NBA – Time For A Change

20 02 2008

Listening to the ‘avid NBA fans’ over at ESPN, you’d think that the game is in a fantastic state – and whilst this maybe true in the Western Conference, the East is as pathetic as it’s ever been.  The very fact that the West is so deep from 1-through-to-10 only highlights the imbalance that’s been created.
Never before have the NBA’s conferences been so lopsided in team strength – it’s now become an asymmetric league.
Forget that they won the All-Star game – that means very little indeed – the East is in a state of decline that has rarely been encountered, and the Western Conference teams are so much more competitive, on so many levels, that it’s absolutely amazing.
The difference between the two conferences is such that it’s ceased to be remotely amusing.
This, despite the presence of the Boston Celtics and the Detroit Pistons in the East – two of the better teams in basketball today.

Current layout of NBA teams

As stated in a previous post – The East Is Mired in Mediocrity, The West Is Still Best – the balance of power in the West is tenuous – theoretically any of the top 9 teams could win the West, as there’s less than 5 games separating the top from the 9th best team, and 10th is only a mere 4 games behind 7th.
Even Sacramento (currently 11th) has a mathematical chance, tho’ the trading of Mike Bibby to Atlanta, and rumored shopping of Brad Miller would signal a capitulation of sorts.

Compare this to the East, where Boston rules supreme, and Detroit sit only a little behind them, and then gap between those two august powers the rest of the East is vast.
To be sure, Orlando and Cleveland compete, but is there any doubt that either franchise would be among the huddled masses towards the bottom end of the 8 if they were in the Western Conference?
Yes, there is a battle going for the last few playoff berths in the East, but other than Atlanta it would seem that teams are fighting to not make the playoffs.

The fact of the matter is that out West there’s an enthralling battle going on, and in the East it’s all pretty much a fait accompli. There are 15 franchises with winning records in the NBA at the moment, and as it stands now two of them will miss out on making the playoffs.

So… what to do?
No balanceHow to address the malaise of imbalance that the NBA finds itself afflicted with.
The only real solution is to re-allocate the conferences, and the divisions.
The biggest argument against this has always been travel times, but in this day and age is it a legitimate concern?
Additionally, people will point to rivalries… but be honest – is there any rivalry in the NBA that even approaches the Yankees/Red Sox mania?
The only one that comes close would be the Celtics/Lakers rivalry borne of years gone by, but even that is a pale shadow of itself, and until recently was a forgone conclusion as to who would win each game. And – it’s an East versus West rivalry anyway!

Questions, and more questions…Is it even necessary to break it up into East and West? Does the league require geographically-structured conferences? As mentioned before, travel times in today’s world are really not a concern for franchises, nothing that scheduling couldn’t deal with.

The easiest option might be to simply rename the conferences, so that they no longer have geographical connotations – perhaps naming them after two of the legends of basketball (then, you could even keep the ‘West’ tag!), and then swap a division between the two.
Say, put the South West division in what was the East, and the South East in the re-tooled ‘West’. A lot of balance moves in that simple adjustment.
Simple, elegant, and moves forward. A lot of the woes currently held in the NBA a solved with such a simple switch.
However, even tho’ you’d attain better balance across the conferences, the divisions swapped would have markedly different experiences. The South East would struggle with the teams in the West, and the displaced teams of the South West would be immediately amongst the strongest in the re-formatted East.

Which is why I favor a more extreme measure… this other option is that the league re-invents itself on a grand scale, start from scratch and reallocate every franchise. The NBA would need to have a look at what teams are where, and where the traditional powerhouse teams are, where the big markets are, and allocate the teams appropriately.

Perhaps along the lines of 2 teams from the geographical West, two from the East, and one Central – per division. Then we could come up with something like:

A

B
Alpha Beta Gamma Epsilon Zeta Eta
Los AngelesL Phoenix San Antonio Dallas Utah Seattle
Golden State Los AngelesC Minnesota Houston Sacramento Portland
Milwaukee Memphis Indiana Chicago Denver New Orleans
Miami Atlanta Cleveland New York Boston Detroit
Orlando Washington Charlotte New Jersey Philadelphia Toronto

Waddaya think David?Obviously, names would have to be changed… Greek letters of the alphabet don’t work so well for NBA divisions… but each franchise would have at least one within a relatively close distance, and road-trips within the division needn’t be massive affairs… Or something of the like.
But whatever, there’s no denying that there’s a massive imbalance, and despite expectations of otherwise, the East keeps getting worse and worse.
Mr. Stern – it’s time for a change.
What do you think?

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21 responses

20 02 2008
Basketball » NBA - Time For A Change

[…] withmalice wrote a fantastic post today on “NBA – Time For A Change”Here’s ONLY a quick extractThis, despite the presence of the Boston Celtics and the Detroit Pistons in the East – two of the better teams in basketball today. Current layout of NBA teams. As stated in a previous post – The East Is Mired in Mediocrity, … […]

20 02 2008
Nba » NBA - Time For A Change

[…] withmalice wrote an interesting post today on NBA – Time For A ChangeHere’s a quick excerptListening to the ‘avid NBA fans’ over at ESPN, you’d think that the game is in a fantastic state – and whilst this maybe true in the Western Conference, the East is as pathetic as it’s ever been. The very fact that the West is so deep … […]

20 02 2008
Steve

Yo Don, imagine how much better the west would be if my belaugered Timberwolves were not here in the wild, wild west.

20 02 2008
jason macor

would work if only for one problem, you play the most games against your division mates. the setup is as is because traveling like that would kill normal athletes heh. something needs to be done but not by the nba, and don’t worry it’ll happen soon. the east just needs to keep it’s young talent and wait for it to develop, a few years from now the duncan’s and mings and mcgradys of the west will be getting older and grizzled and the east will be looking pretty for a long time to come, which will put th west in the major lottery, where they’ll pick up young talent, that they’ll hopefully keep and have good picks on (like the east finally got with wade bosh and lebron).

20 02 2008
withmalice

You’ll have years of inequity first Jason.
And in this day and age, it’s ridiculous to state that travel’s an issue. Have a look at the actual groupings I suggest – it’s not that bad anyway…

21 02 2008
Jim

I think it would be a bad idea to change the conferences around. There is a huge disparity talent wise between the West and the East right now, but these things come in cycles. Remember in the 80’s and the 90’s when the NFC won 13 straight Super Bowls? Changing the divisions in the NBA now would mean you would have to adjust them constantly, since performance varies from year to year. I would much rather have it be the way it is right now with division rivalries intact. With new divisions, you’d miss out on the budding rivalry between LeBron and the Pistons, the Mavs and the Spurs, and the Suns and Lakers. Sure, there would be games between the teams, but there wouldn’t be as many. And to say travel is a non-issue is ridiculous. I’m a college athlete and travel plays a bigger role than you’d think. The difference between traveling from say NY to NJ is way different than flying 5 hours cross country from NY to LA. Hopping on a plane 82 times a season (once to get there and once to get back) take a lot out of you.

21 02 2008
phony gwynn

but each franchise would have at least one within a relatively close distance

So, how are Los Angeles/the Bay Area and Miami/Orlando “within a relatively close distance” of Milwaukee?

I agree, it’s bad now, but as the Spurs, Suns, and Mavs age, and young Eastern teams like the Magic, Cavs, and Raptors get better, things will even out a bit. It sucks now, but remember when the NFC won like 14 or 15 Super Bowls in a row? These things are cyclical, and they tend to even themselves out.

21 02 2008
phony gwynn

Dammit, Jim, I’m a blogger, not a page-refresher!

21 02 2008
Hoop Scoop

Why not realign the NBA based on NFL or MLB style conferences? Just split the NW and Pacific Divisions, SW and Central, and SE and Atlantic and realign them completely into West, Central, and East Divisions?

ABA West
Denver
Utah
Seattle
Portland
Minnesota

ABA Central
Chicago
Detroit
Indiana
Dallas
San Antonio

ABA East
Philadelphia
Miami
Orlando
Atlanta
Toronto

NBA West
LA Lakers
LA Clippers
Golden State
Sacramento
Phoenix

NBA Central
Houston
Milwaukee
Memphis
New Orleans
Cleveland

NBA East
New York
New Jersey
Boston
Toronto
Washington

21 02 2008
dav

ever heard of a thing called time zones?

well, they’re the reason why your idea is stupid.

21 02 2008
Tom

That is retarded. Sacremento and Boston in the same division? 2 Florida teams and 2 California teams in your “Alpha” division. That is ridiculous. They should split it up like MLB with 2 separate leagues with each an East, Central, and West division and they should only play themselves.

21 02 2008
Adam

This proposal is not a particularly good idea. The travel is just too extreme. Also, what everybody forgets is that having a “flawed” format is, in fact, what makes it exciting. This is why we don’t just have the team with the best regular season record take home the Larry O’Brien Championship Trophy, even though that would probably be the best indicator of who the “best” team was (does anybody doubt New England was the best team in the NFL this season?). The reality is that the playoff race in both conferences is worth watching because of this.

A real reform that would do some good would be to add 4 games to the schedule and eliminate the Divisions altogether. Two games against teams in the opposite Conference (2*15=30) and four games against teams in your own conference (4*14=56); 56+30=86. Right now they essentially do this, except that you play 4 opponents in your own Conference three times, instead of four; I have no idea how the league chooses these 4 opponents (does it rotate?). Add those 4 games and just eliminate divisions altogether, but keep the Conferences.

21 02 2008
withmalice

Some fantastic responses… well-thought out.

I’d suggest that a lot of you guys need to check the meaning of ‘perhaps’. 😛
I’m not suggesting that my aligned divisions are the be all & end all… just that realignment would be a good idea. ‘Twas just used as an example.

On ‘these things are cyclical’. I’m not convinced. Just because historically they have been doesn’t mean they will be – to state that they are and will be is pretty naive and ignores the amount of money that goes into the game now, as compared to the amount of money that was spent historically.

I do like Hoop Scoop’s suggestion of ABA/NBA… a bit of history there. That has a certain acknowledgment of origins that would be a great addition to the entire concept.

Adam’s suggestion on conferences has merit too… tho’ doesn’t really address imbalance.

I’ll reiterate on ‘travel’, that there’s a HUGE difference between traveling as a college athlete and an NBA player. I think part of the issue with plane-travel is the environment you’re in within the plane… but yes, I do think that you’re right on the amount of times you have to do it might have a major impact. Which is why Scoop’s divisions are better…

Dav – timezones? No, what are they? Numbnuts, I live in JAPAN. Yes, I’ve heard of timezones. Other sports do larger timezones (tho’ admittedly, less often) and cope. The difference between Eastern US & Western US is not that extreme.

21 02 2008
fouledout

this is interesting.

21 02 2008
Aaron Becker

I don’t think you could realign yet, as Stern stated he wants 5 Euro teams in a few years. That’s really gonna screw things up concerning this issue!

21 02 2008
brian

I really like the idea, but there are some geographical rivalries that shouldn’t be broken up. For example, Houston, Dallas, and San Antonio all really need to be divisional rivals.

21 02 2008
Jim

I really like the idea of an ABA/NBA split. It would keep some rivalries intact and keep travel reasonable. I’ll concede the whole travel thing is different between professionals and college athletes, but it still sucks to travel cross country for competition. I think we’ve come to a good solution here.

21 02 2008
Reid

I think the solution is to do away with the conferences all together. Group all the teams together and at the end of the season the top 16 teams are seeded 1-16, that way you get the top 16 teams in the playoffs every season. Also using the current system a team in the west thats say 30-20 and is ranked 7th in the west but if they were in the east they would be 2-3 in the conference. My system would give the best teams the rankings the deserve. Having such a loaded west and an average east is bad for basketball it doesnt allow the best teams to play for the title.

23 02 2008
eddie

The one improvement I could see is that you should do it like MLB does and switch one of the New York teams with one of the L.A. teams so that two teams from the same city are not in the same conference.

23 02 2008
Aaron Becker

>>Group all the teams together and at the end of the season the top 16 teams are seeded 1-16,…<

The caveat against that one would be two 1st rounders traveling cross country – so the NBA wouldn’t go for that idea.

9 03 2008
odin

Really the NBA needs to do like the NFL with their draft. The draft lottery is screwed up and allowed the west to get the top 2 prospects last year. Never mind that Oden is out this year, he will be back. How is the NBA going to ever strengthen a conference if they can’t even get the top draft picks.

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