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.
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?
How 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!
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:
|Los AngelesL||Phoenix||San Antonio||Dallas||Utah||Seattle|
|Golden State||Los AngelesC||Minnesota||Houston||Sacramento||Portland|
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?