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Western Conference Twice As Good, Nine Degrees Warmer

By any metric the Eastern Conference has struggled over the past two decades in regards to their depth of quality teams. The situation has reached a tipping point this season with a model by Arturo Galletti of BoxScoreGeeks.com showing the possibility of only the Miami Heat and Indiana Pacers finishing with a record above .500.

There are a plethora of factors on why the Western Conference is better this season, from greater parity at the top of the table compared to the separation the Heat have created over their four seasons together and the cyclical nature of several Eastern Conference teams rebuilding at the same time.

From a long-term perspective, the Eastern Conference has won the lottery in 11 of the past 15 years, suggesting several teams in the East have had ample opportunities to rebuild.

But last year's All-NBA Teams had 11 of 15 from the West, nine of 15 in 11-12 and 10-11, 11 in 09-10, 08-09 and 07-08.

One element that has remained constant is that weather plays a significant role in where veteran free agents choose to sign. The Heat have attracted significantly more high profile free agents to play with LeBron James than ever was possible when he was with the Cleveland Cavaliers.

The Los Angeles Lakers, Phoenix Suns and San Antonio Spurs always had a competitive advantage in signing veteran free agents during the previous decade that was more difficult during Kevin Garnett's tenure with the Minnesota Timberwolves. With Chris Paul and Doc Rivers taking control of the Los Angeles Clippers, that franchise is finally taking advantage of its weather and cultural advantages.

While the two warmest winter markets are in the Eastern Conference in Miami and Orlando, the gap between the average temperature for the two conferences as a whole is statistically significant with the Western Conference being nine degrees warmer.

Superstars that are drafted by teams in cold weather franchises certainly can be retained, but their ability to build around them with complementary pieces proves more difficult. Even the Oklahoma City Thunder have not attracted as many top players on the veteran's minimum as one would guess based on the caliber of their roster and title chances. Oklahoma City is not one of the coldest markets, but is more than 20 degrees colder than Los Angeles in January and doesn't offer some of the cultural attributes of a Chicago or New York.

Eastern Conference Average Temperature in January
Indiana Pacers: 26.5
Miami Heat: 68.1
Atlanta Hawks: 42.7
Washington Wizards: 34.9
Chicago Bulls: 22.0
Charlotte Bobcats: 41.7
Detroit Pistons: 24.5
Toronto Raptors: 21.0
Orlando Magic: 61.3
Boston Celtics: 29.3
Philadelphia 76ers: 32.3
Cleveland Cavaliers: 25.7
Brooklyn Nets: 32.1
New York Knicks: 32.1
Milwaukee Bucks: 20.7

- Average Temperature for Eastern Conference: 34.3

Western Conference Average Temperature in January
Portland Trail Blazers: 39.9
San Antonio Spurs: 50.3
Oklahoma City Thunder: 36.7
Los Angeles Clippers: 57.1
Denver Nuggets: 29.2
Golden State Warriors: 48.7
Dallas Mavericks: 44.1
Phoenix Suns: 54.2
Los Angeles Lakers: 57.1
New Orleans Pelicans: 52.6
Memphis Grizzlies: 39.9
Minnesota Timberwolves: 13.1
Sacramento Kings: 46.3
Utah Jazz: 29.2
Houston Rockets: 51.8

- Average Temperature for Western Conference: 43.3

Grading The Deal: Clippers Trade In Bledsoe For Better Roster Balance

The Los Angeles Clippers have long known they have held one very important chip to trade in to improve their roster construction in Eric Bledsoe. But with the Clippers uncertain of whether Chris Paul would re-sign a $107 million contract, Bledsoe scenarios could not move beyond the brainstorming stage.

Bledsoe was long connected to a trade involving Arron Afflalo and also briefly linked to the Doc Rivers-Kevin Garnett conversations.

The Clippers found their deal on Tuesday by dealing Bledsoe and Caron Butler to the Phoenix Suns while acquiring J.J. Redick on a four-year, $27 million sign-and-trade and Jared Dudley. The Milwaukee Bucks acquired a second round pick from both teams for facilitating the sign-and-trade.

Redick and Dudley gives the Clippers two outstanding complementary pieces on the wing that are significantly younger than the likes of Grant Hill, Chauncey Billups and Matt Barnes, while also being able to play without the ball in their hand unlike Jamal Crawford.

Redick has somewhat quietly become one of the NBA’s most coveted pieces as an excellent spot-up shooter. Redick is a liability on defense due to his physical profile, but his effort is usually there. The ability to create space for Paul to operate is a huge net positive and he will certainly become a 40+ percent three-point shooter again this season with the open looks that will come to him.

Dudley played most of his minutes last season as small forward where he had a net positive PER against his counterpart. Dudley is not a lockdown defender, but he has been one of the NBA’s best players in terms of outplaying expectations. He can be a nuisance and typically plays intelligently. On offense, Dudley is a career 40.5 percent shooter from three and has a reliable mid-range jumper.

Redick and Dudley are the type of glue guys that we saw make such huge impacts in the playoffs by players like Danny Green and Ray Allen. With these two acquisitions, Paul and Blake Griffin have been given a supporting cast that makes sense from the perspective of roster cohesion and is beginning to match any on talent.

Grade for Clippers: A

In converting Dudley, a piece that will age out of his prime by the time the Suns are ready to compete, and a second round pick into Bledsoe, there is no risk. The Suns will pick up the tab on the $8 million remaining on Butler’s contract, but it expires one season before Dudley’s to create additional 2014 cap space.

Bledsoe will become a restricted free agent next summer and his cap hold will be smaller than the first season of his deal, so anyone they pursue will come before a resolution to his situation unless he signs an offer sheet with a rival team.

The Suns get one full season to evaluate Bledsoe in starter minutes to see if he can put up that 17.5 PER of 12-13 in 35 minutes per night instead of just 20. Bledsoe is extraordinarily talented, but often baffling. He simply needs more NBA reps at this point in his career since he has played fewer than 4,000 minutes in just under 200 games.

Bledsoe had a True Shooting Percentage of .513 while dropping his turnover rate and increasing his usage last season.

The Suns have some duplication on their depth chart in the backcourt with Bledsoe, Goran Dragic, Kendall Marshall and Archie Goodwin. Dragic and Bledsoe could conceivably play together and not have issues on defense on most nights, but it is far from ideal in the long-term. Marshall had a very difficult rookie season in which he hardly looked like a lottery pick, but a coaching change will give him a fresh start.

Grade for Suns: A

The Bucks gave up a promising asset in Tobias Harris for a brief rental that only helped the team become the sacrificial lamb in a four-game sweep to the Miami Heat in the first round. Redick actually didn’t even help all that much on that front since he was inexplicably out of the rotation. With both Brandon Jennings and Monta Ellis becoming free agents and using up the majority of available guard minutes, adding another pending free agent to the mix made this offseason even more unpredictable John Hammond.

But this trade needs to be judged independently from the acquisition of Redick and acquiring two second picks is not a horrible haul considering how rare sign-and-trades are becoming under the NBA’s most restrictive CBA.

The Bucks will also receive a trade exception.

Grade for Bucks: B

Team-By-Team Gold Medal Winners

Since the United States began to allow professional players on their Olympic roster for the 1992 Games, there have been 63 NBA players to win Gold Medals. The United States has won the Gold Medal in five of the six Olympics, accounting for 60 of the players, while there were three NBA players on Argentina when they won in 2004.

The following team-by-team list tallies the Gold Medal winners at the time of their respective games.

The Utah Jazz have won the most Gold Medals with six, followed by the Thunder/Sonics with five, Bulls, Lakers, Heat and Knicks with four.

The Bobcats, Grizzlies, 76ers and Wizards have yet to have a player win a Gold Medal.

Atlanta Hawks (0)

Boston Celtics (1): Larry Bird (92)

Brooklyn Nets (1): Deron Williams (12)

Charlotte Bobcats (0)

Chicago Bulls (4): Michael Jordan (92), Scottie Pippen (92), Scottie Pippen (96), Andres Nocioni (04)

Cleveland Cavaliers (1): LeBron James (08)

Dallas Mavericks (1): Jason Kidd (08)

Denver Nuggets (3): Antonio McDyess (00), Carmelo Anthony (08), Andre Iguodala (12)

Detroit Pistons (3): Grant Hill (96), Carlos Delfino (04), Tayshaun Prince (08)

Golden State Warriors (1): Chris Mullin (92)

Houston Rockets (1): Hakeem Olajuwon (96)

Indiana Pacers (1): Reggie Miller (96)

Los Angeles Clippers (1): Chris Paul (12)

Los Angeles Lakers (4): Magic Johnson (92), Shaquille O’Neal (96), Kobe Bryant (08), Kobe Bryant (12)

Memphis Grizzlies (1): Shareef Abdur-Rahim (00)

Miami Heat (4): Tim Hardaway (00), Alonzo Mourning (00), Dwyane Wade (08), LeBron James (12)

Milwaukee Bucks (2): Ray Allen (00), Michael Redd (08)

Minnesota Timberwolves (3): Christian Laettner (92), Kevin Garnett (00), Kevin Love (12)

New Orleans Hornets (2): Chris Paul (08), Anthony Davis (12)

New York Knicks (4): Patrick Ewing (92), Allan Houston (00), Carmelo Anthony (12), Tyson Chandler (12)

Oklahoma City Thunder/Seattle Super Sonics (6): Gary Payton (96), Vin Baker (00), Gary Payton (00), Kevin Durant (12), James Harden (12), Russell Westbrook (12)

Orlando Magic: Dwight Howard (08)

Philadelphia 76ers (0): (Iguodala was member of 76ers until semifinals of 12 Olympics)

Phoenix Suns (3): Charles Barkley (92), Charles Barkley (96), Jason Kidd (00)

Portland Trail Blazers (2): Clyde Drexler (92), Steve Smith (00)

Sacramento Kings (1): Mitch Richmond (96)

San Antonio Spurs (3): David Robinson (92), David Robinson (96), Manu Ginobili (04)

Toronto Raptors (2): Vince Carter (00), Chris Bosh (08)

Utah Jazz (6): Karl Malone (92), John Stockton (92), Karl Malone (96), John Stockton (96), Carlos Boozer (08), Deron Williams (08)

Washington Wizards (0) 


The below list accounts only for Olympic Gold Medals since 1992.

Duke and UCLA have had three separate Gold Medalists, while Cal has had three by counting Jason Kidd’s two wins.

Alabama: Antonio McDyess (00)

Arizona: Andre Iguodala (12)

Arizona State: James Harden (12)

Auburn: Charles Barkley (92), Charles Barkley (96)

California: Shareef Abdur-Rahim (00), Jason Kidd (00), Jason Kidd (08)

Central Arkansas: Scottie Pippen (92), Scottie Pippen (96)

Connecticut: Ray Allen (00)

Duke: Christian Laettner (92), Grant Hill (96), Carlos Boozer (08)

Indiana State: Larry Bird (92)

Georgetown: Patrick Ewing (92), Alonzo Mourning (00)

Gonzaga: John Stockton (92), John Stockton (96)

Hartford: Vin Baker (00)

Houston: Clyde Drexler (92), Hakeem Olajuwon (96)

Kansas State: Mitch Richmond (96)

Kentucky: Tayshaun Prince (08), Anthony Davis (12)

Illinois: Deron Williams (08), Deron Williams (12)

LSU: Shaquille O’Neal (96)

Louisiana Tech: Karl Malone (92), Karl Malone (96)

Marquette: Dwyane Wade (08)

Memphis: Penny Hardaway (96)

Michigan State: Magic Johnson (92), Steve Smith (00)

Navy: David Robinson (92), David Robinson (96)

North Carolina: Michael Jordan (92), Vince Carter (00)

No College: Kevin Garnett (00), Kobe Bryant (08), Dwight Howard (08), LeBron James (08), Kobe Bryant (12), Tyson Chandler (12), LeBron James (12)

Ohio State: Michael Redd (08)

Oregon State: Gary Payton (96), Gary Payton (00)

St. John’s: Chris Mullin (92)

Syracuse: Carmelo Anthony (08), Carmelo Anthony (12)

Temple: Pepe Sanchez (04)

Tennessee: Allan Houston (00)

Texas: Kevin Durant (12)

UCLA: Reggie Miller (96), Kevin Love (12), Russell Westbrook (12)

UTEP: Tim Hardaway (00)

Wake Forest: Chris Paul (08), Chris Paul (12)

USA 2016 Will Threaten 1992 For Best Team Ever Assembled

LeBron James Dwight Howard and Kevin Durant will presumably be at their peaks in 2016 at the ages of 31, 30 and 27 respectively, and the depth of talent joining them will be remarkable and similarly in their prime.

The NBA's Clustering Of Stars

When the All-NBA teams were expanded to include a third team in 1989, 52% of the league had a representative. In 2012, it was just 33% as the Heat, Thunder, Knicks, Lakers and Clippers had multiple representatives. The Nets will likely join them in 2013 with Deron Williams and Dwight Howard.

The Center Depth Of The 2008 Draft Class

The centers of the 2008 Draft class figure prominently in the 2012 free agency and comprise six of the 30 starters at the game’s most valuable position.

Previewing The 2012 McDonald's All-American Game

Without the top-ranked recruit Nerlens Noel participating, the MVP of the 2012 McDonald's All-American Game could come down between Shabazz Muhammad and Gary Harris.

Lin's Influence On New York's Offense

While the general consensus is that Jeremy Lin’s statistical output will inevitably begin to taper off, the brilliance of his play over the past six games reconfirms the brilliance of the NBA’s superstars who consistently play at this type of level.

Grading The Deal: Rose Signs Max Extension With Bulls

The big win for the Bulls is that Derrick Rose didn’t insist on a player option that became vogue in 2006 with the extensions signed by LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh.

Grading The Deal: Nuggets Keep Nene, Afflalo

The Nuggets may have lost Wilson Chandler, J.R. Smith and Kenyon Martin to China (temporarily or forever), but only Nene and Aaron Afflalo were irreplaceable.

Grading The Deal: Blazers Sign Jamal Crawford

Longshots are longshots for a reason, but the Crawford signing does have the look and feel of something that will seem much more important in hindsight like Tyson Chandler, Trevor Ariza and James Posey.

Grading The Deal: Chris Paul To Turn L.A. Into Lob City

Chris Paul will now join Blake Griffin to form a super-tandem of their own that will be the most purely electric brand of basketball the city of Los Angeles has seen since the Showtime Lakers.

The NBA's Final Seven-Year Man

Jamal Crawford, Kobe Bryant, Kenyon Martin and Erick Dampier were the last players to sign seven-year contracts.

Grading The Deals: Clippers Match On Jordan, Bid On Billups

For a stretch of time on Monday, the Clippers were at the nexus of the NBA universe by matching DeAndre Jordan's $43 million contract, bidding on Chauncey Billups and trying to trade for Chris Paul.

Grading The Deal: Sixers Keep Thaddeus Young

Thaddeus Young is a very good off the bench scorer at either forward position, but his ability to improve his jumper will determine if he makes the lead to full-time lead weapon.

Grading The Deal: Clippers Sign Caron Butler

The Clippers had cap space and a need at small forward, so they filled it with a former All-Star coming off a knee injury.

Grading The Deal: Knicks Improve Interior Defense, Rebounding With Chandler

Swerving from their strategy of preserving cap space for a 2012, the Knicks signed Tyson Chandler and improved their biggest weaknesses.

Here's Your Leverage, Players

Up until this point in the NBA lockout, the players have let the 29 ownership groups hide behind David Stern and Adam Silver. Players need to publicly say there will be consequences for owners that take a hardline against them when it comes to free agency.

Look At Standings To See Where Individual Owners Stand On Labor Dispute

If LeBron James was with the Cavaliers and the Blazers hadn't endured injuries to Greg Oden and Brandon Roy, it is inconceivable that their owners would be hard-liners prepared to cancel an entire season of the NBA.

SEC Prospect Watch List

The SEC has three of the top-four freshmen in the country in Anthony Davis, Michael Gilchrist and Bradley Beal to go with sophomores Patric Young and Terrence Jones.

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