The NBA playoff format is flawed. In today’s era of basketball, an East vs. West format just isn’t as appealing as it used to be. Not only due to a lack of balance in the conferences for over a decade now, but because the majority of the limitations that used to exist in travel are no longer there.
Commissioner Adam Silver told reporters during his annual All-Star speech on Saturday that the NBA continues to give “serious attention” to the relative merits of its two-conference playoff format, which includes eight teams each from the Western and Eastern Conferences, and a potential new format that would include the best 16 teams, regardless of conference.
“You also would like to have a format where your two best teams are ultimately going to meet in the Finals,” Silver said. “You could have a situation where the top two teams in the league are meeting in the conference finals or somewhere else. So we’re going to continue to look at that. It’s still my hope that we’re going to figure out ways.”
The travel concern has to do with the rhythm of a seven-game series played between teams from, say, Miami and Portland. East vs. West division of the league and the playoffs lends a fun geographic narrative, but the primary concern is logistics: the quality of basketball is likely to suffer as the travel requirements are increased.
The NBA has played a championship series between an East winner and a West winner every year since 1950, so re-seeding the 16 playoff teams or simply picking the top 16 teams regardless of the conference would represent a monumental change. However, the NBA made a similar alteration to its All-Star Game format this year, with Sunday’s game featuring two teams selected by captains LeBron James and Stephen Curry rather than by strictly conference representatives, the previous method since 1951.