The 2016-17 NBA season kicked off on Oct. 25, the first step in an arduous 82-game marathon leading to another 16-game playoff marathon come April.
The storylines are already set for April. In case you have not noticed, the NBA is an extremely top-heavy league, with star-studded teams on one hand, and a litany of other project teams on a much larger hand.
The number of teams which will realistically contend for an NBA title this season don’t go beyond four, yet the number of teams which qualify for the playoffs is quadruple that number.
Granted, this season may be an outlier with Kevin Durant’s arrival in the Bay Area, but never in recent memory have more than eight teams entered the playoffs with honest hopes of hoisting the trophy.
It begs the question, why do 16 teams qualify for the playoffs, and why does the NBA need 82 games to decide this 16, when the teams that will ultimately be playing in June are locked in by game 50?
Something has to give, as the NBA in essence plays two seasons. One drags through the fall months almost unnoticed with football at the forefront, then catching the spotlight in the winter, only to constantly be berated with the phrase ‘nothing matters until the postseason.’
The next part of the season lasts so long it almost shouldn’t qualify for a postseason; even still, the first half of it lacks the intensity and quality of competition that the latter stages do.
The NBA should want the best quality basketball it could possibly get. What we saw this past June when the Cavaliers played the Warriors was some of the most dramatic basketball the league has ever seen. It is not realistic to replicate that in the regular season, but the Association could get much closer than it currently is.
The first way they could do this is by cutting down the number of teams that make the playoffs. This solution is the simplest, and would probably get the most support from fans who don’t have any specific rooting interest.
Reducing the number of teams that qualify from each conference to four instead of eight immediately makes the competition to make the postseason more intriguing at the top. Teams who already go into the season as heavy favorites wouldn’t feel the safety net of four or five far-inferior teams below them.
The drawback would be that ownership wouldn’t love it because they would lose out on playoff revenue.
Another solution is to shorten the regular season to 62 games. Again, ownership would object, but the need isn’t there for an 82-game slate.
Lower the number of regular season games to 62 and it will make each game that much more significant. The most popular sport in America is the NFL, and so much of the reason fans covet the league is because each game holds so much value in a team’s final record. The NBA is the polar opposite, but by going down to 62, it would come closer to some middle ground.
There are plenty of solutions which could make the NBA more consequential from start to finish. Until those solutions are made, most Americans will be tuning in on Christmas Day, and tuning out until April.
James Justice is a broadcast and visual media major from Caldwell, N.J. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @MLSTakeover.