By Scott Tibbs, April 19, 2014
There have been a number of NBA seasons where one conference has been stronger than the other, but the disparity between conferences is especially pronounced this year, to the point that there is talk about the wholesale restructuring of the playoffs. But is that the best answer, or is there another solution?
Divisions in the NBA are pretty much meaningless at this point, due in large part to having a half-dozen division champions instead of just four. When you increase the number of champions, the value of each championship means less, especially when the advantages that the division champions get in the NBA Playoffs are eliminated due to the fact that they made absolutely no sense.
Should we make conference championships meaningless too? That is what would happen if the top 16 teams qualified for the playoffs regardless of division. At that point, it makes no sense to have conferences at all. Having the top eight teams in each conference qualify for the playoffs and then seeding all 16 teams by record does less damage to conferences, but that does not solve the primary problem presented by the fact that weaker teams get to the playoffs while clearly better teams do not. It is a half-measure that is the worst of all worlds.
A better option would be to split the NBA into two nationwide conferences, as is the case with Major League Baseball and the National Football League. That way, the strongest teams in the West and the weakest teams in the East could be split into the National and American conferences, respectively. While the league is being restructured, each conference could be split into two divisions, instead of the current three. This would solve the balance problem as well as making the NBA more lively by creating new rivalries.