NBA

The Overdue NBA Conference Realignment That Benefits All

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Towards the end of last season, a major problem for the NBA was revealed: the league experienced a sharp ratings drop.

Now, there could be a number of different reasons for that. First, the ratings decline simply could have been a result of the coronavirus, and fewer people being interested in recreation as the stories on the news grew more and more dire. Another could’ve been that many of the games, once the season restarted, were played in the afternoon when most of the viewers were working.

However, there could be another few reasons. First, the league hasn’t exactly been competitive for a while. The relative weakness of the East when compared to the West has been so widely acknowledged that it’s almost corny to make jokes about it on Twitter, and over the last six years just five different teams have made the Finals. Not only that, but every Finals since 2010 has featured either Steph Curry or LeBron James. Needless to say, many fans I’m sure are feeling the league is beginning to grow a little predictable.

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With predictability comes apathy, and with apathy comes former fans taking hiatuses in viewing, or else changing the channel entirely. Luckily, there is a way to fix this.

Change the NBA conferences.

This isn’t just going to be another article moaning about how “the Bulls belong in the West!” or “the Timberwolves should be in the East” (even though they TOTALLY SHOULD!). No, this is a much more drastic change. One that could literally change the direction a team is heading overnight.

Split the league into Northern and Southern Conferences. Then, have five divisions of three teams who are geographically next to each other.

Here’s what it would look like:

NORTHERN CONFERENCE

Pacific Division

  • Golden State Warriors
  • Sacramento Kings
  • Portland Trail Blazers

Central Division

  • Utah Jazz
  • Denver Nuggets
  • Indiana Pacers

Midwest Division

  • Minnesota Timberwolves
  • Chicago Bulls
  • Milwaukee Bucks

Great Lakes Division

  • Toronto Raptors
  • Cleveland Cavaliers
  • Detroit Pistons

Northeast Division

  • New York Knicks
  • Brooklyn Nets
  • Boston Celtics

SOUTHERN CONFERENCE

Southwest Division

  • Los Angeles Lakers
  • LA Clippers
  • Phoenix Suns

Lone Star Division

  • Dallas Mavericks
  • Houston Rockets
  • San Antonio Spurs

Midsouth Division

  • Oklahoma City Thunder
  • Memphis Grizzlies
  • New Orleans Pelicans

Atlantic Division

  • Charlotte Hornets
  • Washington Wizards
  • Philadelphia 76ers

Florida-Georgia Division

Now that the conferences have been shaken up, here’s how the playoffs would work.

The top-performing team from each division would gain immediate entry into the playoffs, though, they’d be ranked based on their conference record. For instance, let’s say the Bucks are the best team in the North. They’d go in as the one seed. But then let’s say that Toronto has the best record in the Great Lakes Division, but have the fourth-best record in the North. They’d go into the playoffs, but as a four seed. Not a two seed.

After that, the second-place team in every division would go into a play-in tournament (for record keeping purposes this will not count as a playoff appearance), with the team with the best record receiving a first-round bye. Teams two and five will play each other and teams three and four will play each other in a one-game series.

Then, the winners of those games (let’s say 2 and 4 for now) face each other in another one-game series. After that, the winner (Team 2, we’ll say) plays team one. Team 2, in this case, must win twice to win the tournament. Team one just needs one win.

After that, the three teams in the semi- and finals (in this case teams 1, 2 and 4) are put into the playoffs and seeded based on win%. So in this example (let’s say team one won their first game), the sixth seed is Team 1, the seventh seed is Team 2, and the eighth seed is Team 4.

With this new format in place, it means the playoffs last year would’ve looked like this (assuming the teams with the best record won their play-in games):

NORTH

  1. Bucks
  2. Raptors
  3. Celtics
  4. Nuggets
  5. Blazers
  6. Pacers
  7. Nets
  8. Kings

SOUTH (Note: Due to the Clippers being second in the South, but also second in the Southwest, the 2-5 teams received a one- to two-seed bump)

  1. Lakers
  2. Rockets
  3. Thunder
  4. Heat
  5. 76ers
  6. Clippers
  7. Mavericks
  8. Grizzlies

While this may seem like an unfair system which causes top teams to fight unjustly for their lives, that’s not the case at all. Using the model from the 2019-2020 standings, there was just one team who ranked in the top eight in their conference but missed the playoffs: the Utah Jazz. Really, what this playoff system does is give the bottom-tier teams a little bit of hope for a postseason run.

With this new playoff design, as well as the league restructuring, the NBA could be set to see a huge ratings bump. Currently, the bottom three or four teams in each conference are more persuaded to tank their season in hopes of a draft pick rather than compete for 82 games. With this system, those bottom-tier teams would recognize they still have a great chance to make the playoffs.

This system also still allows the NBA to expand to the two markets that are currently being involved in expansion rumors: Seattle (North) and Las Vegas (South). For what it’s worth, Seattle would go into the Pacific Division and Las Vegas into the Southwest.

A league redesign helps everyone. It gives fans a renewed interest in the league, it gives the league an exciting product to market again, and it gives the players/teams an all-around better chance to make the playoffs and to have a competitive season. If the league is looking for a way to boost ratings, a redesign of the conferences might be just what they need.

About Ethan Becker

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