Should the NBA Eliminate Conferences?

The NBA playoffs are the most exciting time of year for basketball fans worldwide. Sixteen Western and Eastern Conferences teams battle it out in three rounds of playoffs, with the best team in each conference making it to the NBA finals. Sounds exciting, right? Many league watchers say no, arguing that the current system doesn't encourage competitiveness. Instead, mediocre teams often make it to the playoffs because they happen to belong to a less competitive conference. In this article, we'll take a look at the arguments for abolishing the NBA's conference system. 

How Does the Conference System Work?

The NBA has 30 teams split evenly between the Eastern Conference and the Western Conference. Each conference is divided into three divisions. The Eastern Conference's divisions are the Atlantic, Central, and Southeast, the Western Conference's divisions are Northwest, Pacific, and Southwest. 

Teams compete throughout the league's 82-game regular season for a chance to participate in the playoffs, with the top six seeds guaranteed a spot in the playoffs. An additional four teams, seeds seven through ten per conference, participate in the NBA's play-in contest to determine the conference's seventh and eighth playoff seeds. 

Once playoff seeds are decided, the fun begins. A favorite pastime of many NBA fans is betting on the outcome of regular season and playoff games, with the most passionate fans checking the NBA odds regularly to keep up with their favorite teams. A team's performance during the regular season is a good indicator of how they'll do during the playoffs. However, many people think the conference system isn't fair to the best teams. 

Why Get Rid of the Conferences?

The biggest argument favoring eliminating the Eastern and Western Conferences is that the system prevents many good teams and their star players from participating in the playoffs while some mediocre teams slip through the cracks. When this happens, the games are no longer exciting, with sweeps or near sweeps being commonplace. 

Many believe that the Western Conference is the stronger of the two conferences, and the current system doesn't take that into account when determining which teams get to participate in the NBA playoffs. With more than half of the league's teams making the playoffs, it should be impossible for good teams to miss the cut; however, under the league's current rules, that happens more often than it should. 

The Phoenix Suns know how it feels to play solid basketball yet fail to make the playoffs. The Suns finished with a 48-34 record during the 2013-2014 season and failed to make the playoffs. 

If the Suns had belonged to the Eastern Conference during that season, they would have tied the Toronto Raptors and Chicago Bulls for the best record in the east. However, given how many good teams there were in the west, the Suns didn't play a single game in the playoffs. 

The same thing happened to the Golden State Warrior during the 2007-2008 season. If they'd been in the Eastern Conference during that season, they would have made it to the playoffs. Since they belonged to the much stronger Western Conference, they had to watch from the sidelines. 

What's the Solution

Those in favor of doing away with the NBA's conference system say the divisions should be eliminated as well. From there, the NBA would need to overhaul its regular-season scheduling to minimize any biases, with all teams playing against each other about three times per season. 

Instead of eight teams from each conference forming the 16 teams that participate in the NBA's playoffs, a team's record against all teams in the league would determine whether they would compete in the playoffs. This reform would result in a best versus the best playoff system instead of an East versus the West playoff structure. 

The league made similar changes to the NBA All-Star game in 2018. Up until that year, the contest was a showoff between the top players from the Eastern and Western Conferences. The problem was the games were often non-competitive because the Western Conference had more talented players. 

Whether the NBA will reform the playoff system remains to be seen. Whatever happens, the playoffs will remain the most anticipated moment of the basketball season.