The Western Conference in the 2017 NBA Regular Season held the three top teams in the league: The Golden State Warriors (67-15), the San Antonio Spurs (61-21), and the Houston Rockets (55-27). The three finalists for the 2017 Most Valuable Player award, Russell Westbrook, James Harden, and Kawhi Leonard, all play for Western Conference teams.
This talent gap has been evident over the past couple decades, as Western teams have had a winning record against Eastern opponents in 16 of the past 17 years.
The way this offseason has shaken up so far, that streak will likely be extended past the 2017-18 season.
Two of the biggest names rumored to be on the trading block coming into this offseason were Jimmy Butler and Paul George. Butler has been an All-Star each of the past three seasons, and George has been given the honor four times in his career.
Many thought the Boston Celtics would make a move for one of the two in order to compete with LeBron and the Cavaliers in the East. However, the Bulls dealt Butler to the Minnesota Timberwolves in a draft-night trade, and the Oklahoma City Thunder acquired George from Indiana for Victor Oladipo and Domantas Sabonis.
Paul Millsap, an All-Star for the past four years, also decided to leave Atlanta in signing a 3-year, $90 million contract with the Denver Nuggets.
Some of the other biggest moves this summer have included stars staying in the Western Conference. Chris Paul was dealt as a part of a sign-and-trade, moving him to Houston alongside James Harden. Blake Griffin re-signed with the Clippers on a 5-year, $173 million contract.
The top of the Eastern Conference still boasts some of the NBA’s best teams. Cleveland will be a contender for as long as LeBron James suits up in a Cavalier uniform. The Celtics signed Gordon Hayward to a 4-year, $128 million deal this offseason and have a legitimate shot to take down the Cavs. The Raptors re-signed Kyle Lowry and Serge Ibaka to keep their strong core together.
However, this offseason has seemingly shifted three of last year’s Eastern Conference playoff teams in Chicago, Indiana, and Atlanta into a rebuilding mode after losing their star players.
On the flip side, perennial playoff teams out West in the Thunder and the Rockets further improved their arsenal in hopes of denying the Golden State Warriors of their third championship in four years. Big offseason moves by Timberwolves and Nuggets has given the Western Conference even more depth, further widening the talent gap between the NBA’s Eastern and Western Conferences.