NBA: Eliminate conferences for playoff seeding?

I’ve been meaning to do a post about how woeful the East is again this year when I saw this article on Long story short, among other things, the writer proposes the much discussed change of making playoff seeding be dependent on record rather than conferences.

For those who don’t know, the NBA takes the top 8 teams from both the East and West conferences for the playoffs. Since the league only has 30 teams, some rather ridiculously bad teams sneak into the playoffs each year. However, unlike the NCAA tournament, a few #1 seeds have been upset in the first round before, most recently in 2007 I think, and once an #8 seed made it to the finals, so its not completely crazy.

Yet Dwyer makes a good point and backs it up with facts: The West is on an unbelievable string of dominance, having been the better conference for the past 15 years straight. While plenty of East teams have won it all, I can’t remember the last time the worst team in the East was better than the worst team in the West.

I’ve heard the former commissioner David Stern (may he rot in hell) talk about this before, and he always brings up the cyclical nature of dominance, and that’s fine and all, but why should that matter? Why shouldn’t the best teams get in? Having a below 0.500 team get into the playoffs is an embarrassment to the league, I think. It cheapens the product, and to have it consistently happen is terrible.

Another excuse I hear is that travel times between East and West teams are too tiring in the 2-2-1-1-1 format that non-Finals playoffs have to adhere to. I have little sympathy for that. For one thing, this change was done in 1985 because apparently Red Auerbach was sick of the traveling between LA and Boston. And doing research on this thread, I just discovered that the NBA has voted to return the Finals to the 2-2-1-1-1 format again. Also, with chartered planes and privacy befitting a billion dollar industry, its not that bad anymore. Players and coaches travel in luxury.

This year seems to be one of the more dominant years and would have been a great year for this format to commence. Off the top of my head, I think 2007-08 was one of the strongest West years, when a 50 win Denver Nuggets team was the #8 seed and a 48 win Golden State Warriors team was on the outside looking in. The #8 seed in the East that year? 37 win Atlanta. In fact, if Denver was in the East that year, they’d be the 4th seed.

This year, we have the Phoenix Suns (44-30), Dallas Mavericks (44-30), and Memphis Grizzlies (43-30) battling for 2 spots in the West. Each has the potential to win 52 games and be out of the playoffs, though realistically they’ll probably fall within 47-50 wins.

The East is just so terrible this year. Up until late January, I think they had maybe 2 or 3 teams above 0.500. Its only in the last couple of months that some teams have started to cement a winning record. Other than the top 2 teams, potential seeds #3-#8 has a record from 42-31 to 31-41. Its pretty much a guarantee that 2 teams will finish with a losing record and the seeds higher than them aren’t faring much better.

I think that travel aside, there absolutely no negatives to switching to a seeding based playoff format. They can still retain conferences when it comes to deciding who plays who, but the playoffs are referred to as the “second season” for a reason. I’m just sick of having only half the first round be watchable in the East every year. Its not exciting to see and I’d much rather focus on West seedings where for the month and a half leading up the playoffs, every win is so important. We’ve had a threeway tie in the standings one year. Another year had two pairs of ties but one other team got higher due to being a division winner. Multiple years have teams not knowing their seeding until the last night of the regular season. Meanwhile, the only drama in the East is usually how many games under 0.500 a team will finish and still be in the playoffs. Its stupid and embarrassing, change the format already!

While I agree the East has blown for the better part of a decade, it seems this method should just be the 1st step to abolishing conferences.

On a somewhat related topic: there was a 13 month window awhile back in which the East turned over its entire coaching fraternity. What yr was that?

This was the only reference I could find, says that in this past offseason, 13 coaches were replaced. Looking at this list, it seems 8 of the 13 are in the East.

No coaches in the East except for Spoelstra have coached longer than Tom Thibedeau, start date June 2010. I couldn’t name 4 coaches if I tried.