Realigning and Expanding the NBA: How to Fix Basketball Parity
Fans have been complaining about the lack of parity and concomitant Western Conference superiority in the NBA for ages now. The masses have petitioned that the Association get rid of its current playoff system for a “winner-takes-all” bracket of the top 16 teams, regardless of conference. That alternative isn’t so great either. Conferences and divisions are great; they bring drama and competition between rival teams when done right.
Honestly, I’ve been a proponent of letting teams take their natural course, believing that eventually the teams will even out and power dynamics will shift. And that wasn’t entirely unbelievable — before this summer’s epic shakeup of superstars, numbers showed that power was slowly balancing out. However, with NBA commissioner Adam Silver hinting that expansion in the league was “inevitable,” there is no better time than now to consider expansion and how we might realign the conferences by shaking up the entire NBA system altogether.
So here’s a proposal for a new, expanded NBA with both East and West teams playing one another to determine the league’s best. Considering a realistic future, two new teams will be considered as well: one in the East and one in the West. Seattle automatically gets the team in the West and several Eastern cities warrant consideration if the league wants an even 32 team league — Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, Newark, and Baltimore are all sensible candidates. I’m still a New Jersey boy though so, as much as I love the Nets, I have to go with the Garden State’s very own Newark as the expanded team in the East. Either way, this is just a hypothetical so you can substitute any other Eastern city for Newark if you really prefer.
With 32 teams the NBA has two choices: 1) Maintain the conferences and divisions with one of the new teams added to a division of each conference, or 2) Add a fourth division to each conference. To be honest, either choice should work. For the first option, Seattle would join the Northwest Division and Newark the Atlantic. Oklahoma City would move to the Southwest Division, since it’s right outside of Texas, and that becomes the six-team division. For the second option, the East is easy: Separate the Atlantic Division into North Atlantic and Central Atlantic and make the Central Atlantic consist of Newark, Philly, Washington, and New York with Cleveland joining the North Atlantic Division. Out West, make a Great Plains Division with OKC, Phoenix, Minnesota, and Memphis. For the most part, the divisions work out for everyone. However, forget both of those options and consider my alternative, third option: Getting rid of the Western and Eastern conferences altogether and creating new conferences with teams from both conferences.
I propose that the NBA take a page from the NFL and MLB and designate conferences according to “National” and “American” titles. This way, teams from both the East and West can share the same conference with four divisions — leaving two conferences that should fare better against each other. This helps the regular season, the All-Star Game, the playoffs, and the Finals. Here’s some criteria:
You need four divisions for each conference based on geographical location: North, East, South, and West. The two conferences will be the American Basketball Conference (ABC) and the National Basketball Conference (NBC). The ABC will feature the four ABA teams that were absorbed into the NBA during the merger: The Spurs, Nets, Pacers, and Nuggets. Right off the bat, we now have the first team for each of the four divisions: The ABC East, ABC South, ABC North, and ABC West. The NBC will have the NBC East, NBC South, NBC North, and NBC West. Next you take each team and put them in appropriate divisions to maximize parity. Some divisions are obviously easier than others. The two Eastern divisions will hold all Eastern conference teams and the two Western divisions will hold all Western conference teams. The North and South divisions are where we can mix and match a little bit.
As well as parity, I tried to keep some of the cherished rivalries alive. So, for instance, the Lakers and Celtics had to be in two different conferences because we all would love to have the potential for them to meet in the Finals again. Since it’s the biggest rivalry in the NBA currently, I also made sure the Cavs and Warriors were in separate conferences as well. There were some rivalries, like the Warriors and Thunder, that need to be kept in the same conference because those are important to have as well. Seattle and OKC have to be in the same conference for obvious reasons. And, as is tradition for these types of things, teams from the same city were separated into different conferences. So without further ado, here’s how my new NBA would look.
American Basketball Conference (ABC)
ABCE: Brooklyn, Philly, Washington, Newark
ABCN: Indiana, Cleveland, Minnesota, Toronto
ABCS: San Antonio, Houston, Memphis, Miami
ABCW: Denver, LAL, Phoenix, Sacramento
National Basketball Conference (NBC)
NBCE: Boston, New York, Charlotte, Atlanta
NBCN: Chicago, Detroit, Milwaukee, Utah
NBCS: Dallas, Oklahoma City, New Orleans, Orlando
NBCW: Golden State, LAC, Portland, Seattle
Most probable playoff brackets:
1. San Antonio
1. Golden State
6. New Orleans
The ABC might look a little stronger overall than the NBC, but you can’t really be mad at the results either way. Going off of this, there really shouldn’t be any “bad” teams making the playoffs and the road for Cleveland and Golden State should be a little harder than what it is now. Not only that, but there’s star power in both conferences now, so the All-Star Game should be more competitive too. I think I could have flipped a couple of teams as well to make it even better, but I really liked some of the match-ups the way it unfolded. I think this is the way the NBA can make itself better going forward, especially if it plans to expand. Speaking of expansion, if you really hate Newark getting a team, switching it with Baltimore creates the same layout. If you would rather go Pittsburgh or Cincinnati, just put that team in the ABC North and put Toronto back in the ABC East. See? Simple adjustment. The point is, this is something the NBA should consider going forward. Let’s make it happen Silver!