The Dallas Mavericks have already been the inspiration for one of the better recent changes in the NBA, along with the Spurs, that is, the functional abandonment of the ridiculous seeding system. You'll remember. Before the Spurs and the Mavericks played one of the greatest series of all time, a game seven, OT, down to the wire brawl, in the Conference semifinals it had been the case that whoever win the more or less meaningless "division" got a top three seed.
That year, the Pistons won 64 games, the Spurs 63, the Mavericks 60 and the next best record was 54 wins by Phoenix. But the Mavericks were the 4th seed because they are in the same division as the Spurs. So the NBA got rid of it. It still technically exists, it's just meaningless.
I don't think conferences will be gotten rid of so easily. But it is absolutely time to shake them up.
Am I upset that if the playoffs started today, the Mavericks would miss the playoffs? I haven't decided. One thing I've learned in my years of closely watching the NBA is that you just can't predict the future. If the Mavs don't make it, they'll get a 14th or 13th pick. Say, through some magic, it turns into a guy like Paul George, a 10th pick in 2010. We'll feel pretty silly for being upset that the Mavs lost the chance to likely get pasted by the Spurs or the Thunder.
But the inadequacy of the Eastern Conference compared to the Western has long since ceased being funny. It is obviously the fact that the Mavs have a top-20 protected pick that they have to ship to OKC that's made me pay particular attention to this, but the fact that the 9th place team in the West would be the 3rd place team in the East by three games at the time of this writing while playing against tougher, predominantly Western conference teams is out of the box crazy.
That is so bad. It's been going on forever, and we can just think about NBA history to realize how much difference it's made. Is it even likely that the Iverson 76ers (who other than Iverson gave their most minutes played to someone named George Lynch, Aaron McKie, Tyrone Hill, and Theo Ratliff) or those J-Kidd Nets teams could have made the Finals past even just a pretty good West team, had the conferences been distributed more fairly?
Okay. First things first. It is errant nonsense to say the conferences can't change because of travel time. It is. Say we switched Washington and Atlanta with Portland and Golden State tomorrow. It's a 3.5 hour flight to DC, 3 hours 40 to Portland, commercial. Sure, you say, but the LA Clippers can't be in the same conference as the Knicks! That's crazy!
Since West teams have to play each other 3 or 4 times is there some evil wizard preventing the Clips from playing the Mavs before they play the Knicks, so the plane ride is from the middle of the country rather than its edges? Or New Orleans or Houston or San Antonio or Chicago or Memphis, or Phoenix or Detroit or Milwaukee? Has computer scheduling technology not come far enough to try to get someone from the coast in the middle of the country before sending them to the other coast? Is this like Gravity level difficult, like the *#@$#@ Atlanta Hawks are Sandra Bullock floating through space and no power on Earth other than the heroism of George Clooney could get them to a game in Phoenix on time 3 or 4 times a year?
For the love of Frankie Francisco, David Stern was constantly talking about having teams in Europe and we're acting like finding a way to get a team on a road trip to one of the 10 or so NBA cities in shouting distance of the Mississippi (or at least the Brazos) before they have to end up by at the opposite ocean violates the principles of space time? Give me a break.
There are zero good reasons to keep doing things the way we're doing them. It is probably not going to turn around any time soon. With the exception of the Spurs and the Mavericks, more or less all the good teams in the West are young and at the same time these pretty terrible Eastern conference teams are falling out of the lottery as they free fall violently backwards into the NBA playoffs. The New York Knicks are one game out of the playoff picture. You figure they should be drafting 15th this offseason while the Anthony Davis-Jrue Holiday-Ryan Anderson Pelicans draft 11th? Is that going to fix things up?
(Alright, the Knicks don't have a first round pick this year. But still.)
It's absurd for things to have gone on this long, and it's absurd for anyone to pretend it hasn't. And things keep getting worse. Last year, only the Heat and the Knicks won 50 games in the East. This year, only the Heat and the Pacers will. And while the Heat and the Pacers are fully as good as the West, obviously, once again while the Spurs or the Thunder are fighting their way through a murderer's row, those two teams will once again mostly have to worry only about each other.
Let the Dallas Mavericks be the inspiration for another necessary change in the NBA playoff system. Or, better yet, let the Suns or Grizz do it, while the Mavs make the cut. But it's time for that change and it couldn't be more obvious.