Assessing the lay of the land after the flurry of action as the NBA trade deadline came and went might take a little bit of time, but one thing is obvious - the West is absolutely stacked!
NBA fans will know that after a prolonged period where the Eastern Conference was regarded as the weaker, and therefore easiest to progress to the NBA Finals and ultimately Championship, that had not been true of late. But after the exodus of talent heading from East to West we’ve just seen, it looks like we’re back there again.
The biggest move saw Kevin Durant leave Brooklyn for the Phoenix Suns, having seen Kyrie Irving also quit the Nets, signing for the Dallas Mavericks.
Almost overnight, one of the most dangerous teams in the Eastern Conference returned to the mediocrity from whence it came, clearing the path for two of the Boston Celtics, Milwaukee Bucks and the Philadelphia 76ers to surely meet in the Eastern Conference Finals.
At the same time as Brooklyn stopped being a threat in the East, Kyrie and especially KD’s moves West triggered the other challengers there to strengthen too.
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Not only is Durant one of the the top 20 - maybe top 10 - players of all time, he’s a match-up nightmare and the teams out West know they may well have to go through the 34-year-old. A seven footer who can handle the ball, shoot from outside but with a devastating mid-range game who can get his own shot anytime he wants, Durant can create for others and of course plays just as hard at the defensive end too.
Among the traditional basketball powerhouses, currently stuck in the battle just to make the playoffs, the LA Lakers made some moves to improve their outside shooting, and finally got rid of the terrible fit that was Russell Westbrook, while Golden State gave up on former number 2 pick James Wiseman, trying to bring back Gary Payton II, part of last year’s Championship team, though that deal may falter if he doesn’t pass his medical.
The Pelicans strengthened by picking up Josh Richardson - a defensive minded wing that could be directly related to KD’s arrival on the scene - while Minnesota added a veteran point guard in Mike Conley to try and get the most out of Anthony Edwards, Rudy Gobert and KAT.
The Clippers also made moves to improve their playmaking while adding yet another decent wing in Eric Gordon; Memphis got deeper with Luke Kennard and the current top team in the West, Denver, got deeper at center to try and ease the workload on two-time MVP Nikola Jokic. In fact only Sacramento, enjoying an amazing season and obviously deciding to see how far they can ride this wave before reassessing in the off-season, didn’t make moves in the West.
While all this was going on, the top three Eastern Conference teams must have been licking their lips. The Nets removed themselves from consideration as a rival, the teams below them didn’t get any stronger - Cleveland stood pat, Miami just sent Dewayne Dedmon out as a tax saving and the New York Knicks made the relatively underwhelming move to sign Josh Hart from the Blazers.
Boston, in strengthening their big man rotation with Mike Muscala, and Milwaukee, who dealt some second round picks for forgotten three-and-D wing Jae Crowder of the Suns, got slightly better, while Philly, in my mind very much the third member of this top three, swapped Matisse Thybulle for Jalen McDaniels.
The biggest mover in the outright market post-deadline was of course Phoenix, who were swifty cut to around 5.00 second favourites.
But with a dogfight brewing just to make it into the playoffs in the West, followed by three extremely tough series just to make it to the Finals, all this activity just makes me think the likelihood of the 2023 champions coming from the East just increased markedly.
Previously I’ve advocated a small bet on Golden State, and I’m happy to have them onside - if I’m going to back someone to emerge from the West unscathed then the champs, and at a price too, are fine. The fact they still haven’t consistently clicked, plus the ever more difficult path to success caused by the influx of talent to the West, means we can now get with the Warriors at 15.00.
But as good as the Nuggets have been, and the Suns no doubt will be, I wouldn’t want to be backing them with borrowed money.
I think it just became a lot more likely that the next NBA champions will come from the Eastern Conference, and with some sportsbooks offering as high as 7.00 for the Milwaukee Bucks, around double the price of Boston, I’m siding with them.
Khris Middleton is finally fit, Brook Lopez is a shot blocking, three-point making giant, Jrue Holiday has been excellent, the role players are ready, and of course, the Greek Freak is unstoppable.
The toughest test will be the Eastern Conference Finals - I therefore think betting win only for the title is best - but if they emerge from a probable match up with Boston, the Bucks will be far fresher than whoever staggers, punch drunk, battered and bruised out of the West and they can win it all once again.
Latest NBA Championship Odds
Boston Celtics: 4.50
Phoenix Suns: 5.00
Milwaukee Bucks: 6.00
Denver Nuggets: 8.00
LA Clippers: 12.00
Philadelphia 76ers: 13.00
Memphis Grizzlies: 13.00
Golden State Warriors: 17.00
Dallas Mavericks: 17.00
Cleveland Cavaliers: 21.00
All betting results and odds provided by PlayUp, Australia's best NBA sportsbook.
By Max Bennett | 02/12/23
Follow Max Bennett on Twitter at @MaxBTheJumpHub