Published April 15, 2023
The NBA Time Machine:
The NBA’s World
After adding four expansion teams in the past five years, the NBA continued taking advantage of its opportunities to grow. Therefore came three new faces – the Buffalo Braves, Cleveland Cavaliers, and Portland Trail Blazers.
Cleveland had briefly experienced ties to the league in the inaugural season, with the Cleveland Rebels. That franchise folded immediately after, but this was a welcoming addition that gave the Cincinnati Royals an inter-state rival. Buffalo and Portland were entirely new destinations – they added depth to the already established northeast and rapidly growing west coast, respectively.
Due to the sheer amount of clubs filling the NBA, the standings format was re-imagined. Instead of simply having Eastern and Western Divisions, the league now adopted conferences.
- The Eastern Conference included:
- The Atlantic Division (i.e., Knicks), comprised of teams located in the northeast.
- The Central Division (i.e., Bullets), comprised of eastern teams close to the Atlantic Ocean, but south of New England.
- The Western Conference included:
- The Midwest Division (i.e., Bulls), comprised of teams located in the “mid-west” region of the U.S., as well as the distant Phoenix Suns.
- The Pacific Division (i.e., Rockets), comprised of teams located along the Pacific Ocean.
The playoff eligibility format also saw change – each conference still had four representatives, but it was simply the top two from each division. The advantage of this format was the increase in competitive rigor, but it incentivized mediocre teams in a bad division. For example, the Atlanta Hawks made the playoffs while finishing five games below .500.
Going All In
A messy season under new coach Bob Cousy – as well as complications regarding his financial future with the Cincinnati Royals – left Oscar Robertson eager to leave his hometown. Many attempts to move the superstar ensued, including a failed trade proposal to the Baltimore Bullets, denied by Robertson himself.
By April of 1970, it seemed almost definitive that his future destination was the budding Milwaukee Bucks. They boasted a solid infrastructure for such an inexperienced team, including three All-Stars in the past two seasons and an M.V.P. contender in Lew Alcindor. By the third week of April, transactions had brought Robertson over in exchange for star guard Flynn Robinson. A large influence on the success of this trade was former Royal Wayne Embry, who now held a front office role in Milwaukee.
The trade was considered one of the biggest blockbuster moves in league history, pairing a former M.V.P. with a potential future one – a new contender had arrived.
In his sophomore season, Alcindor was already the best player in the NBA. He led everybody in scoring, finished top five in rebounds, and guided Milwaukee to a sixty-win effort. This won him an unsurprising first M.V.P. award.
While teammate Willis Reed was also great, Frazier drove the bus this year. He remained one of the best guards in the NBA, putting effort in on both ends to clinch the Knicks their third consecutive fifty-win season.
After a rough down year, Havlicek made an undeniable jump into superstardom as the best forward in the league. Boston returned to the win column, and the sixth man-turned-cornerstone finished top four in both scoring and assists.
On a Bulls team sneakily loaded with talent, Love was the best player. He was a two-way force that was consistently available at high minutes, nearly always on the floor for the fifty-win club. His efforts helped Chicago snag the third-best record league-wide.
West enjoyed an excellent campaign for most of the season, leading Los Angeles to forty-four wins before going down with a season-ending knee injury. He totaled the highest assists average of his career, and would have finished second league-wide if not for the omitted time. The Lakers plummeted in his absence, posting a pitiful 4-9 record in his missed matches.
Around the League
An asterisk (*) indicates that the team qualified for the playoffs.