On July 4, 1776 The Declaration of Independence was signed by 56 people to declare their independence over Great Britain. Another sign of independence is the Liberty Bell in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Little did Philly know that two centuries later one smaller organization would in contrast merge with a large organization that would become one of the biggest sports Associations in the world.
It was August 5th, 1976 when the ABA (American Basketball Association) decided to merge with the NBA (National Basketball Association). The NBA started by taking the four most successful ABA franchises: The Indiana Pacers, New York Nets, Denver Nuggets, and San Antonio Spurs. Of those teams only the San Antonio Spurs have recently been successful at winning titles since the merger.
The problem with the merger is that the league expanded to over 20 teams and eventually 30 in the modern day NBA. This has watered down the talent level of certain divisions and even conferences in the league so much that commissioner Adam Silver is thinking of a way to change playoff seeding so that the best 16 teams get to play in the postseason.
While the East had decades of dominance before the merger with the Boston Celtics, their only glimmer of dominance came when perhaps the greatest player of all time, Michael Jordan, was drafted to the Chicago Bulls in a time that zone defense was illegal. Now with the addition of the zone even superhuman players like LeBron James can’t win the title every year unless they create super teams. When you put all the good players on one team it creates a talent gap between the top teams and all the others.
The West has managed to win the majority of NBA titles in the last two decades since Jordan’s departure mostly by drafting smart and developing young talent. The San Antonio Spurs have won 5 titles when they built around lottery picks Tim Duncan and David Robinson with complimentary talent. The Lakers built around Shaq and eventually Kobe en route to 5 titles. The Warriors have flirted with dynasty status by winning two out of the last three finals when the year that they ironically won an NBA record 73 games was the same year that they blew a 3-1 lead in the Finals to LeBron.
The East has shown flashes of brilliance in this time span but it is due to LeBron James creating superteams to reign on top of the East en route to 7 straight Finals appearances.
Jordan had two three peats in his era of dominance with Scottie Pippen and in the years he played baseball, the West was the best again as the Rockets repeated in 1994 and 1995.
The West teams in the NBA have thrived because a lot of their teams are in big markets. Mostly teams from Texas and California have won the title out West. There are four NBA teams in California and three in Texas. That’s almost half of the teams on this West Coast. The Seattle SuperSonics were the last West team in this side of the NBA not from those big market states to win back in 1979. They now play in Oklahoma City and look to be a ways from a championship now with Kevin Durant gone.
The bottom line is the East is top heavy. Sure there are always stars in the East but too many organizations haven’t had elite personnel to develop that talent. This has led to a focus this year for individual awards in the East since the chance that their conference brings home a title this year is slim.
The biggest culprits of East dependence this year is the 76ers which is ironic since they were the city where Independence started for America two centuries ago. Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons appear to be locks for the Defensive Player of the Year and Rookie of the Year even when there is a far higher quality of candidates on the Utah Jazz out West.
Rudy Gobert took a team that was the worst offensively and mediocre defensively to the top defense in the NBA and improved from 19-28 to a playoff berth in the difficult Western Conference. Donovan Mitchell is one of five rookies ever to lead a playoff team in scoring their rookie year.
Sure Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid have impressive numbers but that is in large part due to their East dependence. Would they do the same if they faced West Coast teams 3 to 4 times per year instead of twice? Probably not.
Time will tell if the East Coast bias will extend from college basketball to the pros in the individual awards but a 16 seed playoff where Eastern and Western teams play an equal schedule with an equal shot at the playoffs is the best way to put the best 16 teams in the postseason. If 10 of those teams happen to be from the West then so be it.
That way Eastern teams won’t be able to just waltz to the Finals while playing cupcakes like Milwaukee and Indiana en route to the Finals with fresh legs. Maybe every top East team like the Raptors or Celtics will have a tougher out in the first round like a middle of the pack west team like the Spurs to advance to the next round.
It’s time to make the NBA playoffs one quadrant of the NCAA tournament. Would a 16 beat a 1? Probably not 4 out of 7 games. Would a 5 vs 12 upset actually happen? Who knows? But it would be fun to see those Eastern Conference juggernauts try to survive in the mess that is the West.
The way to make the seeding fair is if everyone has the same schedule. Play every team three times and that’s only an 87 game schedule. It would be more travel but the NBA has already moved the season back to mid October. Why not add five more games?
It’s a West Coast world right now and the East is just living in it. Maybe this is the move that will improve the quality of the NBA playoffs from sea to shining sea!