be pulling with their owned local TV network - and they haven't won a championship since 1973.
posted by JPD at 2:32 PM on February 19, 2009


Sorry - National TV revenues are shared - this includes the playoffs.
posted by JPD at 2:33 PM on February 19, 2009


I was having this conversation with my boss the other day - his argument is that it is precisely the lack of a cap in baseball that has lead to the professionalization of talent scouting and management in that sport as opposed to the NBA and NFL where many of the GM's are ex-players who seem to lack any skill at talent evaluation.

In basketball winning is easy to build (get the best player and give them the ball). Individual games are reliable predictors of overall success.

In baseball, it's much harder to measure success because game outcomes are unreliable (every match is barely more than a coin flip). So, you have to have a really good stats model to figure out what it takes to win.
posted by |n$eCur3 at 2:42 PM on February 19, 2009


But how do you determine who the best player is? Zach Randolph and Sharif Abdur-Rahim were career 20 and 10 guys and they never won a thing.

I think you are oversimplifying what leads to winning basketball.
posted by JPD at 2:48 PM on February 19, 2009


I think the NBA draft system -- last modified in 1994 to reduce the incentive for bad teams to quit trying to win toward the end of the season -- has introduced positive feedback which tends to keep the conference with the best record on top.

Teams play more of their games in conference (I assume!), so if your conference is on top you will tend to have a worse record than a team in the other conference which is as good as you.

By virtue of your worse record, you will draft ahead of comparable teams in the other conference. This will make the draft even more unbalanced the next year, and so on.

The easiest way to correct this that occurs to me would be to have an expansion team or two in the dominant conference.
posted by jamjam at 2:52 PM on February 19, 2009


I see that one_bean's link makes the same argument in more detail and much more persuasively.
posted by jamjam at 2:59 PM on February 19, 2009


FWIW I modeled this in a really simple way, using Excel and some random number generators, with two divisions and teams whose performance in one season affects their performance the next season. I tried it allowing performance of a team from season to season to change randomly by up to +/- 1%, +/- 10%, and even +/- 100%.

Just as you would expect in that situation, if one division gets an advantage, it tends to stay there for a l-o-n-g time. And one division tends to dominate the other in long streaks.

For no particular reason modeled this for a run of 217 seasons.

With teams that could improve/regress by 10% per season, it was quite common for one division to be superior to the other for all 217 seasons. So if one division starts out with an advantage, or gains an advantage for some reason, it tends to stay in place for a long time.

Even when teams could improve or regress by as much as 100% per season, having a 217 season streak still happens more than you'd think (maybe one time out of 10) and most of the results were along the lines of 200/17, 86/131, 3/214 and the like.

And even in the more evenly divided runs (say, 86/131) the results were still very, very streaky. Like 32 in a row for division 1, 17 in a row for division 2, 16 in a row for division 1, etc.

Even in a situation where I introduced a moderate "return-to-mean" factor (which models what leagues to to try to keep teams more competitive--giving higher draft picks to lower-ranked teams, etc.), the results were still very, very streaky. Sample of 39 seasons of east/west division:

E E E E E E E E E E E E E E E W W W W W W W W W W W E E E E E E E E E E E E E

So in short the streaks you're observing are to a great degree the natural outcome of a setup where you have teams playing in different divisions and a team's performance tends to change more-or-less gradually over the years.
posted by flug at 2:59 PM on February 19, 2009


You guys are all totally awesome. This is such great info. BEST ANSWERS ALL.
posted by ORthey at 3:03 PM on February 19, 2009


Yankees Lakers = correlation /=/ causation.
I agree. I was trying to make a point that just throwing up a bunch of year-end results from a big city didn't really show anything. I will definitely grant that the soft cap in baseball is mostly responsible for much of the competitive imbalance in the AL East, but I'll also say that once that imbalance appears, it's easier for it to take hold (and requires teams like Tampa Bay and Toronto to try even harder).

I'd also make the argument that the Yankees success was bought and that they are actually a poorly managed franchise. The Lakers have ALWAYS been one of the best run franchises in sports.

I'll defer the rest to you because I really don't know enough about basketball. I think the accepted opinion on the Yankees is that they didn't buy anything -- they had a series of really good drafts (Jeter, Rivera, Posada, Bernie, etc.) and had the benefit of some great managers/coaches, not to mention free agent signings geared as much towards "team-first" type players. When Steinbrenner stepped back in and started buying up pieces left and right, they kept winning divisions, but stopped winning World Series. Anyway, sorry to get off track.

I found this article from Michael Lewis on the "sabremetrics" of basketball really fascinating. Given the way that baseball statistics have been revolutionized (and vindicated), it's not hard to believe that commonly held beliefs on the way basketball games are won (e.g. give the ball to the best player) are wrong.
posted by one_bean at 5:36 PM on February 19, 2009


Something not factored in is location and free agency. A lot of players have been vocally averse to playing in boring towns (Chris Webber, Sacramento, for example, lots of people and Salt Lake City), or cold weather cities (Minnesota, Milwaukee, Chicago, Detroit and so on). Furthermore, the lack of income taxes in Texas and Florida make those states more attractive than some others. As an example, think back to the free agency season where Tracy McGrady ended up in Orlando. Chicago was able to offer just as much, but McGrady chose Florida over Illinois.

Trumping all of these, there's the inclination among true free agents to sign on with winning teams. The problem there is that there are pretty few true free agents in the NBA. The CBA is structured to provide incentive for players to remain with their teams. Players near the end of their contract are either given extensions, traded, or sign-and-traded. Very few players that will affect a teams chances to win the title ever reach unrestricted free agency. Kobe Bryant's flirtation with the Clippers was an abberation, and even so, he seemed to be aiming for more money than any idea of actually moving.

Finally, you have to look at the general managers. When you think, hey, that guy knows what he's doing, most of the time, you're thinking of GMs in the west. This might change with Walsh in NYC, and Colangelo in Toronto, but aside from that, well, Dumars has been increasingly hit and miss, Paxson needs to be fired...
On the other hand, you've got the GMs in Portland, OKC, LA, San Antonio, Houston, Utah, and maybe you could add Dallas and Golden State who are changing the GM game. On the other hand, eastern GMs... kind of suck. Again, it's a cyclical thing, and some day, maybe, the good GMs will come back to the east.
posted by Ghidorah at 6:10 PM on February 19, 2009


I'm surprised that no one has yet to mention style of play as being a factor. While it's true that it's been a while since I've kept up with basketball, I'd imagine that some of what I'm saying still applies.

There was a time when it was considered inconceivable to win a championship without a dominant center. Ewing, Olajuwon, Shaq. The East ruled the so-called "half-court" game, and the showy "coast-to-coast" style that the West specialized in was considered "weak".

Then the power slowly shifted away from the centers and to the guards. This of course has to do with the emergence of some truly talented guards who basically began to change the way the game was played. Suddenly, the half-court game seemed labored and sluggish, and the fast-break game was superior.

As I said, I'm not at all sure if these distinctions still exist. But for most of the 90's, this was how the game was seen.
posted by war wrath of wraith at 7:23 PM on February 19, 2009


Some of this is semantic; while the West is dominant in total wins/losses, this post makes a strong case that three of the top four teams in the league were in the East at the 1/3 mark of the season. Since then, Jameer Nelson got hurt, which probably knocks Orlando off the list. Injuries count for a lot (see Tracy McGrady). Chronic injuries are team-killers (see Grant Hill).

Money isn't the answer (see Knicks, NY). Clever GM'ing counts for a lot. The Spurs 'three stars and a bunch of guys who will run through walls' seems to work pretty well. Boston did nothing with Paul Pierce until he got Ray Allen & KG; KG was a gift from McHale to his old team (in a different conference). Kobe was traded for a long time ago; Gasol... well, let's just call that a coup. LeBron was a great jackpot, but let's not forget that San Antonio sat David Robinson and tanked the season to have a shot at Tim Duncan.

It's a lot easier to count whiffs in drafting; Chris Paul was a number 4. And they have to be in the right situation; nobody is really looking at Steve Nash for MVP anymore. To have a shot at a championship you need (with rare exceptions like the Pistons) an MVP candidate (luck and good GM'ing), the right supporting cast (GM'ing), and no injuries (luck). There are so many ways to not be good that simply being consistently good is beyond the ability of most organizations.
posted by dragonsi55 at 9:06 PM on February 19, 2009


I think another point that adds to the mix is that the three best coaches in the league are living in the Western Conference. Phil Jackson of the Lakers, Gregg Popovich of the Spurs, and Jerry Sloan of the Utah Jazz. I think that competent front office management and strong coaching are what allow teams to remain at the top of the league/conference for long periods of time. They build teams that are assembled well (see the Spurs or Lakers, each with players that seem custom-built for their respective systems), they draft well (see Millsap, Paul), and they never really let themselves make stupid financial decisions that would kill them cap-wise or hamstring them for long stretches (see the Spurs, who basically signed their big 3 and then filled in the rest with spare parts). These Western powers just seem to be ahead of the curve, they were drafting in Europe before it became fashionable, they were cautious with money before it became a necessity, and it's only now that the East is starting to catch up.

Having the best player in the league is only part of it. Lebron might be the best player the world has ever seen, but even he couldn't win the Finals all by himself. But surround him with some complementary parts (Mo Williams, Andy Varejao playing for a new contract, a rejuvenated Wally) and then he can really start to work some magic. You need smart, competent, management to build that sort of team.

Basketball is a team game, even if it looks like it's one-on-one a lot of the time. You definitely need superstars to compete at the game's highest levels, but you need more than that to win it all. The competition among the top teams is too much for a one-dimensional team to come out on top.
posted by dnesan at 9:47 PM on February 19, 2009


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