Separation of powers
Poor management at root of East's secondary status
Posted: Monday June 11, 2007 2:33PM; Updated: Monday June 11, 2007 5:40PM
Late in Game 2 of a series that happens to be deciding the NBA's champion, ABC play-by-play man Mike Breen asked color commentators Jeff Van Gundy and Mark Jackson if this season represented the greatest competitive divide between conferences in league history.
It's a pertinent question, what with the Cavaliers struggling to score 30 points in a half, and one that, sadly, will likely be bandied about over the next few years. The East is improving, make no mistake, but it is in for a long trek back to respectability.
Let's actually try to answer Breen's question first. The Cavs, overmatched and often rudderless, look half as good as San Antonio at times, despite sweeping the two-game regular-season series and making fourth-quarter comebacks in each of the first two games of the Finals. And yet, we think the East is as strong as it's been in years, at least since Michael Jordan's retirement from the Bulls in January 1999 (however faint praise that may be), and it should only get better.
It's at least heaps better than the East that sent the Celtics, Knicks, Hornets and Bucks to the playoffs in 2004 (though the Pistons, who were probably the fourth-best team in the NBA that season, even taking into account their strong finish, beat an injured Lakers team in the Finals). It's much better than the 2002 East lineup that sent a 52-win Nets team to the Finals -- a record that would have been good for sixth place in the West, not even accounting for all those wins against mediocre Eastern opposition -- and had the Vince Carter-less Raptors make a late push for the last seed.
Things have been worse. Much worse. Jamaal Magloire-on-the-Eastern-All-Star-team worse.
But for all the growth, things won't be improving right away. There is no magic bullet here. And the root of the disparity isn't merely a case of superstar free agents passing on a New England chill for the warmth of the lower Left Coast. Rather, this is just the work of a series of inadequate personnel bosses who all happen to reside east of the Mississippi River.
It started in Washington, where former NBA All-Star Wes Unseld (the beginning of a theme, you'll notice) traded young and big (Chris Webber) for old and small and big (Mitch Richmond and Otis Thorpe) in May 1998. It's been downhill ever since, as some of the most maligned executives in the game (ex-All-Stars Isiah Thomas, Danny Ainge, Larry Bird, Michael Jordan, Jim Paxson and Billy Knight, along with Billy King and Scott Layden) have created some pretty horrific rosters led by some pretty substandard coaches -- some of whom still have jobs. Some of them even put their superstar on the bench for the bulk of the first quarter of an NBA Finals game because he has two fouls, only to have him reenter in the second quarter with his team down 11.
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