NBA Playoff Reform – The Solution “Seems” So Simple

Guest Post by Abacus Reveals

Once again, the National Basketball Association is faced with calls for reform, this time of its playoff structure.

Once again this season, clearly and vastly superior Western Conference squads– perhaps as many as three – will be sidelined for the season on Income Tax Day, while clearly and vastly inferior Eastern Conference outfits will generate a couple of playoff “gates” for their owners.

Is it time to un-fracture such unfair folly?

Or is the status-quo simply the consequence of a decades-old, ever-shifting balance-of-power between the Conferences (or Divisions, as they were called during the league’s first quarter-century), an honored, intractable tradition?

Historically, the league has been willing to undo some perhaps-unforeseen inequities that have resulted from tweaks to its playoff system as it has grown and evolved.

But there is one tradition to which the league has been monogamously wed – except for one instance of perhaps-unavoidable infidelity in 1950 – since its third season of existence. In 65 of its 68 years, the NBA (nee BAA) has crowned – if not ceremoniously recognized – an “Eastern” and “Western” champion. In other words, there was no inter-conference playoff competition until the championship round.

In effect, the NBA’s two conferences are mini-leagues unto themselves – each a league-within-a-league, so to speak. The un-balanced regular-season schedule would tend to reinforce the notion, would it not? This same reasoning can be extended to the league’s now-six divisions. League rules and procedures mandate to a division champ certain potential perks in playoff seeding – though this has not always been the case.

Of course, the quality of the competition within a team’s mini-league can influence an organization’s strategic plan for improvement.  When the road to respectability is less imposing, a complete re-booting may be more likely to lead to success. Consider the 1980’s, when the balance-of-power leaned quite heavily toward the East. During that 10-year span, the LA Lakers represented the Western Conference in eight NBA Finals. Houston advanced the other two times. Curiously, the Rockets managed to “earn” the first pick in the draft (pre-lottery, mind you) in two of the seasons between those championship-round appearances. Only Robert Reid and Allen Leavell played on both of the ’81 and ’86 runners-up.

Evidence that strategic short-term failure can really pay dividends?

So, to what extent would new Commissioner Adam Stern … I mean Silver wish to tinker with a “traditional” component of his league’s structure – replete with minor championships to confer and promote – in order to “un-fracture such unfair folly”?

Has the time arrived to blow up the NBA’s (mostly) geographic-based divisional system? It’s far from perfect. Hell, they had the Baltimore Bullets in the Western Conference for three years back in the day. West of what … London?

A “no-brainer” isn’t always a “no-brainer.”

If you find the perspective of the Abacus intriguing or merely amusing though simple, this Birthday Wishes to the Offensive Rebound or Thoughts on Keeping Score might be of interest.