When Lebron James decided to sign with the Los Angeles Lakers last offseason, the Eastern Conference took notice. It opened up the opportunities for all Eastern conference teams to represent the East in the NBA finals.
So how did he impact the East to make things so much more entertaining?
A surge of stars: One of the best things about Lebron leaving the East is the opportunity for more star players to step up and lead their team in the playoffs.
These are the guys that have benefited the most from Lebron leaving:
- Giannis Antetokounmpo: Averaging 27.4 points and 11.3 rebounds per game, Giannis has been dominant in the playoffs. Neither the Pistons nor Celtics were able to stop him as he has led the Milwaukee Bucks to a stellar 2019 postseason.
- Kawhi Leonard: With Lebron moving East, the Raptors finally don’t have to worry about getting swept by King James any more. Leonard made sure of that and has been the leading scorer in almost every game for Toronto. He even had an unreal game-winner in Game 7 against Philly to help the Raptors advance to the conference finals.
- D’Angelo Russell: The first time All-Star led the Nets to the playoffs, averaging 19.4 points a game and earning a win in the first round. He lived up to the expectations that were brought upon him when he was traded from the Lakers. He is only 24 years old and is just getting started.
New teams: With Lebron traveling west, it opened the door for new teams to make the playoffs.
There were two young teams that felt the effect:
- Brooklyn Nets: Led by D’Angelo Russell, the Nets’ rebuild went quicker than expected and they were able to earn the sixth seed in the 2019 playoffs. Although they lost in the first round to the Philadelphia 76ers, the Nets were the second-youngest team in the playoffs and are trending in the right direction
- Orlando Magic: For the first time since the Dwight Howard years, the Magic sneaked into the playoffs and gave the Raptors fits. They are also young with an established All-Star in Nikola Vucevic, who surprised many with the way he played this season.
Matchups for the future: It is a lot more fun when you do not know who will make it out of the East. When Lebron left, new rivalries were created.
Here are a few that stand out:
- Giannis vs. Kawhi: A matchup between two of the best players in the East is certainly what makes these current playoffs even better. For the past decade it was Lebron vs. whichever team could matchup against him. As always, he was the favorite no matter what. There will finally be a new king in the East as it comes down to which of these superstars plays the best.
- Dudley vs. Sixers: Who would have thought that a rivalry would ensue between the Nets and the Sixers? Jared Dudley did his best to get in the heads of the Sixers players and it sparked a rivalry between two young teams that could go on for years.