Editor's note: this was written last week after Silver made his remarks but wasn't put up due to the craziness of the four games in five days schedule and the Griffin injury. This changes the specifics of the playoff seedings below but the gist is the same.
The Eastern and Western Conferences have been imbalanced for a long time, since the late 1990s in fact, and while this year the East is actually stronger than usual, with six solidly above average teams, the West is dominant, containing 10 teams that should be playoff bound (counting the Pelicans). Coincidentally, that adds up to 16, the same number of teams that participate in the playoffs every year! Unfortunately, as simple math shows, two of the West teams will not make it, and two undeserving (though Charlotte has a hope of being decent) East teams will, under the current format anyway. This imbalance has caused rumblings of unfairness and calls for playoff reform for several years now, but things are reaching a fever pitch this season.
Thankfully, Adam Silver, the new Commissioner of the NBA, has stated that changes will be looked at, and came out with his strongest statement last week (Pro Basketball Talk). To summarize, he agrees that the imbalance needs to end and that the best teams should make the playoffs. His proposed solution is one he heard from a broadcaster, which calls for the six division leaders to make it and then seed the next 10 teams. So what would this look like?
2. Atlanta Hawks vs. 15. New Orleans Pelicans
That looks exciting! I don't spot a single truly brutal playoff series in there, whereas there are usually two or three complete 1st and even 2nd round clunkers in the East. There will certainly be heavy favorites, like the Grizzlies and Hawks, but every single team in the bracket has something really going for it. Just like all other good things though, this new format has some definite flaws.
The first is that it would kill some traditional East and West conference rivalries. While this particular draw actually matches up a lot of Eastern and Western teams with each other, including some real rivals (Wizards and Cavs would be vicious), there would be some very random series, like Grizzlies vs. Bucks. There would a much smaller chance of another Grizzlies-Clippers showdown, or a Thunder-Spurs confrontation, etc. Ultimately, while this would be unfortunate, I don't think this is too serious of a drawback. There will always be chances to get a matchup against a historic rival somewhere, and perhaps new rivalries could be created.
The second, and much more serious concern, has to do with travel time. While the Eastern and Western Conferences don't always make complete sense (Minnesota and Memphis being in the West), they are generally still much closer to each other than opposing conference teams. In the above example, there would somehow be no big travel times in the first round, but it would definitely be possible for a Clippers vs Wizards or Bulls playoff series which would require a lot of wear and tear via travel for both teams. Adam Silver does make the point that with the way teams travel now, it isn't that big of a deal, and he may be right, but it would still be an issue for teams who have to consistently travel more in the opening rounds, and could potentially result in lower quality basketball.
However there is a solution that could (potentially) help both of these issues. That is, scrap the idea of division leaders getting top seeding, and mostly stick with the West and East conference seedings. However, the last two teams from the stronger conference (OKC and New Orleans this year) would play in the East. That would keep the playoff rivalries of each conference mostly intact, and would result in only one or two potentially long distance travel series. The drawback with this would be that it still makes the path to the Finals easier for the powerhouses of the weaker conferences, but at this point it all comes down to preferences.
Overall, I think Adam Silver is totally on point with his calls for draft reform, and I would be plenty happy with his solution if that's what the NBA decided was best. I do think there are a couple of tweaks that could be made to make it even better, but his plan is certainly better than the current model in my opinion.
The All Star Break is a good place and time for these kinds of things to be discussed, and hopefully some progress is made to bring us the best possible NBA playoffs.
What do you guys think? What are your favorite playoff seeding solutions, or do you think it is fine the way it is?