Go West, young man: NBA stars cluster in Western Conference

FILE - In this June 29, 2017, file photo, Minnesota Timberwolves new point guard Jimmy Butler, right, pats Timberwolves head coach Tom Thibodeau on the back during a press conference at Mall of America in Bloomington, Minn. The NBA has for years had an issue with the Western Conference being superior to the East, but next season promises to have the widest talent gap yet after a flurry of stars left their teams in the East to try to challenge the mighty Warriors in the West. (AP Photo/Andy Clayton-King, File)



AP Basketball Writer

LAS VEGAS — 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.”