Between the end of the Jordan Bulls and the beginning of the LeBron age, the Eastern Conference is 2–7 in NBA Finals, primarily because two Western Conference bigs changed conferences (Rasheed Wallacde in 2004, and Shaq in 2006).
Since LeBron first began to dominate the NBA, reaching his first NBA Finals in 2007, the 2008 Celtics are the only non-LeBron Eastern Conference team to win a championship.
With the depletion of talent from an already weak Eastern Conference, does it even matter to talk about a Boston team that could eventually get the honor to get swept by a superior team from the West?
If we adjust for the regular season conference percentage, Boston was a 49 win team in the West, good for the 6th seed and the possibility to play on the road against Houston, San Antonio and Golden State. But they would have lost in the first round against Houston, and we wouldn’t be speculating on the Celtics’ future chance to win the East.
If we do the same calculation for the best non-LeBron Eastern teams we get:
2016: Toronto 5th seed in the West (52–30 adjusted record) plays on the road against the Clippers, Spurs and Warriors
2015: Atlanta, 2nd seed in the West (60–22 adjusted record) plays at home against Dallas and Houston, then on the road at Golden State
2014: Indiana, 6th seed in the West (52–30 adjusted record) plays on the road against the Clippers, Thunder and Spurs
2013: New York Knicks, 6th seed in the West (51–31 adjusted record) plays on the road against Denver, San Antonio and Oklahoma City
2012: Chicago Bulls, 3rd seed in the West (46–20 adjusted record) plays Denver at home, then OKC and San Antonio on the road
2011: Chicago Bulls, 1st seed in the West (62–20 adjusted record) plays home against Memphis, Dallas and San Antonio
2010: Boston Celtics (Eastern Champion), misses the playoffs (49–33 adjusted record)
2009: Orlando Magic (Eastern Champion), 2nd seed (59–23 adjusted record) plays home to New Orleans and Denver on the road at the Lakers
Out of nine years, only one team would be favored to reach the NBA Finals if they had to go through the West, while four would lose in the first round and the 2010 Celtics would have missed the playoffs completely.
In a non-LeBron world, the East would be 4–15 in NBA Finals since 1999. Only four of the actual Finals have gone to a game 7, while nine of them have ended in five games or less.
Clearly we need to rework playoff seedings to make for more competitive and compelling playoff series and a fairer test for the NBA Finals.