LeBron James’ arrival to the Los Angeles Lakers is opening up the traditional offseason discussion of competitive balance in the NBA. While the Lakers are not a super team (YET!), James’ arrival is adding even more imbalance to the two conferences as the West continues getting stronger while the East loses its biggest star.
At the top of the West, however, nothing has changed as the Golden State Warriors are still by far the favorites to retain the Larry O’Brien trophy. But as Stephen Curry told USA TODAY Sports’ Sam Amick, LeBron’s move will make every team have to play that much harder in the regular season:
“I don’t know what they’re going to be as a team, because obviously it’s brand new and they don’t have their identity. There’s a lot that’s been made about the competition in the West and his eight straight Finals appearances and all that, but that just makes everybody raise the antenna up a little bit – including us,” Curry said. “It’s going to be fun for fans, playing (more) in the regular season and who knows in the playoffs. So the West obviously got stronger with LeBron but you’ve still got to beat us.”
Curry is right to feel this way. The Warriors have been dominant for four straight years now, save one blown 3-1 lead in the NBA Finals. That does not appear to be changing anytime soon with Curry and Kevin Durant leading the charge.
That said, the Warriors have also notoriously taken much of the regular season off the past couple of years. They ceded the number one seed to the Houston Rockets last year because they knew they did not necessarily need homecourt advantage in the Western Conference Finals. LeBron’s move will make the Warriors and every other team in the West put more stock into the regular season as they jockey for positions in the playoffs.
Last year, 10 teams in the Western Conference won at least 42 games. Most of those teams are just as good as they were last year while the Lakers, among other teams like the Mavericks and Grizzlies, are expected to jump into the conversation. There will be some very good teams that miss out on the playoffs entirely but that will surely make the regular season all the more entertaining.