Mon. Dec 17th, 2018

What to Expect from the Remodeled Western Conference

By Thomas Jeffrey

The offseason of the NBA is second to none, due to one thing: free agency. NBA free agency is one of the most exciting times in sports because it provides fans with speculation, anticipation, and excitement. Some fans, jokingly or not, even say that the NBA offseason is more exciting than the regular season because of free agency. This offseason could prove those statements to be true. Specifically in the Western Conference, this year’s offseason has involved superstar free agency decisions that have changed the landscape of both the conference and the league. Let’s take a look at these changes in the Western Conference, and what you should expect from them.

The most obvious way to start would to be to address King James’ decision. So let’s do just that. The Decision 3.0 has been in speculation ever since LeBron and the Cavs lost to the Golden State Warriors in the 2017 NBA Finals. Even more fuel was added to that fire when star point guard Kyrie Irving requested to be traded. By then and from this past season, especially getting swept in the Finals, it was very clear that LeBron was going to leave Cleveland for a second time. It was just a matter of where he was going. Los Angeles, Philadelphia, and Houston all seemed to be likely destinations for the King. And as many expected, the King chose Los Angeles and became a Laker. This decision obviously has several ramifications for the Conference. With the best player in the world joining, it makes the West immensely more talented than the East. In fact, the West now has the last ten MVPs, as well as all active MVPs. With that being said, it’s really not even close.

Another implication that LeBron’s move has is that it automatically makes the bottom of the conference better. LeBron is joining a team that just went 35-47. There is no question that LeBron is going to make the Lakers much better. It’s not just because LeBron is the best player in the world (although that certainly helps), but because LeBron has a knack for making his teammates better. The Lakers are brimming with young talent in the forms of Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram, and Kyle Kuzma. The opportunity of playing with and learning from LeBron James will hasten the development of these young players and just generally make them better. The Lakers are not going to the Finals (we’ll see why soon), but it is guaranteed that they will be better. With LeBron, they will most likely make the Playoffs. Just like that, LeBron’s arrival immediately makes the Lakers a Playoff contender and makes the worst of the West so much better.

Remember when I said that the Lakers are not going to the Finals? Well that’s because the Warriors were able to acquire four-time All-Star DeMarcus Cousins as a free agent. In other words, the Warriors just became unstoppable. The defending champs will now have a starting lineup consisting of five all-stars. That is just downright scary. The only piece that the Warriors have been missing is a dominant big man, and now they got their guy. Cousins is a prolific scorer, rebounder, and defender, and he adds a forceful presence that the Warriors have been lacking. Now, Golden State can beat you from outside and inside. If there’s anything to expect from Cousins’ decision, it’s that the Warriors aren’t going anywhere.

Just like the Warriors, the Oklahoma City Thunder aren’t going anywhere either. The only difference is that the Warriors are staying at the top of the conference, whereas the Thunder are staying in the middle. However, despite this static, there is optimism in Oklahoma City. To the surprise of many, Paul George has decided to resign with the Thunder, as opposed to joining the Lakers, his hometown team. This does not mean that the Thunder are going to beat the Warriors. After all if they couldn’t do it last year, then they certainly will not be able to do it this year. In fact, they might not even be able to beat the Rockets. All this means is that they are not going to get worse. Russell Westbrook needs all the help that he can get, and Paul George is definitely helpful. So, expect the Thunder to continue to be a talented, consistent team in the Western Conference. That label was in jeopardy with Paul George’s free agency rumors, but his recent decision confirms it.

The Western Conference is going to look very different this year because of the havoc that free agency has wreaked. Superstars of the league have formidably changed the conference and the league for years to come. It seems crazy and it is probably going to be crazy. But at least now you know what to expect.

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