- The Washington Times - Monday, June 1, 2015

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Go East, young man!

That advice runs contrary to the 1851 editorial by John Babsone Lane Souie in the Terre Haute (Ind.) Express, which suggested guys should head west and grab the country’s manifest destiny. The West was seen as the land of opportunity.

But the view is much different nowadays if you play pro hoops for a living. Your best shot at success isn’t out west, where Warriors, Rockets, Clippers, Grizzlies and other threatening species roam.

In the NBA, prospects for prosperity increase the farther you are from the Pacific Ocean. Dead and in his grave for 125 years, even Souie would acknowledge the landscape has changed.

The Cleveland Cavaliers have been without Kevin Love, one of their three best players, for two postseason rounds. Kyrie Irving, also among their three best players, missed most of the Eastern Conference Finals. Nevertheless, Cleveland is just four wins away from its first NBA championship.

The disparity between the conferences is glaring. Two of the West’s non-playoff teams, Oklahoma City and Phoenix, had more wins than Brooklyn, the East’s No. 8 seed. Another West also-ran, Utah, had as many wins as Brooklyn. Five teams in the West won at least 55 games; only the Atlanta Hawks did so in the East.

If the balance of power is cyclical, then a shift is inevitable. The talent might be ready to give it a jumpstart.

“Players will consider going to the East, for sure,” an anonymous Western Conference player told Basketball Insiders. “The East is down right now and the West is a dogfight. The seventh- or eighth-seeded team in the West could possibly make the Eastern Conference Finals with how things are now.”

On Sunday, Love spoke to media for the first time since last month’s surgery on his left shoulder. His future in Cleveland has been the subject of intense speculation, with some observers predicting he’ll bolt as an unrestricted free agent and sign with his hometown Los Angeles Lakers.

The Lakers are in position to draft either Karl-Anthony Towns or Jahlil Okafor with the No. 2 pick on June 25. Either way, with or without Love, the team’s final season with Kobe Bryant doesn’t hold much promise and Love squashed talk of donning purple and gold.

“I expect to be suiting up by Game 1 of next year,” he told The Associated Press.

For Cleveland? “Yes sir,” he said.

Mind you, he can stay in Cleveland next season and leave after the 2016-17 campaign, so Cavaliers fans can’t get too excited yet. Giving up rookie of the year Andrew Wiggins, plus a future first-round pick, will be deemed foolish unless Love signs a long-term deal, especially if Cleveland can win a title without him.

LeBron James is the obvious draw if you can be his teammate, but stars from the West might prefer taking their chances against him opposed to running the gauntlet in the Northwest, Southwest and Pacific divisions.

James was the East’s only representative among 11 vote-getters in MVP balloting; Of the 15 players named to all-NBA teams this season, a dozen were from the West; eight of the 10 all-defensive team members were from the West.

So if money and playing time are comparable, it’s completely understandable if some top players opt to leave the top-heavy West. And the movement could have a huge impact right here.

“I’m pretty sure Kevin Durant is going to start it off and go home to D.C.,” another unnamed NBA player told Basketball Insiders.

Conjecture from an anonymous player who uses “pretty sure” isn’t much to go on. But Wizards fans don’t need much prodding for fantasies about Durant leaving Oklahoma City to join forces with John Wall and Bradley Beal.

Nevermind that Durant recently told Revolt TV, “I’m one of those guys that would love to stick it out with one team my whole career. … You never know what the future holds sometimes and how teams may feel about you after a while, but I love it here and I would love to get my jersey retired here.”

Maybe KD2DC remains a pipe dream for the next 14 months and he stays put. Wizards fans will have to content themselves with other options, some that are nearly as tantalizing. Surely a few stars from the West will switch coasts and be intrigued by Washington’s young backcourt.

NBA.com suggests the Wizards should be aggressive now — as in going after Love — instead of waiting for Durant’s decision next summer. But others, such as ESPN 980’s Steve Czaban, say nothing major should be done before KD chooses, lest he think the Wizards aren’t fully committed to him.

It says here that if Love or Portland’s LaMarcus Aldridge expresses an interest in signing with Washington, the team should hand them an assortment of pens. Either player would provide the desired outside shooting while hitting the boards as well.

Otherwise, the Wizards should sit tight and wait for the inevitable exodus, and hoped-for homecoming, as more left-coast stars hear the message:

Go East, young man!

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