NBA Title Futures: How Long Until the East Strikes Back?

By Keith Allison from Hanover, MD, USA (LeBron James) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

If the title didn’t already tip you off that there’s a Star Wars allusion coming, here’s your second warning: there’s a Star Wars metaphor coming. So shield your eyes, Trekkies (or just scroll down to the odds), and apologies to the entire Eastern Conference, which has drawn the role of the Dark Side by default, even though it’s more comically inept than a Stormtrooper at a marksmanship contest. At least LeBron James’ villainous personality helps the fit.

NBA Conference Wars!! Episode IV: A Tilted Battlefield [cue epic music]

Not a very long time ago in a galaxy so, so close . . .

It is a time of extreme certainty in the NBA. After having his hand slashed off by Darth LBJ (with a great deal of assistance from Grand Moff Kyrie and Emperor Adam Silver), Steph Curry-walker and his splash kin formed an irrepressible alliance with Hans Durant. The mighty Warriors of the Western Conference made a mockery of the Dark King and his Empire on the battlefield, banishing him to a grave state of disgruntlement.

The embarrassment was felt by the entire Dark Eastern Conference, resulting in many of their top Rebel-killers abandoning the fight and joining the Western Conference. The loss was so shameful, the Cavaliers have started to crumble. Grand Moff Kyrie has been force-choked one too many times by his master, and wants to break off and align with a team that will appreciate his brilliant Death Star.

The fight has become so discouraging, even the ruler of the Dark Conference, himself, is debating whether to defect from the lifeless East and try to blacken the Western Conference from within. The Warriors will likely win the next battle for their powerful conference, and potentially the following one, too. But as the annals of galactic historian Dick Pfander show, the balance of power will always, eventually, shift, raising the question: when will the Empire strike back?

Darth LBJ’s decision will be vital in answering that question. Will he join The Process in Philadelphia to mount one final push in 2018-19? Or will he betray his own and tilt the scale a little more in an already lopsided battlefield?

Annnnnd scene!

Hope you enjoyed the prologue. It probably had more drama than the upcoming regular season will. Without further ado, here are the odds on how long it will take for the Eastern Conference to win their next NBA Championship, and which team is most likely to do it.


OVER/UNDER: NEXT NBA TITLE FOR THE EASTERN CONFERENCE: 2020.5

ODDS ON THE NEXT NBA TITLE-WINNER IN THE EASTERN CONFERENCE

  • Philadelphia 76ers: 7/2
  • Cleveland Cavaliers: 15/4
  • Boston Celtics: 4/1
  • Washington Wizards: 12/1
  • Toronto Raptors: 25/2
  • FIELD: 23/3

It’s going to be a long rule for the West, which has already won 13 of the last 19 NBA Championships. Their fate no longer lies solely in the hands of the Warriors and Spurs Gregg Popovich. But we’ll start with the champs.

Kevin Durant has a player option for 2018-19, and could leave Golden State if he pleases. But with all the other super-teams forming in the West in hopes of competing with the Warriors, why would Durant break the gang up? They’ll be his best chance to keep winning.

The Rockets, Thunder, and Timberwolves are all significantly improved from last season, and should provide a little more resistance for the reigning champs. As long as Durant is having fun playing for the Warriors, I expect him to stay put. He will have to continue signing team-friendly contracts, though, for the Warriors to remain as deep as they are.

If Durant does leave, or the Warriors stumble, both the Spurs and Rockets would enter the NBA Finals as favorites over whomever emerges from the East; the Thunder and Timberwolves may, as well, depending on whom the Thunder can retain and how the T-Wolves’ young core develops.

The impending loss of Kyrie Irving is going to prove detrimental for, not only the Cavaliers’ title hopes, but the entire conference’s chances of winning a title. Irving is a bona fide (four-time) All-Star who is more than capable of putting a team on his back, which he proved in Cleveland. It’s hard to construct a trade scenario where the Cavs receive a player of Irving’s caliber in return. And their 4-1 series loss in the 2017 NBA Finals proved they needed to get a lot better to compete.

By Keith Allison (flickr)

With rumors already swirling that LeBron wants to head west next summer, the crumbling of his cavalry only heightens the speculation. If LeBron does stay in the East, whichever team he plays for will be the favorites to represent the conference in the 2019 NBA Finals. But taking down the Warriors in the near future will take some heavy recruiting by James.

And even if Irving is moved to another team in the East, it doesn’t move the needle for the Conference, as a whole. The Celtics are the next best team in the East, and adding Irving would make them better. But Boston wouldn’t become an instant NBA Title favorite — or even legitimate contender — with Kyrie; they would have to give up significant assets in return (likely including Isaiah Thomas, since Cleveland would need a point guard), and — as the 2017 Eastern Conference finals showed — the Celtics need to make huge strides in order to compete with the Cavs, let alone the Warriors. A Thomas-for-Irving-type swap isn’t nearly enough, even with the addition of Gordon Hayward.

All the other “contenders” in the East are paying non-elite players elite money, and will be likely burdened by those deals for the foreseeable future.

As a result, the East’s best chance lies with the future: the Philadelphia 76ers. Joel Embiid finally proved he can play, by which I mean he literally proved he can step on an NBA court and compete in a few games (31 to be precise) after missing all of his first two seasons. He also proved he can meet his sky-high potential. The dominant, athletic seven-footer is going to be the key to combating the league’s movement towards small-ball. Add in the first-overall picks from the last two drafts, Ben Simmons and Markelle Fultz, and the 76ers are going to wash away that losing stench pretty soon. If they can convince LeBron to join, too, they could quickly seize power.