This past weekend, the National Basketball Association held its annual All-Star Weekend, cumulating in the first All-Star Game in the league’s history that was not played under the traditional Eastern Conference vs. Western Conference format. While the players selected to play in the game were voted in based on their conference, Cleveland’s LeBron James and Golden State’s Stephen Curry were assigned as captains (being the top vote-getter from their respective conference) and drafted their squads from the pool of available all-stars. In the end, Team LeBron came out with a comeback win over Team Stephen in what was one of the more entertaining All-Star games of recent memory.
With Sunday’s game widely seen as a success, it makes sense that Commissioner, Adam Silver, is beginning to publicly float out other proposed changes to the league. Last Saturday, during a press conference, Silver brought the idea of changing the way in which the league seeds playoff teams. Under this proposed switch to seeding, the top eight teams from each conference would still make the playoffs but the teams would be seeded 1-16, regardless of conference.
The Top Two Teams
Looking at the overall league standings as of Wednesday, the potential first round match-ups under a revised seeding format would be interesting. A marquee NBA Finals battle between the Cleveland Cavaliers and the Oklahoma City Thunder would occur in the first round as would an interesting series between the Toronto Raptors and the New Orleans Pelicans.
One reason this proposed seeding switch would be a great idea is that it might provide for the chance to have the two best teams really meet in the Finals. This hasn’t been an issue the past three seasons with what has now become an annual championship rivalry between Golden State and Cleveland, but there’s been plenty of times in which the NBA championship was really fought over in the conference finals. A decade ago the San Antonio Spurs and the Phoenix Suns had second-round playoff series that arguably determined the winner of that season’s title. Imagine if instead of meeting in the second round that year, the 2007 Suns and the Spurs were seeded second and third among all 16 teams in the playoffs and squared off in the NBA Finals. This is where this proposed reseeding idea holds the greatest promise.
Another bonus of this revised format would be the possibility season after season for extremely intriguing first-round match-ups. For instance, the Golden State Warriors with the second best overall record would square off against the young and extremely watchable Philadelphia 76ers instead of facing divisional foes the Portland Trailblazers (the current 7th seed in the west and theoretical 13th seed under the proposed reseeding structure).
Travel Concerns are Surmountable
Speaking of Portland, they would be facing off against the team with the fourth best league record, the Boston Celtics. Which, of course, highlights the drawback of this proposed new playoff format: the logistical considerations of teams having to fly coast to coast multiple times during a first-round playoff series that may last up to two weeks.
This is an issue, to be sure, but it’s something that can be worked out by altering the “2-2-1-1-1” schedule for games in a playoff series. The team with the better record could, for instance, host the first three games of the series then go on the road for the next two games before hosting games 6 and 7 at home. A “3-2-2” format would be somewhat like the way in which NBA Finals games were assigned during David Stern’s tenure as commissioner – with the obvious difference being the higher seeded team hosts five games of the series instead of four. Not only would this modification help levitate travel concerns, it would give teams further incentive to finish the regular season with as many wins as possible.
Plus, for every series featuring a team on the Pacific coast going against a team on the Atlantic coast, there will be matchups from team in opposing conference with no travel issues at all. Case in point, the Minnesota Timberwolves hold the sixth best record at the moment and would hypothetically play the Milwaukee Bucks if this new playoff format were to begin today. These are teams currently in different conferences despite being located in neighboring states.
And it’s not like the travel schedule for NBA teams is perfect. New Orleans plays in the Western Conference despite being located in the Central time zone. A trip from New Orleans to Sacramento covers four times as many miles as a trip from New Orleans to Atlanta.
A Natural Evolution for the NBA
The proposed change to seeding already has one notable detractor in LeBron James, who feels the switch would mess with the history of the game. The fact is, though, the playoffs have been modified before. The first round used to be a best-of-five series, now it’s best-of-seven. Division winners used to be guaranteed top-seeding, now they’re not even guaranteed home-court advantage in the first round.
The NBA has always evolved over time and this proposed re-seeding idea has the potential to make the first round of the playoffs and the last month of the regular season even more interesting. Go ahead, Commissioner Silver, change it up. It should work well and if it doesn’t work out, you can always scrap it and reverse course and pretend it never happened like your predecessor did with the synthetic ball.