Warriors
Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

The Golden State Warriors have controlled the hierarchy of the NBA for the past three seasons now and it doesn’t appear they’ll be slowing down anytime soon. Kevin Durant recently re-signed with the Warriors for way less money than he’s worth, and he did so as a personal sacrifice. Durant saw what is happening across the league right now. He saw the influx of talent that is flowing into his territory, and instead of taking the money, he made sure his team remained unstoppable. Durant could have gotten paid this offseason but elected to take less money to help the team that he has spent only one year with. Durant wasn’t forced to take a pay cut – and honestly, I would have told him to get his money. But he didn’t, and it’s created a situation in which the Western Conference is the most talented it has been in a long time. Forget superteams or supermax deals, we’re entering the stages of a superconference.

Staring straight at the faces of greatness has yet to deter other teams from attempting to compete with Golden State. If anything, it has inclined teams to pull off trades and free agency signings that normally wouldn’t be in their recipe books for either the immediate or long-term future. Ever since the Warriors won their second title in three years, teams that were already good (and some that were mediocre) have been upgrading their rosters in hopes of making life harder for the boys in the bay. The only “issue” is that it’s coming at the expense of the Eastern Conference.

The Minnesota Timberwolves were the first team to break the silence, gunning for a franchise-changing trade on draft night, which was successful. Trading for Jimmy Butler (and a first round pick) while sending off only Zach LaVine, Kris Dunn and the number seven pick to the Chicago Bulls was practically a heist. The Wolves then added Indiana Pacers guard Jeff Teague in free agency after ttrading Ricky Rubio to the Utah Jazz, which kept him in the Western Conference. Throw in Taj Gibson on a $14-million-per-year contract, and Tom Thibodeau is getting the old band back together (hopefully with less Derrick Rose). The Chicago Bulls became significantly worse; there’s a possibility that they will be a bottom-three team in the NBA next season – and the Timberwolves went from an outside playoff team looking in to a team with one of the best rosters in the entire West.

How Minnesota killed the East: The East lost a top-10 player and a starting point guard, while Ricky Rubio and Taj Gibson stayed out West.

The Houston Rockets were next to switch up their future by acquiring Chris Paul in what seems like a 33-player deal, forming what could already be one of the most talented backcourts in the NBA as he joins MVP-runner-up James Harden. The Rockets maintained one of the most effective and efficient offensive seasons in NBA history, and that couldn’t even get them to the Western Conference Finals. A change was necessary for Houston, lest they risk remaining stagnant and being quickly passed over by a bevy of other teams on the rise. But despite adding a high-caliber player such as Chris Paul – a top-five point guard of all time – the Rockets are still chasing Golden State. They may have lost Patrick Beverly in the Clippers trade, but they kept Nene for cheap and stole P.J. “The LeBron Stopper” Tucker away from the East.

How Houston killed the East: The West kept a top-three point guard, an All-Defensive Team guard, and a necessary backup while also stealing a high(ish)-profile free agent from the East. 

The Denver Nuggets were the third team to make a move that was not expected from them just a few months ago; they signed Paul Millsap to a huge three-year deal worth $90 million. He’ll be paired with brilliant young center Nikola Jokic, creating an offensive frontcourt that can only be rivaled by the team down in New Orleans. The Nuggets have managed to maintain their other youngsters, Jamal Murray and Gary Harris, only losing Danilo Gallinari in a sign-and-trade to another Western Conference foe, the Los Angeles Clippers.

How the Nuggets killed the East: The West retained an excellent scorer while stealing away one of the East’s best players. 

The Clippers were looking as though they might tank the season away after trading away Paul and losing J.J. Redick to the Philadelphia 76ers, but after re-signing Blake Griffin and bringing in Gallinari and Patrick Beverley through trades, the Clippers find themselves only slightly worse off than where they were at the end of last season. They finally received the player they so desperately needed, a great wing player (albeit, immediately after Chris Paul leaves), while adding a point guard who can lock down on defense and hit open shots in Beverley.

How the Clippers killed did the East no favors: The East finally receives a notable player but Chris Paul, Gallinari, and Beverley all remain out West.

The Oklahoma City Thunder shocked almost everyone when they traded for Paul George, and fans were even further shocked when it became known that the Indiana Pacers received only Victor Oladipo and Domantas Sabonis in return. No picks, no prospects with high upsides, just Oladipo and Sabonis. Which begs the question, what the hell were the Pacers doing, exactly? The Oklahoma City Thunder were a 47-win team last season that added a top-15 NBA player without losing much value. To top it all off, they acquired Patrick Patterson, who will allow them to stretch the floor even more, at a great value. The Westbrook-PG13 combo seems unorthodox – much like the new duo in Houston – but it’s all in an effort to slow down Golden State, and I expect these superstars to do whatever it takes to make this work.

How the Thunder Pacers killed the East their own damn conference: The Pacers purposefully allowed a player to leave their team and the Eastern Conference for nothing in return while creating another star-studded duo in the West.

All these power moves are doing, though, is slowing down Golden State, and they may not even be doing that much. No team has leap-frogged Golden State with these signings. In fact, no team has remotely moved the needle. The one team that has the current talent and a chance to take down the Warriors, the Cleveland Cavaliers, still don’t have a General Manager, and the signings of only Jose Calderon and Kyle Korver are as a direct result of that. The Spurs, Rockets, Thunder, Clippers, T-Wolves and Nuggets all have a great shot at winning 50 games next season, and even that may not be enough to get them into the playoffs. Even the now-“fringe” playoff teams such as the Memphis Grizzlies, Portland Trail Blazers and New Orleans Pelicans could finish above .500 next season and still easily miss the playoffs. Even the Dallas Mavericks have a team worth talking about. I’d put money down that the Mavericks have enough wins next season to make the playoffs in the East, but will finish well behind the curve in the West.

The Eastern Conference has now lost Paul Millsap, Paul George, Jeff Teague, Patrick Patterson and P.J. Tucker to teams in the West while the East has added J.J. Redick and Gordon Hayward. It’s going to cost the Wizards over $100 million just to keep Otto Porter Jr. out of the West. The rumors that had been flying around for months about whether or not Kyle Lowry and the Toronto Raptors should strip the team down for parts and rebuild have been shot down. Lowry saw how much stronger the West was becoming, and instead of joining in on the massive collection of talent, he decided to stay in the East along with Serge Ibaka, where the Raptors are still a top-four team in the East. Other Eastern Conference playoff teams such as the Chicago Bulls, Indiana Pacers, and Atlanta Hawks will surely drop to the bottom in favor of the Miami Heat, Washington Wizards, Milwaukee Bucks, Philadelphia 76ers, and possibly even the Charlotte Hornets.

The Boston Celtics finally secured the big-time free agent that Danny Ainge has been drooling over for years, and he didn’t even have to trade away Terry Rozier in the process! Gordon Hayward decided to join the Boston Celtics, a team that will give the Cavaliers the biggest Eastern-Conference-Challenge since LeBron returned to Ohio in 2014. Transferring Hayward over to the East is a huge plus, but the damage has already been done, and the West has already monopolized the NBA talent pool.

Cavs
LeBron James converts a contested reverse layup (Photo by Nathaniel S. Butler / Getty Images)

In the Western Conference’s quest to challenge the Warriors, they have indirectly destroyed the Eastern Conference. Kevin Durant going to Golden State is what cost him money on his new contract, but more importantly, it is what led to an unbelievably quick uprise in talent out West – one that is unlike anything we have seen in this millennium. I didn’t even mention the rebuilding Los Angeles Lakers, a team that now has an interesting opportunity in the coming years, as their top-two targets (Westbrook and George) are on the same team now (kidding, sort of). Even the Phoenix Suns were seen as a real candidate to sign Paul Millsap at one point. Then the Sacramento Kings had the best draft out of any team and followed it up by signing George Hill and Zach Randolph in free agency (Hey, the Kings are becoming relevant again!).

The rebuilding efforts in Denver and Minnesota were cut short in favor of “win-now” moves that will put them in the playoffs as soon as next season. The Rockets, Thunder and Clippers all added missing pieces to their winning formula to avoid slipping out of the playoffs. Utah was the team hurt the most by the free agency frenzy, losing Gordon Hayward and George Hill, which destroys the path they were riding on for so long. All of this movement, and it means nothing right now as Golden State kept everything together. Durant took less money to bring back Shaun Livingston and Andre Iguodala. The Warriors even had enough in the bank to sign Omri Casspi to the veteran minimum and Nick Young to a one-year deal *aggressively rolls eyes until I’m looking at the back of my head*. He helped his guys get paid while keeping every key component on the best team in the NBA intact. The Warriors built a dynasty, but they also created a conference hell-bent on taking them down.

 

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Def Pen