Here’s How the NBA Can Fix Its Conference Imbalance

There is a serious imbalance of power in the NBA. You won’t find anyone who will dispute this today. This off-season, which saw All-Stars Jimmy Butler and Paul George head West and countless others re-sign with Western Conference teams, exacerbated the issue.

The obvious solution is for the NBA to nix conferences altogether to ensure the top 16 teams, regardless of geographic location, are awarded playoff spots. Proponents say more fans — including those from major media markets who don’t have a team in the running — will tune in because the product will be better. Essentially, more star power and closer games between better teams will outweigh eliminating bigger media markets.Image via SAPO Desporto

The major obstacle with this solution is the possibility that the NBA will not have enough of an East Coast presence in the playoffs. The Knicks could miss the playoffs again next year even in the weaker Eastern Conference, but what about two years from now? Or three years, when the Knicks could potentially be a much improved team, but still a step behind teams like Utah and Phoenix? Could the league really turn its back on a major media market like New York in favor of a Jazz squad that’s a few games better than the Knicks? Probably not.

So how does the NBA fix its imbalance issue, then? One interesting solution would be to keep conferences, but allow teams to trade their conference affiliation. For example, Dallas could opt to trade a player in order to move over to the East. It certainly makes some sense for a team like the Mavericks — the Cowboys manage to make it work in the NFL’s N.F.C. East — but what about a team like Portland? For this proposal to be fair for everyone, the NBA would have to scale back its number of regular season games and, let’s be honest, that would be for the best.

This past regular season was openly mocked as one of the most pointless exercises in sports history. We didn’t need 82 regular season games to know that the Cleveland Cavaliers and Golden State Warriors were the best teams. Besides, with the way teams rest their players, it’s not like we’re even getting 82 legitimate games. Do we really need to see the Spurs’ benchwarmers and G-League call-ups take on the Nets next February?Image via Bleacher Report

If NBA Commissioner Adam Silver is serious about improving the quality of the regular season and the playoffs, the league needs to make a sacrifice somewhere. It may cost the NBA, its franchises and players millions in the short term, but it will also save millions by preventing the NBA product from becoming too diluted.

Unlike the NFL and MLB, the NBA’s popularity is tied to its stars, not its franchises. People pay money to watch Russell Westbrook collect triple-doubles, not to see the Oklahoma City Thunder win. Next year, the league could choose to fill its playoff bracket to the brim with its best athletes, but instead will tell Anthony Davis and Boogie Cousins to go home because the Charlotte Hornets managed to win almost half of their games. There’s something wrong with that picture.