Deputy NBA commissioner Adam Silver said Monday that the league’s competition committee is going to discuss whether or not the league’s current divisional format is still relevant.
Silver, who will become commissioner of the NBA when David Stern retires early next year, told Sirius XM Radio’s new NBA channel that it’s worth looking at (h/t USA Today).
“One thing I have learned from David over all those years … is every day we should wake up and take a fresh look at everything we do. Divisions fall into that category. Historically, based on geography in terms of ways to schedule and convenience of travel, the goal was to enhance rivalries and I’m not sure if that’s still what’s happening.”
The struggles of the Eastern Conference this season are prompting some to examine the way the NBA breaks things down, particularly since the Atlantic Division doesn’t have a single team with a winning record. That would put the league in the awkward position of granting a top-four playoff seed to a team with a losing record.
The NBA hasn’t had a division champion with a losing record since its merger with the ABA in 1976; the last team to do so was the Milwaukee Bucks in 1975-76, when they won the Midwest Division with a 38-44 record.
The NBA and its predecessor, the Basketball Association of America, always divided itself along geographical lines, even if those lines were a bit, well, crooked.
In 1947-48, for instance, the BAA consisted of eight teams—four in the Eastern Division and four in the Western. Two of those “western” outposts, way out on the wild frontier, were located in Baltimore and Washington—D.C., not the state.
When the BAA and National Basketball League merged in 1949 to form the present-day NBA, it was a 17-team conglomeration of markets ranging in size from New York to Sheboygan, Wis. The league was pared down to 10 teams in 1950, nine in 1953 and finally eight after the Baltimore Bullets folded in November 1954.
When the NBA began expanding rapidly in the 1960s and 1970s, the Eastern and Western conferences were formed, with two divisions in each. That alignment remained basically unchanged until the addition of the Charlotte Bobcats in 2004 brought the league’s enrollment to 30 franchises.
That led to realignment of each conference into three, five-team divisions.
But divisional assignment isn’t necessarily something a lot of people, not even in the NBA, pay attention to.
“I don’t check the divisions,” Los Angeles Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni said on Sirius XM. “Who cares? It really doesn’t matter. I just check conferences.”
The Golden State Warriors have been in the Pacific Division since realignment in 1970, when they were still the San Francisco Warriors.
The Sacramento Kings spent three seasons in the Midwest Division after moving to California’s capital city from Kansas City in 1985, then were shifted to the Pacific Division when the Charlotte Hornets and Miami Heat joined the league in 1988.
Miami, oddly enough, replaced the Kings in the Midwest.
Geography was a major theme behind the 2004 realignment, only to be scuttled somewhat when the SuperSonics moved to Oklahoma City in 2008.
Because, well, when I think of the “Northwest,” Oklahoma City isn’t immediately something that comes to mind.
My favorite plan is what I call a pick-and-replace playoff system. That is, the playoff bracket is set up with the top eight teams from the East and the top eight in the West.
However, if there are teams that miss the playoffs in one conference that have better records than those in the other conference, they would be added to that conference’s playoff field.
For instance, in 2012-13, the Milwaukee Bucks made the Eastern Conference playoff field with a 38-44 record. The Utah Jazz missed the Western Conference playoffs despite finishing 43-39.
My plan would have had Utah replace Milwaukee as the eight seed in the Eastern bracket.
Hey, last year’s Jazz couldn’t have done any worse than the Bucks—who were swept by the Heat even after Brandon Jennings boldly predicted Milwaukee would win the series in six games.