It is now official, LeBron James is a Los Angeles Laker.
This decision not only brings high expectations to a historic NBA franchise once again, but also makes a situation that has been brewing for years become unavoidable.
That is the overall disparity in level of talent and superstars between the Eastern and Western Conferences.
The disparity has grown steadily in the post Michael Jordan era but was until now somewhat balanced. The dominance of the Lakers in the early 2000s was met with the toughness of the Detroit Pistons.
Other teams like the Miami Heat, San Antonio Spurs, and a resurgent Boston Celtics came into the title picture. Under them the pool of teams hoping to become contenders was more centered in the West.
The flow of superstars has also shifted west whether by trade or free agency. It reached a point that the NBA changed the format of the All-Star game this year in that team’s were picked by captains rather than be aligned by conference.
Taking this into account and now adding James to the west, league commissioner Adam Silver has to contemplate ways to bring some type of balance back. He may do it in two ways.
1.) Have playoff seeding be based on record regardless of conference
This idea had been suggested in recent years because it had become routine to see two, sometimes three East teams with sub .500 records make the playoffs. While this has also happened in the West it has not been as frequent.
Seeding playoff teams based on the 16 best overall records would help eliminate te theams that aren’t prepared for the postseason while giving other teams a chance. It would also take away the notion that the best teams are meeting too early.
This solves the disparity issue in the playoffs but the gap in competition had reached a critical point. No team in the East is a legitimate challenger to Golden State. This means more drastic measures may have to be put in place.
2) Realignment of Conferences
Eliminating conferences altogether is too drastic of a move so shuffling teams to create better parity is more likely.
One way to reshape the conferences is to take geography out of the equation and have them be set up like the NFL and MLB.
One way to pick which teams which teams go where is by one conference being original NBA teams and expansion teams before 1970 with the other being ABA alums and expansion teams after the NBA-ABA merger.
This would form new rivalries and also let teams that share a city like the Knicks/Nets (New York City) and the Lakers/Clippers (Los Angeles) grow their brand while also provide intrigue of those teams meeting in the Finals.
This realignment can work so long as there are no major expansion plans in the NBA’s future
However there is a sentiment that the league will expand in the near future. The main thing in common with the cities in serious contention for expansion (Kansas City, MO, Las Vegas, Seattle, and Mexico City) is that their prospective teams would have to be placed in the West. This would mean some teams would have to move East.
Based on geography, the teams that makes sense to shift are the Memphis Grizzlies, New Orleans Pelicans, Minnesota Timberwolves, and Houston Rockets. Moving these teams, particularly the Rockets, give the a East a contender to start shifting the balance of power in the NBA.