By: Johnny Dahabara
For as long as the NBA has been around conferences have provided the league with structure as far as scheduling and seedings go. In recent years however there has been an ever increasing feeling of uncertainty around the conference system. The lack of balance between conferences have led many, including league commissioner Adam Silver, to take a closer look at the format and potentially make changes. The NBA should get rid of the seeding system for playoffs for a few reasons. The format is outdated, bad teams tend to make playoffs in some seasons, and without conference seeding their would be many more enjoyable matchups for the fans.
When the NBA-ABA merger in 1976 took place the league had 18 teams and was still growing. Teams couldn't afford transportation like we can now. The conference seeding system gave the league an easy way to handle scheduling and transportation issues. Now with more sophisticated forms of transportation there is no reason why flying from LA to New York for example should be the reason that conferences are in place. Scheduling makes sense for the regular season due to divisions and the amount of games in a season, come playoff time however that is simply no excuse.
Another reason for ditching conferences in the playoffs is that unqualified teams make the cut while winning teams don’t simply because of geographical reasons. The Western conference has won 14 of the last 20 NBA finals. Half of those Eastern wins were by LeBron James led teams. The west currently has every active MVP and the entire All-NBA first team from last season. On top of that there have been many seasons where a Western team missed the playoffs and had a better record than an Eastern playoff team. Let’s look at a recent example of this, the 2015 season. In the 2015 Season the Russell Westbrook led Thunder and Anthony Davis led Pelicans both finished with 45 wins and fell out of playoff contention. The 8th seed Brooklyn Nets meanwhile won only 38 games (an overall losing record) and secured a playoff spot. The Thunder and Pelicans records in the East would have been good enough for the 6 and 7 seeds placing them in playoff contention. Going a decade back to the 2008 season we can find an even more extreme example of this. The Golden State Warriors finished with 48 wins and didn’t secure a playoff spot because every West playoff team finished with at least 50 wins. How did the East compare? Only 3 teams finished with over 50 wins and the Warriors, instead of being a 9 seed, would have finished in the top 4; Not only securing a playoff spot but also having home court for the first round. Getting rid of playoff seeding wouldn’t just stop bad teams from getting in, it would ensure that winning teams are rewarded for their efforts. Not to mention all the exciting matchups we’d get to see.
Think of the best players to ever grace the court. Now think of how many 7 (or 5 before the format change in 2005) game series we could have seen, or seen more of, between some of the games best. One of the biggest reasons the NBA was propelled in the 80’s was the Magic Johnson Larry Bird rivalry. This rivalry stemmed from the fact that they faced off each other year in year out in a series, not just a few games during the season. Had there not been conferences we could have seen Steve Nash toe to toe with Jason Kidd, Wade against Melo, and the biggest matchup that never was, Kobe versus LeBron. Getting ridding of conference seeding would increase the chances of great teams, and players, meeting each other. The more meetings the more a real rivalry can be created and who doesn’t like that?
Conferences may be necessary for scheduling and that’s reasonable, they aren’t needed for playoffs though. Essentially getting rid of conference seeding would open the door to better competition and more exciting matchups for the fans. Sure, their might be some problems with transportation, however the positives from a seedless playoffs far outweighs the negatives. A new more updated 1-16 format would allow for more competitive matchups and ensure that the best teams make the playoffs. It may not be an easy thing to implement but once it’s done the league and the fans only question left will be why it took so long.
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