AP Basketball Writer
LAS VEGAS (AP) – As star after star headed West this summer either in free agency or via trade, Los Angeles Clippers coach Doc Rivers became more and more bewildered.
“I think Gordon Hayward’s the smartest one. He got out of town,” Rivers said, referring to the All-Star’s move from Utah to Boston. “He went to the East. I really don’t understand the logic of this. It is what it is. It’s just going to be a harder conference, if that’s possible.”
Paul George, Jimmy Butler and Paul Millsap were all All-Stars in the Eastern Conference last season who will play in the West next season. Chris Paul chose to leave the Clippers, but stayed in the West to join James Harden in Houston and important role players like Jeff Teague, P.J. Tucker and Patrick Patterson all left teams in the East to come West for a run at the Golden State Warriors.
Rather than running from the Warriors, who burned down the league last season and seemed poised to dominate for the near future with four All-Stars all in their prime, most teams in the West are running right into the fire.
“The other way, that’s a defeatist attitude,” Nuggets coach Michael Malone said. “How long can you wait? I don’t know if Kevin Durant, Steph Curry, Klay and those guys are going anywhere for a while. You just can’t go into hibernation, wake up and say, ‘OK, it’s our time.’ We compete.”
One of the most common measurements of a single player’s impact on a team’s overall success is win shares – an analytic that estimates the number of wins a player produces for his team. Using that as a guide, calculated by the research site basketball-reference.com, the Western Conference has added 174.5 win shares to its roster this summer. That number takes into account free agent signings, like Millsap leaving Atlanta for Denver, the major trades of George from Indiana to Oklahoma City and Butler to Minnesota, and the re-signings of players including Stephen Curry and Kevin Durant with Golden State.
The Eastern Conference, by contrast, added 127.6 win shares by Friday afternoon. Hayward was the lone bankable star to move from the West to the East, while Kyle Lowry re-signed with Toronto and Otto Porter stayed with Washington on a new four-year, $110 million deal.
For more than two decades the Western Conference has lorded over the East in terms of…