Pelicans — and the Western Conference — win the Zion Williamson Sweepstakes
The NBA Draft lottery came down to a final four teams: Knickerbockers, Lakers, Grizzlies and Pelicans.
Mississippi River teams against the dysfunctional iconic coastal franchises.
Then the Lakers and Knicks were eliminated. The riverboats carried the day. New Orleans won the lottery, followed by Memphis, then New York.
Everyone immediately focused on what the Pelicans winning the Zion Williamson Sweepstakes meant for the Anthony Davis Sweepstakes. New Orleans now has both players, and a Davis trade suddenly doesn’t seem so automatic. Davis, Zion, Jrue Holiday. That’s not a terrible way to start a basketball team.
But my mind shifted to something else. The continued dominance of the Western Conference.
The West has been the NBA’s superior conference for lo these many years. Let’s see. The West has won 13 of the 19 NBA titles in the 2000s. The West has the better record against the East in every season of the 2000s except 2008-09, and some years the difference has been dominant – 63.1 percent in 2013-14, 63.3 percent in 2003-04, 61.7 percent in 2000-01. This season, the West won 56 percent of the interconference games, 252-198.
Then in what is considered a top-heavy draft – Zion, Ja Morant, R.J. Barrett – the West gets the top two picks and the No. 4 pick.
New Orleans, which less than 13 months ago swept Portland in the first round of the playoffs, adds a generational talent to a roster that includes Davis and Holiday. Maybe Davis still wants to make his Pelican time brief, but if so, that’s just going to be mean other talent headed New Orleans’ way, some stash of young stars from the Celtics or the Lakers or some other port.
Memphis, which is down to only the regal Mike Conley from its grit’n grind glory days, suddenly has a reboot with current rookie Jaren Jackson Jr. and presumptive draft pick Morant.
Even the Lakers get another young ballplayer to go with the collection of interesting players wallowing in LeBron’s wake.
This is not what the Thunder or the NBA needed. The NBA needed a little more balance of power. The NBA needed more stars in the East. When the All-Star Game rolls around every winter, the West starts looking for guys to leave off the all-star roster. The East starts looking for guys to put on the all-star roster.
The East made a little rally in talent distribution over the past year. Kawhi Leonard was traded to Toronto. Blake Griffin, Tobias Harris and Jimmy Butler all were traded to the East.
But Kawhi, Harris and Butler are free agents. If any or all migrate back West, the dominance is exacerbated.
The Warriors’ star-loaded roster has masked the bigger problem of NBA parity. Mediocre in the East gets you in the playoff hunt. Mediocre in the West gets you in the lottery and fast.
Here’s an example of the disparity. The Thunder and the Celtics each went 49-33 this season. They were the two best candidates for NBA’s most disappointing team.
The Thunder went 21-9 against East teams; Boston went 35-17 against East teams. The Thunder went 28-24 against West teams; Boston went 14-16 against West teams. OKC had a better winning percentage against both East and West teams, than did Boston.
But the Celtics ended up with the same record, because they got to play more games against the East. That’s a sign of Western Conference superiority.
And it only got worse Tuesday night, when the Pelicans – and the West – won the lottery.