Change The NBA Playoff System!

Mark Bacon—Main Event Sports DC

Speaking last Saturday at his All-Star Weekend news conference, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver offered unprompted thoughts on the subject of re-working the NBA Playoffs, wondering aloud to reporters, “When we get to the playoffs, should we be taking either the best 16 teams or, even if we go eight from the West, eight from the East, seeding one through 16 going into the playoffs?”

Silver noted that, ideally, his league “would like to have a format where your two best teams are ultimately going to meet in the Finals,” pointing to “a situation where the top two teams in the league are meeting in the conference finals or somewhere else.” Silver did not mention, nor did he have to, that the two teams with the best records in the NBA this season, the Rockets and Warriors, both reside in the West.

On Wednesday, James, whose Cavs have the third-best record in the East and the fifth-best overall, said he “would disagree” with Silver’s suggestion to rework the playoffs. “I think our league has been built the right way as far as when it comes to the postseason,” James told reporters. “It just changes the landscape of the history of the game, if you start messing with seedings and playoffs,” James added.

LeBron went on to state that there are usually dominant teams, and Conferences, and messing with the time honored tradition was “crazy.”

It’s true that, in James’s 14 NBA seasons before this one, six league champions emerged from the East, including three Heat and Cavs teams that he led. However, in the five seasons before his arrival, Western teams won all those titles, and since the 1999-2000 season, just once has the East has produced a better record against its rival conference in head-to-head regular season play.

Possibly more pertinent to Silver’s concerns, in three of the past four seasons, the best two records in the NBA have belonged to teams in the West. Meanwhile, during James’s seven-year run of Finals appearances, starting with the Heat and continuing with the Cavs, his teams have had a top-two record just once (Miami, 2012-13).

James has benefited from being an extremely big fish in the smaller of the NBA’s ponds, no one is questioning his historical greatness, and his ongoing presence in the East has often been credited with salvaging the Finals as a compelling spectacle. In fact, one pundit suggested recently that Silver’s sudden interest in changing the playoff format was prompted by speculation that “James may bolt to the West” in the offseason as a free agent, (the Lakers is the commonly accepted wisdom).

If that does happen, at least the NBA won’t have to worry about a hopelessly lopsided All-Star Game next year. The league changed that format this year to divide the players, once voted on by fans and selected by coaches, into two teams formed by a draft, and the resulting contest was hailed as a refreshingly competitive affair.

All that being said… I agree with the Commissioner. I like a 16 team bracket, seeded like collegiate hoops, Further, expand the League from 30 to 36-38 teams. My reasoning?

  1. The best two teams would ostensibly meet. BUT that isn’t always the case in the NCAAs, so why expect that in a re-formatted NBA Playoffs? More excitement! The NBA Sweet 16 would have an added impetus to win it all. The big paycheck motivates, of course, but pride might enter into the equation, and revitalize a system that could use it. Not to mention a chance to “right the ship,” if injuries or other factors held a team’s regular season record down. Plus, if the Rockets and Warriors met in the Finals, so what??!! It’s the best teams in the world we’re talking about, regardless of geography.
  2. Increasing the number of teams could, I would hope, lead teams to draft more defensive specialists being taken. Teams now possess the best offensive talent in the world, right? Might be worth a gamble to clamp down on that trend by grabbing a defender on the level of Draymond Green or (dare I say it?) Dennis Rodman. If one team met success using that “device,” I would expect other teams to copy. I love defense, personally, and yeah, this is an idea that tickles me.
  3. New Markets might be fun. Likely would be. I’d say right off the bat Seattle and Baltimore are obvious expansion markets. Pittsburgh? St. Louis? Nashville? Austin? Cincinnati? Don’t think it would be hard to grab an additional 6 cities. Only place I would not consider is Louisville, KY. Too small. Not wealthy enough. I hear too much “I don’t like the NBA” from my hometown. Plus, KY Governor Matt Bevin is a stone cold insane man; he’d likely try to fuck with it, because that’s what insane people do. I think the expansion is a win.

LeBron probably thinks I am crazy. Maybe…?

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