Matt Gade, Deseret News
SALT LAKE CITY — It’s not easy following the Utah Jazz. Just glance around on game nights.
It looks like a morticians’ convention.
Although the Jazz are improving, having won five of their last 10, they still have the second-worst winning percentage in the NBA and the third-fewest home wins. On the bright side, they have plenty of company.
Take, for instance, the Eastern Conference. The West is filled with good teams, some not making the playoffs in recent years. But the East? Fill out the paperwork and you’re in. Teams in the West can only dream of playing in such an easy conference. That was seldom more apparent to the Jazz than in 2012-13. They missed the postseason by two games. Yet they would have been a No. 7 seed if they had been playing in the East, just a game out of sixth and two games out of fifth.
Though Miami was the league’s top team last year, five of the six best records and nine of the top 15 were on the sunny side of the Mississippi.
When Frank Sinatra sang “if I can make it there, I can make it anywhere,” clearly he wasn’t picturing this year’s dreadful Knicks or Nets.
Why this has happened is conjecture, but clearly the West drafts, trades, signs, develops and competes better. The East has LeBron James and the oft-injured Derrick Rose, and a good Indiana team. Otherwise, it’s as spotty as downtown Detroit.
This year the West’s No. 8 team, Dallas, would be No. 3 in the East. Only three Eastern Conference teams have winning records. On Tuesday the Jazz were nine games out of the playoffs in the West, but just five if they had been in the East.
In 2009, just three of the top 11 teams were in the East. Detroit’s 39 wins that year qualified the Pistons for the playoffs, yet they would have been 10th in the West.
This is frustrating to the West, where respectable teams like Minnesota go to die. The Timberwolves wouldn’t make the playoffs if the postseason began today, yet would be a No. 5 seed in the East.
Some say this is just a cyclical occurrence. In that case, it’s like the orbit of Neptune, circling the sun once every 165 years.
Even in 1997-98, when the Jazz played in the NBA Finals, Chicago ruled the league but the West swung the weight. Five Western teams had better records than the East’s No. 3, Miami.
This year, No. 8 Detroit would be 13th in the West. As of Tuesday, the top three Western teams were 30-3 against Eastern Conference opponents.
Only Indiana and Miami had winning records vs. the West, while 11 Western teams had winning records vs. the East.
As the last day of 2013 dawned, the West was 101-48 against the East.
Even the rebuilding Jazz are winning 36 percent of non-conference games, a full 10 percent above their conference record.
What this shows is that the NBA needs adapting. ESPN’s Grantland reported that the league is considering eliminating the draft lottery and replacing it with a “wheel” system, whereby each team gets a No. 1 pick every 30 years. Teams would have a predetermined pick every year and be guaranteed a top six selection every five seasons.
Through the years, the NBA has also discussed rebalancing the conferences, which means Utah could play at, say, Philadelphia twice in a year instead of Phoenix or Golden State. Another option was to seed the top 16 teams for the playoffs, regardless of conference.
The whole problem might be placed at the feet of 19th Century author, editor and politician Horace Greeley, who is often credited with the phrase, “Go West, young man.”
He had a point. Out West there are sunny beaches, warm deserts and mountain vistas — not to mention Kobe Bryant, Kevin Durant, Tim Duncan, Damian Lillard, James Harden, Stephen Curry, Chris Paul and Blake Griffin.
It seems to have dropped off the map.
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