NBA Needs Restructuring

Hidden underneath the recent controversies in the NBA, such as the possible fixing of games, is the undeniable fact that the NBA is in need of some serious restructuring. Seven of the top ten teams in the NBA come from the Western Conference. Once you get past Detroit, Orlando and Boston in the East, there is a surprising amount of mediocrity. Meanwhile, in the West, the Warriors missed the playoffs while being sixteen games over .500, a record that would qualify them for fourth place in the East. In addition to Golden State, there are two teams in the West that did not make the playoffs that would qualify in the East. Of the Eastern Conference teams that qualified, Atlanta was eight games under .500, Philadelphia was two games under .500 and Toronto finished exactly at the .500 mark. 

My concern regarding these standings is that this not a single season anomaly. In the 2006-2007 season the West had the three best teams in the NBA. The East sent one sub-.500 team to the playoffs, and two .500 teams, the West sent none. In the 2005-2006 season the West had three of the top four teams in the NBA. The East sent one sub-.500 team to the playoffs and two .500 teams to the playoffs, the worst Western Conference team that qualified was six games above .500. In the 2004-2005 season the West had three of the top four teams in the NBA. The East sent two teams to the playoffs that were only two games over .500, while the worst team that qualified in the West was eight games over.

So what needs to be done? How about some good old fashioned restructuring? When other leagues have turned to restructuring in the past, there have been positive returns. The MLB restructured their divisions in 1993 and football followed almost a decade later, switching up their divisions in 2002. Granted, these changes were made to accommodate the creation of new divisions, not simply to add more competition, but the changes helped to improve the performance of the given leagues. The NFL has more parity now than it ever had, partially because of the way the league changed after it was restructured. Baseball has seen wildcard champions and heated division rivalries ever since it switched up its league structure. The NBA should follow suit.

I will first present why I think the restructuring would help the game of basketball and then I will provide my idea for the new NBA format.

Balanced Competition
The major advantage to restructuring would be an increase in competition. Sure it’s great to see these close playoff races with evenly matched teams, but wouldn’t it be even better if we could see these close games with evenly matched teams in the playoffs? Shouldn’t Golden State, and even Portland for that matter, have the right to duke it out in a playoff series and not watch as Atlanta gets throttled by the Celtics? Golden State last year provided the perfect example for what can happen when you put a talented team in a do-or-die situation. We need the best teams in the playoffs so that we can sit back and watch good, exciting basketball where anything can happen. We don’t need them to beat the snot out of each other before even getting into the playoffs.

Increased Rivalries
Basketball has a huge following, but the one thing that it lacks is numerous captivating rivalries. It has a few that can be argued: Rockets-Spurs, Lakers-Celtics, Suns-Mavs but can any of these really hold a candle to the likes of the Red Sox-Yankees, Cubs-White Sox, Mets-Braves or Raiders-Chiefs, Giants-Cowboys and Bears-Packers? Sure, the Celtics and Lakers rivalry was heated, twenty years ago. Now it has become more of an afterthought. Rivalries in the NBA come and go as fast as the season does. The next time the Suns get into a tough, competitive, physical series with another Western conference team, they might have a brand new rival. Carefully selected divisions could allow for more heated, longer-lasting rivalries, not ones that are just predicated on playoff success.

Nobody Will Notice
Another reason restructuring will work is that after a few years, nobody will notice. Who really remembers that the Milwaukee Brewers were an AL team a few years ago? Who remembers that the Mets and Braves have only been in the same division since 1995? These are things that slip our minds when we are happy and accustomed to what is in front of us. Sure, people might get a little flustered initially, but when the quality of play and rivalries improve, nobody is going to remember who used to be where.

My New Plan
The NBA should join the likes of the MLB and NFL and give up geographic divisions at the conference level. The creation of a National League and American League allows for more flexibility in arranging teams based on talent, but also keeping some of the most treasured rivalries. 

Here’s how it should be set up: 

American League 

East
Boston Celtics
New York Knicks
Chicago Bulls
Philadelphia 76ers
Miami Heat

West
LA Lakers
Phoenix Suns
SA Spurs
Sacramento Kings
Houston Rockets

North
Cleveland Cavaliers
Portland Trailblazers
Toronto Raptors
Seattle Supersonics
Indiana Pacers

National League

East
NJ Nets
Washington Wizards
Orlando Magic
Charlotte Bobcats
Atlanta Hawks

West
Golden State Warriors
LA Clippers
Dallas Mavericks
NO Hornets
Memphis Grizzlies

North
Detroit Pistons
Milwaukee Bucks
Minnesota Timberwolves
Denver Nuggets
Utah Jazz

Now this system has a few benefits. For one, it splits the teams with the top ten records right down the middle, five and five. The East would have the Celtics, Lakers, Suns, Spurs and Rockets and the West would have the Pistons, Mavericks, Hornets, Magic and Jazz. We would see an even distribution of talent on both sides of the league.
Another reason this system would work is because of the rivalries it would create, or re-create within the divisions. We would now get to see the Bulls and Knicks back in the same division, allowing the teams to rekindle the rivalry that drove the 90s. The Lakers and Celtics would find themselves in the same league, causing the new generation to truly understand the rivalry. The Mavericks and Warriors could build on the rivalry that was created in last years playoffs by now being in the same league. And think of the National League North. With Lebron, Greg Oden and Kevin Durant all in the same division, it would be a great youth rivalry for years to come. We get to see Al Jefferson and Andrew Bogut go head-to-head in the American League North and Dwight Howard battle Emeka Okeafor in the American League East. 

It also keeps current rivalries together. The Suns and Spurs will still be playing each other regularly in the National League West, as will the Spurs and Rockets and Denver and Utah can keep battling it out in the American League North.

If these divisions were established this year, just think of the playoff games that we would see. The NL would see: Boston-Toronto, LA Lakers-Portland, San Antonio-Cleveland and Houston-Phoenix while the AL would see: Detroit-Washington, New Orleans-Golden State, Utah-Denver and Orlando-Dallas. No team under .500 would be in the playoffs and every series would be a battle.

Great performances are fueled by competition and the NBA would be served to increase the competition if it wants to see more great performances.

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1 Comment

  1. that is not a bad idea.


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