ATLANTA: LeBron James’ move to the Los Angeles Lakers gives new life to Eastern Conference teams that have been foiled by the game’s greatest player for nearly a decade, basketball Hall of Famer Reggie Miller said on Wednesday.
After James romped his way into the NBA Finals in each of the last eight seasons, those left in his wake can be excused if they are breathing a sigh of relief because their nemesis is now in the more competitive Western Conference.
“It’s a new lease on life in the Eastern Conference,” Miller, who spent his entire career with the East’s Indiana Pacers and is now an NBA analyst for TNT, told a conference call.
“Look, he held it down obviously, and that’s what the greats do, they dominate.”
The Boston Celtics, who came a game short of beating James and the Cleveland Cavaliers in last season’s East final despite playing without two top players, are considered to be the favourites to represent the Eastern Conference in next June’s NBA Finals.
The Toronto Raptors, bolstered by the offseason acquisition of former NBA Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard, and the Philadelphia 76ers, with a talented young core, are also among the teams thought to be in the mix.
The Pacers, who last season pushed the Cavaliers to a decisive seventh game in the first round of the playoffs, are another club in the Eastern mix.
“Indiana should’ve beaten Cleveland last year but didn’t because the greats rise to the occasion,” said Miller. “And I think Kawhi obviously getting to Toronto, it’s a new lease on life for him as well as that franchise.”
In the most anticipated move of the off-season, James, who won three NBA titles while playing in the Eastern Conference, signed a four-year deal to play in Los Angeles. where he will be surrounded by a mix of young players and journeymen.
The decision changed the landscape of the NBA and opened the door for Eastern Conference teams, who now know that the dominant James is no longer in their path to the NBA Finals.
“It’s great that LeBron has taken his talents out west because it opens up the doors for not only a lot of these young players, but these organisations,” said Miller.
“Something new to see who can compete for that Eastern crown.”