Pushin’ Too Hard

On Tuesday, ESPN’s report that the NBA is seriously reconsidering a prior proposal to reseed the four conference finalists in the playoffs sent shockwaves throughout the community that might care about that sort of thing – that is, those who knew about the proposal in the first place. Fans and analysts alike were more confused than anything else; why would the NBA remove something upon which everyone, its own women’s league included, seemed to agree?

Ensconced in a larger proposal of league reforms on which governors were to vote ahead of implementation for the NBA’s 75th anniversary in the 2021-’22 season, re-seeding seemed like the most logical and, therefore, least likely tab to fall from the docket. After all, the WNBA has been seeding playoff entrants regardless of conference for a while now.

As ever, geography seems to have gotten the upper hand for now, favoring an in-season tournament and postseason play-in games over the travel increases that would result in the would-be top tier teams potentially changing coasts or time zones every two or three games. The current trend toward load management, as well as the proposed decrease in regular season games from 82 to 78, would seem to at least partially address the travel-related concerns, but I digress.

The greater issue at play for the reseeding proposal is the disparity in conferences; the West has long been held as the standard-bearer, consistently putting forth a handful of actual championship contenders. The West definitely has the historical markers of this century to talk you into it – the Shaq-Kobe Lakers, the Duncan-Ginobili-Parker Spurs, the Kobe-Pau-Odom Lakers and, of course, the Warriors, the steam of whose reign is still fuming – with a handful of truly exceptional teams sprinkled about.

Ironically, LeBron’s dominance in the East is somewhat to blame for that – taking whatever team you’re on to the Finals eight times in a row in the same conference tends to carry with it a certain depreciation of what you’re doing, especially when the first season you play in the other conference ends prematurely. The shadow of an all-time Warriors team’s departed supremacy has left the league in a place of parity it has not experienced since maybe 2010, pre-Heatles.

While parity is generally good for the league[1], it makes the already-difficult process of planning for the playoffs that much harder. Wizards beat reporter Fred Katz made the interesting point that only one team in the entire league, the Oklahoma City Thunder, is currently on-pace for a win total in the 40s this season, with everyone else projecting to win either 50 or more or 39 or fewer. Spacing out the playoffs helps, but it also extends what is already a marathon, two-month slog that already leaves the casual fan asking, in disbelief, “This is STILL going?”

Re-seeding could compound the difficulties within an already complicated process, but at the same time, the Western Conference Finals of the past two years both felt like the NBA Finals before the NBA Finals. Thanks to Board Man, that didn’t turn out to be the case last year, of course, but malaise can set in. By the same token, had the conferences reseeded in 2018, the series would have had Golden State traveling to and from Boston set against the much more manageable distance of Cleveland alternating with Houston. The wear and tear that became apparent for the Warriors in last year’s Finals may have arrived a year and one series earlier in such a scenario.

Even so, reseeding seems like an entirely logical move, if one to which players and teams would have to adjust – something the WNBA has managed just fine[2]. It would be on Adam Silver and the league to find a workable solution anyway, but not having it on the table at all after the initial excitement and nearly universal agreement about it seems like an uncommon tactical error for the league seeking world, and American, ubiquity.

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[1] Though this much parity has its detractors, and some believe that not having a traveling juggernaut circus like the Warriors on national TV every other night has led to a decline in ratings rather than other factors including, but not limited to: prohibitively expensive cable packages (and the subsequent migration to streaming, legal and otherwise); the notoriously inconsistent quality of NBA League Pass; and load management itself, even with the rules in place which allow for adequate notice as to who will be playing on any given night.

[2] I KNOW, they have fewer overall games in the season, but by that token – shouldn’t the NBA, then?

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