Now that LeBron James has traversed west to join the army of hopeful young men seeking their fortunes west of Interstate 71, the old yammerfest about re-seeding the NBA playoffs has re-reared its cranky repetitive head.
As in "Why do we have to have conferences? Why can't we just have the 16 best teams play in April?"
Right. As though that would matter.
This is one of those tedious coastal laments based on the notion that the identities of the 14th, 15th and 16th teams impacts the postseason guide. It doesn't, and James signing his career away with the Los Angeles Lakers does not impact that. The Lakers aren't planning to jump from 21st place to 17th with this move. They're planning to go from 21st to 10th, or sixth, or fourth. The fact that nine of the top 11 multiple All-Stars currently play for Western Conference teams is irrelevant to that truth.
Players go west because the western teams are more willing to savage their luxury taxes, or because they want to live left of the Mississippi, or because of the old adage, "You want be the king, beat the king." James' Sisyphean task of beating Golden State worked once in four series, and six times in 21 games, and a small part of his move west is predicated on the growing fruitlessness of that struggle.
Most of it is wanting to be the guy who resuscitates one of the league's most iconic franchises. Part of it is family-based. Part of it is being sick of Cleveland owner Dan Gilbert.
None of it is based on East vs. West. LeBron the Laker does not affect the Denver Nuggets in any but the most tangential of ways.
Besides, the true disparity between the conferences is at the top, not the bottom. Only three of the last 21 NBA champions were from an East team without James at its forefront. Before that, the league belonged to Michael Jordan, which more and more is coming to represent "the good old days."
So unless the NBA plans to fight to take away free agency, or give the Eastern teams $25 million more in annual cap space, or doubling the Western Conference tax rate to include offspring, LeBron James hasn't exacerbated anything but the imbalance at the top of the food chain. The solution to that is the withering old-school chide, "You want to do better? Do better."
The Lakers did better, though not as better as they thought. The philosophy remains the same, though – it isn't the system, it's the folks working it.