The NBA playoff system has been a source of contention and annoyance to NBA fans for the last couple of decades. Routinely very good western conference teams are sitting home during the playoffs while their much worse eastern counterparts are still playing and often winning series. Recently, NBA commissioner Adam Silver has suggested that the NBA may abolish its current playoff system and establish a new system; but what would the system look like and how would it help?
The most common suggestion on how to improve the playoff system is to just take the best 16 teams and have them play regardless of conference affiliation. This is the simplest and likely the easiest solution to the playoff issue. The biggest issue with this suggestion is that it could create an instance where the Lakers play the Celtics in an early round and travel would be excessive for both teams. The travel distance is vast but currently the NBA has the potential to have a playoff series between Portland and New Orleans, which would already require a lot of travel. In last years playoffs the Blazers and Rockets traveled several thousand miles in their six game series.
The NBA created its conference back in an era where air travel was more difficult and exhausting, but with charter planes and buses this issue has been becoming less of an issue in recent years. So why not abolish the current conferences all together?
Abolishing the conferences would help eliminate another issue that has appeared with the conference imbalances in recent years. Eastern teams have been a lot worse in talent and wins than the western teams which has allowed the better and mediocre eastern teams to amass better records than they otherwise should have. So dropping the conferences from the NBA schedule would make it so that only the best 16 teams make the playoffs.
The NBA would need to work on a way to balance out the games equally amongst the teams. Keeping the divisions and making them more important adds benefits and creates new issues. One of the biggest benefits would be creating division rivalries and impassioning fans, but a division full of sub par teams would just add to the issue of bad teams making the playoffs over good teams.
So what would be the best solution to the NBA playoff issue? I think it will be a combination of going to a 16 team playoff system with an emphasis on divisions. Having each team play the current teams in its division six teams would give each team 24 games within their division. Which is a significant enough schedule to give the divisions some meaning yet not large enough to cause too much of an imbalance in the strength of schedule.