This period during the NBA season could be described as the “dog days” and professional basketball does not really get traction until the All-Star break. As the standings begin to take shape in the Eastern and Western conferences, the debate over conference realignment or discarding them from the league altogether has heated up.
The debate over conference realignment does not make sense because of the reason behind it. Teams should not be moved between the two conferences because they are good or bad so the best teams make the playoffs. If that were to take place teams would be moving back and forth every year on too many occasions.
Another problem is geography.
If the NBA decides to move the Sacramento Kings, for example, from the Western Conference to the East they will have to travel to the east coast for the majority of their games, which is not fair to them or the teams from the east that have to make that extra trip to California during the middle of the season from the east coast.
The other layer to this is the fact that the NBA could possibly get rid of conferences altogether. Divisions would stay intact and the winners of the eight divisions would get the top four seeds in the news playoff format. Then, the next eight teams that have the best records would follow and get the remaining spots in the postseason.
This method provides many problems. First of all, what if seven of the eight teams that get one of the final playoff spots are from the west coast. Do they now have to play in what would be an Eastern Conference bracket? A lottery system or another idea could solve this, but some teams would have to travel across the country move than they would like, which takes a physical toll on a team.
One of the reasons that many believe getting rid of the conferences would be good is because the postseason would be more competitive and teams like the 22-30 Charlotte Bobcats do not make the playoffs. That would make way for a team in the west like the Oklahoma City Thunder who are 27-25 and would miss the playoffs if the season ended today.
The idea also has some flaws that go deeper than just travel. Ratings could take a hit in some of the big markets. If this format were to be implemented this season, out of the 16 playoff teams, 10 teams would be from the west and the Miami Heat along with the Bobcats would miss out because of the format change. Of the non-division winners, six of the eight final playoff spots would go to teams that are currently in the Western Conference.
These games would all be nationally televised, but the bigger problem here is that the small market teams have been good recently and the large markets (New York, Boston, Philadelphia and LA Lakers) have been terrible. They have spent their seasons tanking and looking for a high draft pick. The ratings for a possible Atlanta Hawks-New Orleans Pelicans series would not be very good even if they did meet in the playoffs.
Changing up the conferences would bring up some of the same problems, but also some new ones for the association to deal with. In the end, the problem is that the big market teams are rebuilding, which leads to bad ratings not matter what. Get rid of tanking and this “lack of competition” persona will go away from the league.