Monday, July 3, 2017

Don't Let the 'Imbalanced Conferences' Crisis Go to Waste

Have you heard?  The West is stacked.  After having four of the five best teams and eight of the ten best players last season, the League has slid even further left (geographically).  Paul George to the Pacers.  Jimmy Butler to the T-Wolves.  Even Brook Lopez to the Lakers added more tilt to the talent scales.

2007 sure seems like a long time ago.  A decade ago, the Bucks had one of the most entertaining, dynamic teams in the League (they beat the eventual champion Spurs twice) and finished their East-heavy schedule with a .341 winning percentage.  Kidd & Carter's Nets could only muster .500.  The Shaq/Wade Heat were swept in round one.  All while the paper-soft 1 and 2 out West -- Mavs and Suns -- fell in the first and second rounds, respectively.

The good news is that NBA conference imbalance is cyclical, but the even better news is that some people view the West's current preeminence as a crisis.  As the great Rahm Emanuel famously said, "you never want a crisis to go to waste."  Emanuel meant that when crises happen, the entrenched are vulnerable to needed change.

Bucks Forest would like to see the NBA explore switching to an NHL-style setup, where there are four divisions and teams stay within division for the first two rounds.

The key to the four division setup -- which the NHL hasn't pulled the trigger on, yet -- is that it gives the League more flexibility in avoiding having the top two teams matchup before the Finals.  If the NBA had four divisions -- call them North, South, East and West -- the League could wait until each division crowns its champion, then seed the last four teams for the semi-finals and Finals.

This may be a bit much to digest, so here's an example:

Let's say that the NBA went to four divisions, like so:

NORTH
Bucks
Bulls
Raps
T-Wolves
Grizzlies
Pacers
Pistons

SOUTH
Heat
Magic
Hawks
NOLA
Rockets
Spurs
Mavs
Thunder

EAST
Knicks
Celts
Sixers
Cavs
Nets
Hornets
Wiz

WEST
Lakers
Clips
Dubs
Kings
Blazers
Suns
Nugs
Jazz

If the top four from each division make the postseason, then the 2017 Playoffs would've looked like this (ignoring scheduling differences and such):

North: (1) Raps vs. (4) Pacers, (2) Grizz vs. (3) Bucks
South: (1) Spurs vs. (4) Hawks, (2) Rockets vs. (3) Thunder
East: (1) Celts vs. (4) Hornets, (2) Cavs vs. (3) Wiz
West: (1) Dubs vs. (4) Blazers, (2) Clips vs. (3) Jazz

In this example, the Bulls, Heat, Pistons and Nuggets kind of get screwed and the Hornets get lucky.  Every system has flaws, though.

The advantages of this system come once the Playoffs start.  If we assume that the Raps, Spurs, Cavs and Dubs win their divisions (and, judging by the 2017 Playoffs, that seems fair), then that means that the League has the ability to "seed" the final four in order to provide more compelling matchups.

Basing semi-final seeding on regular season record, it would've been:

Dubs (West) vs. Raps (North)
Spurs (South) vs. Cavs (East)

Dubs vs. Raps may have ended up being just as one-sided as the actual 2017 semi-finals were, but how about that other matchup?  Spurs on the home court vs. Cavs?  Sign me up.  And we still get a tantalizing Finals matchup: either Dubs vs. Spurs or Dubs vs. Cavs.

What we end up with is a system that could result in less fairness for the middling (read: 7th and 8th seed contenders) teams, but more excitement once the Playoffs reach the semi-finals.  No more "easy path" to the Finals, like the Cavs had this year, the Dubs had in 2015, the Heat had in 2014, the Spurs had in 2013, etc.  I think that's a good trade off that most fans would like.