You know what’s great? Rivalries! You know what the NBA doesn’t have many of? Well, yeah, same thing. And you know what I’d do as Commissioner? Cackle all the way to the bank! I’d also try to generate some rivalries.
And because I’m greedy, I’d also make changes to playoff seeding. And maybe a whole bunch of other stuff. Man, I really want to be the Commish.
But first: Rivalries! We’ve had threads here at GSoM in the past about what even constitutes a rivalry. Are they measured by longevity? By intensity? Do the players have to care, or is it only about the fans? Are fisticuffs a necessity? (I’ll just get this out of the way: my idea is NOT for hockey-style sanctioned brawling, although I’m tempted to take that fork in the road now that I mention it.)
Longevity is certainly a big part of most historic rivalries, and short of making a grand proclamation of, "somebody build me a time machine so that I can tinker with history and manufacture tension between teams at various points in time and — wait what, that’s impossible, time is linear and temporal paradox isn’t possible? I’m the Commissioner dammit, don’t tell me what’s possible!", I’ll just have to hope that my rules changes take hold of the rivalrous nature of sports fans in the years to come.
If I can’t count on longevity, then you better believe I’m going to leverage intensity. And I think it’ll influence teams and fans alike.
Both MLB and NFL have more contentious matchups, I think, than we see in the NBA. They aren’t all rivalries of a historical nature, but I’d call them micro-rivalries based on intensity; and that’s derived from: 1) high frequency of contests; and 2) high stakes every season on the outcome of those contests.
So this grand plan shakes out in two parts.
Part I: Each team will play each other team within their division 8 times every season.
They’ll then play all other teams twice each, regardless of conference. We can keep conferences and divisions largely as they are, though they can be tweaked geographically, whatever — I’m sure someone else has this covered.
If you all thought those Warriors/Clippers matchups last year were intense, how about if there were twice as many? Two teams, fighting for division supremacy, each game breeding animosity for the next? How about Knicks/Nets, facing each other eight times in the same metropolitan area, battling for fans and regional boasting rights?
Divisions are generally determined by proximity, so this lessens travel time. You could have back-to-backs in the same city, giving the losing team in the first the opportunity to get revenge less than a day later, and look to sweep the next back-to-back back home. Fans have twice the opportunities to catch their favorite team in a respectively nearby competing city, and twice the opportunity to generate a healthy sports-hatred for a burgeoning rival.
Sounds great, right? Of course it does. There are a few flaws, but I think we can address them.
First: wouldn’t decent teams in crappy divisions have an easier time making the playoffs? Answer: yeah, probably, But we’ll tweak the playoffs to separate the chaff in just a moment.
Second: wouldn’t crappy teams in good divisions get pounded year after year? Answer: yeah, probably. But maybe they shouldn’t be so crappy! If they get worked even harder than usual, they’ll have better draft picks, or something. I'm sure they'll figure it out. I can’t be bothered with cellar-dwellers these days.
There might be other flaws in my plan, but I’ll let you jerks call me out on them.
Part II: Tweak the playoff seeding to maximize awesomeness.
First, we’re dropping the number of teams that make the playoffs from 16 to 14. Because really, if your league has more than half of its teams making the playoffs, you’re clearly in it for the money. At the very least, let’s playoffize just under half of its teams. Optics, y’all.
Second, the teams with the two best overall win/loss records in each of the six divisions make the playoffs.
Third, the team with the best overall record in each conference gets a first-round bye in the playoffs. We can call them "Regular Season Conference Champions" or something, give ‘em a little trophy.
Fourth, you have a one-game playoff between the two teams with the next best remaining records in each conference, regardless of division, to fill out that last playoff position.
Fifth, the three division winners (or I guess two division winners and one division runner-up, depending on which team gets the first-round bye) in each conference gets home court advantage in the first round. The one-game playoff winner gets seeded 4-6 depending on record.
I love this setup for a few reasons. Having six series in the first round instead of eight gives those games some breathing room, doesn’t force such a slog of a schedule, and fans have a better chance of watching all of the games instead of always having to miss out on that inevitable Pacers/Hawks matchup that gets relegated to NBATV at odd hours of the day. The one-game playoff is obviously thrilling for fans, but it also gives an opportunity to teams in stacked divisions to show their worth and get the seed they deserve. We don’t need to watch the #1 seeds (and probable Finals contestants) beat up on some terrible teams two rounds in a row, so giving them the byes doesn’t detract from the experience for anybody. And lastly, you’re likely going to see those top dogs in each division, who’ve battled all season, face each other at some point in the playoffs.
Hey, how about a bonus fun-rule? The two season conference champs, during their bye series, face off in a 3-on-3 exhibition game for charity? Kind of a little tease for a possible Finals match, set up some bragging rights tension there? Sure, let’s do it.
Look, none of these changes need to happen. The NBA is great, I loved the 2013 playoffs, and there are a ton of rules that really need to be changed before this craziness is considered, many of which you’ve already brought up. But I for one would love to hate the Clippers, or the Lakers, or even the Suns or Kings if they pull their stuff together, even more than I already do. We need villains, and constant contests between the same teams will villainize the opposition in short order. That makes games more meaningful and more fun. The playoff reordering helps maintain that divisiveness through the postseason. Everybody wins. Except probably for the Suns and Kings, who get walloped mercilessly by their superior division rivals. But, whatever.
Bonus rule change!
I should have led with this one, because it might be the most important of all.
BRING BACK STRIPEY SOCKS!!!
And even otherwise-adorned hosiery. Are you telling me this isn’t totally awesome, and wouldn’t sell merchandise?