Ending NBA conferences isn’t reform for reform’s sake
The West has been better than the East for too long. Removing NBA conferences isn’t just making a change for the sake of doing so.
As readers are painfully aware, one of my pet issues is the vast, persistent conference imbalance the league has seen over the past 15 years. The short version: the West is consistently better than the East. That leaves good West teams out of the playoffs while mediocre East teams regularly get into the postseason.
It also perpetuates the imbalance by getting mediocre West teams with tougher schedules better chances in the NBA Draft lottery than equal East teams, who get extra wins due to weak schedules. The imbalance is bad for every team in the NBA that doesn’t happen to be an elite East squad, who usually gets at least one cakewalk round in the postseason.
This season is shaping up to be the least balanced ever. The calls to End Conferences have gotten louder. Zach Lowe has reported that at least a few members of the NBA Board of Governors are pushing it, and Adam Silver said the league is considering the issue. But there’s always another side. Will Leitch of Sports on Earth (and a friend of The Hook) embodies the most common argument against reform in his latest column.
Currently, things are like this, so rather than wait for them to change (or, more accurately, allow the human beings in charge work to make them change), let’s artificially shift it around for temporary satisfaction. Ziller makes a strong argument that we should end conferences because the Western has been so much better for so long — roughly 13 years — that there is something fundamentally different about the conferences … but I still don’t think there’s something fundamentally different about the conferences.
Leitch argues that time will solve all imbalances, and separately calls Mark Cuban’s (incredibly self-serving) plan to move the Texas teams to the East “Ayn Randian.” I’d actually argue nothing could be more Ayn Randian than letting the invisible hand of time correct the imbalance! We know how that philosophy works, right?
When Leitch implies we should wait for the humans in charge to make things change, is he talking about the GMs of the Eastern Conference? Because, man, they have tried. And it’s not working. At what point do we rely on the other humans in charge — like the Commissioner and the Board of Governors — to do their jobs and make the league better? At what point do the people in charge decide to put some antibiotic cream on that festering wound?
Leitch’s other implication is that dividing leagues up into conferences and divisions is the natural order, and ending conferences would be unnatural. Nah. Divisions and conferences are completely artificial constructs and in fact are leveraged by less savory franchisees to sell fans on bullshit honors. I’m looking at you, every team that hangs a “division champion” banner.
“Winning a division should mean something?” It means you were better than at least four out of the other 29 teams you compete against. Congratulations?
Leitch’s core point is solid: reform for the sake of reform is bad and should be avoided. But when there are documented real, persistent and destructive problems, reform is necessary. Self-serving politicking (as done by East franchisees) and unearned belief in the status quo are not compelling arguments to the contrary.