Playoff Format Needs Some Adjustments Made
It's another year of NBA action, which means another year of watching the Eastern Conference implode on itself. Only two teams out of the east have records above .500, the first time that has happened this late in the season since 1972.. Compare that to the Western Conference where a dozen teams have a winning percentage at or above .500. This isn't anything new, the West has dominated the standings for over a decade. Many consider the drafting of Tim Duncan in 1997 to be the point when the two conferences began to diverge in competitive nature.
This year's top story out of the woeful conference? How awful is the Atlantic Division and just how bad can it get? Currently, the New York Knicks own the worst record in perhaps the worst division in basketball. They have earned the title of the Titanic Knicks, since much like the ship, they are in fact at the bottom of the Atlantic.
With such awful teams playing together in such a mediocre division, is it time the NBA eroded its current model of divisions and simply reverted to a simple Eastern and Western Conference? What's the point of having a division if it means that a woeful team like the Boston Celtics who own an 8-14 record can somehow have the 4th seed in the East, whereas out West the Oklahoma City Thunder and L.A. Clippers are tied with records of 13-7. Does that make a lot of sense to you? It's time the league did away with divisions and left the conferences as they were.
While they're at it, they need to revamp the playoff format and use the D-League system, originally implemented in 2009. The NBA's Developmental League has 17 teams, eight of which make the postseason each year. The top three division winners get to choose their first-round opponent with the top seed selecting first and so forth. Think of the possibilities with such a model in the NBA.
Games would matter down the stretch if a team wanted to secure its first-round opponent. Do away with divisions as they really mean very little in the great scheme of things. Golden State can still play the likes of Phoenix, Sacramento and the two L.A. teams, the division is no longer necessary.
Imagine if someone like Derrick Rose (not too far-fetched) goes down with an injury near the end of the season and while Chicago still makes the postseason, only wins three of their last 12 games , dropping to a fifth or sixth seed. Wouldn't it be advantageous for a top team to play against an opponent that's missing a star player?
Again, it's all about debate and discussion when it comes to the league, and all the fans can debate and argue which opponent would be best for their team to match up with. Whether it comes down to guard play, rebounding ability or three-point shooting, matchups can be a nightmare. Just look at the We Believe team of 2007. With their run-and-gun offense and shooting at breakneck speeds, it's no wonder they were too much to handle for Dirk Nowitzki and company. Plus I'm sure it didn't help to have a ravenous fan base in a rocking Oracle Arena with everyone on their feet the entire game screaming at the top of their lungs.
Too many teams make the playoffs with the current model anyway. More than half the league makes the playoffs, more than both the MLB and NFL. If there's a way to make the playoffs more interesting then why not take advantage of this model? For the most part, the first-round of the NBA playoffs are a joke anyway. With very few upsets (again, Golden State upsetting the no. 3 seeded Denver Nuggets, otherwise known as the Hitmen Squad according to former coach George Karl), the first-round is mostly fodder as the elite teams simply walk to the second-round without breaking a sweat. Do we get exciting matchups in the first-round? The Memphis and L.A. Clippers series have proven to be entertaining, while the Knicks collapse and eventual demise is always entertaining to watch. I wish Spike Lee would ask Carmelo Anthony if the shoes are the reason his team is playing so awful.
Why not go a step further with the playoff realignment? Teams choosing first-round opponents is one thing, but why not let it be a free-for-all once the regular season ends?
Imagine a scenario where the top teams could handpick their opponents from across conferences? Think of all the Western Conference teams that would have a field-day against the allegedly talented Eastern Conference teams. Both top seeds would select, then the number two seeds and so forth. In this case it would create a scenario where all the east teams would be gobbled up first requiring eastern conference teams to face-off against superior Western Conference teams.
The rounds thereafter would simply be re-seeded and bracketed with the highest seed playing the lowest seed and so-forth. The NBA would see a tremendous ratings increase with the new playoff potential. Heck, they could make the playoff choices a special on ESPN and label it, 'The Decision 2.0' where Lebron will donate proceeds once more to the Boys and Girls Club of America to cleanse his guilty conscience.
Let's face it, the current model as is doesn't work anymore. Why reward these awful teams with playoff appearances while the much more competitive Western Conference has a Golden State team as its eighth seed, (they'd be a top-three seed in the East). The Portland Trailblazers said it best this past week on Twitter, "Is it too late to switch to the Eastern Conference? Asking for a friend."
Portland might not find a lot of friends out west, as they own the top seed in the conference. But who knows, maybe they were asking for the Lakers, after all, Kobe could use an easy road to recovery couldn't he?