I have absolutely had it. I am through being quiet about this issue. Seriously, the NBA Playoffs has me all up in a lather.
And no, it is not because of the Finals.
And no, it is not because the West is so much better than the East.
It is because of stupid articles like this, this, and this latest one by Bill Simmons calling for a radical restructuring of the NBA Playoffs.
To borrow from Hollywood, these ideas are just dumb, dumber, and dumberer.
First, lets examine the reason why these three intelligent men (I am honestly not being sarcastic, I generally enjoy both Hollinger and Simmons, although I am not familiar with Fitzgerald.) would propose changing the playoff format. You don't have to be a genius to see that the best basketball teams come from the Western Conference. Just look at the standings, where 5 of the top 6 NBA teams (by record) were in the West. The assumption made by these men though, is that the East is damned to mediocrity for the foreseeable future, especially since both Kevin Durant and Greg Oden are headed out West. Is this a fair assumption on their parts, or is it merely an extremely reactionary stance given the particular discrepancy in records that has been seen this season? I'll go with the latter, and let me explain why. The three above authors generally chose to ignore the fact that if Detroit had won Game 7 of the 2005 NBA Finals that we would have experienced three consecutive Eastern Conference NBA champions. Think about that. We are one game from an Eastern Conference three-peat, and all of a sudden because of one uncompetitive Finals matchup everyone is labeling the Eastern Conference as a lost cause and calling for the destruction of the current playoff system? Please. Also, lets examine the records a little further in the past, like last season where the East boasted the team with the best regular season record (Detroit) and both the East and the West boasted three teams with 50 or more wins. The season before that the West did indeed dominate the regular season in a similar fashion to this year, having six 50 win teams to the East's two. There is however, an important detail that weakens Simmons' argument. In that season, 2004-2005, two of the Western Conference teams with 50 plus wins were Sacramento and Seattle, and in the East Chicago, Cleveland, and Orlando all failed to make the playoffs. So how can these three men argue that there is no chance for change in the NBA hierarchy when those five teams have fluctuated so greatly in the span of only two seasons?
One of the other prevailing arguments is that the West is set to maintain its current level of dominance due to its extreme advantage in terms of stars. It is true that the West does have a large number of elite players, including Dirk, Kobe, Duncan, Nash, Yao, and KG along with the incoming additions of Oden and Durant. It is foolish however, to ignore the talent pool in the East. Don't the Cavs happen to have the best wing player in the league in LeBron James? Didn't Dwayne Wade lead his team to a title last season? Did you see the clutch performances put up by Gilbert Arenas throughout this season? Aren't Chris Bosh and Dwight Howard two of the three best young power forwards in the NBA? (Amare being the third) And if I am not mistaken, aren't their rumors abounding that KG, Kobe, and Shawn Marion among others could all be headed East this offseason? Point being, the alleged cap in talent between the two conferences is nothing more than a media hyped mirage, one that certainly was not being discussed too heavily when the Pistons and Heat were winning championships in recent years.
Now onto what these three men are actually proposing to do. Their general consensus is that the playoffs should move to a 16 team bracket, with the first round matchups featuring East vs West matchups, or in Simmons scenario being seeded solely by record except for the top team in each conference being assured a top two seed. These authors believe that such a system would prevent matchups such as the Spurs and Suns this season, where arguably the top two teams in the league face off before the Finals. The fundamental problem with these arguments is that, well, they miss the point.
Here is a major news flash: the purpose of the NBA Finals is not to give you the most entertaining matchup, it is to crown a champion, who often times does not happen to be the team with the best regular season record.
Often times yes, two really good teams will face off before the NBA Finals. It happens. Does it somehow wreck the sport? No. Did the world end last season because Dallas and San Antonio faced off in the second round? No. Is the NBA going to close up shop because San Antonio and Phoenix played in the second round this year? No. Are the Spurs not a worthy NBA champion because they never faced the Mavs in this year's playoffs? Also no. As long as the top teams are in the playoffs somewhere, things will work themselves out. If you are to extend the logic of restructuring the NBA playoffs a little further, why not just have the two teams with the best record in the regular season face off in a championship and just scrap the rest of the playoffs?
The point of the NBA playoffs, or the World Series, or the Stanley Cup, or the Super Bowl, is not to match up the two best teams in the sport from a given year. The Finals along with those other championships matchup the champions from the two respective conferences (or leagues) in that sport. Why? Well, here is the reason why: in all of those sports the conferences play an unbalanced schedule, meaning that the W-L records that result are not 100% representative of which conference is better. Take last year in the NBA for instance. There were two 60 win teams in the West, yet a 52 win Miami team won the championship. Take a look at college football this past season. All season long everyone believed that the Big 10 and their two undefeated juggernauts were the best conference in all the land. And what happened? Michigan got the crap beat out of them by a two loss USC team and Ohio State was dismantled by a one loss Florida team.
The NBA playoffs do not need to change. All sports leagues experience periods of ebb and flow, and the current NBA is no different. Should the playoffs have been changed in the 90's to make things tougher on the Bulls? Should the AFC not been allowed to play in the Super Bowl in the 90's when they had lost 13 in a row? No, these suggestions sound pretty silly, as are the suggestions that the NBA should scrap the current playoff format.