The 2016 NBA Finals between the Cleveland Cavaliers and Golden State Warriors will go down in history as one of the best championship rounds in history. But for most of the playoffs — and most of the season — it felt like the NBA was unbalanced. The Western Conference, home of the Warriors and San Antonio Spurs and Oklahoma City Thunder, seemed much stronger compared to the East, where the Cavs dominated for most of the season (even when they struggled).
That conference imbalance led some to talk about new ways to choose playoff teams. And had those ideas been implemented, the postseason matchups we saw this year — including that incredible Finals — may have been very different.
One idea that was discussed a lot was changing how playoff teams were seeded. Currently, the top 8 teams in each conference make the postseason. The new way would find the top 16 teams in the league competing for the title. This makes sure the best half of the whole league gets rewarded for their efforts and their play. It would also mean that, in the playoffs, teams would not necessarily play opponents in their conference.
In 2016, this seeding idea wouldn’t have necessarily changed who made the playoffs. (The exception: the Chicago Bulls would’ve been in instead of the Houston Rockets.) The bigger change would have been felt in the matches.
What would that have looked like? The two number one seeds, the Warriors and Spurs, would have been on different sides of the bracket. They would have played the two eight seeds, and so on. This would have made the road a lot easier for the top West teams because they wouldn’t have had to play each other until, potentially, the NBA Finals.
Critics of this new style of seeding of a lot of arguments against it: It eliminates the value of regular-season conference games. In fact, conferences wouldn’t even be necessary anymore. They also say that different sides of the new bracket are unfair. In this year’s bracket, the most difficult team the Spurs would have had to face was the Raptors, while the Warriors might have had to play the Cavaliers or Spurs. Critics also say that if the Finals were West vs. West or East vs. East it wouldn’t be exciting because these teams already play each other enough in the regular season. Obviously, the Spurs play the Warriors more often in the regular season than the Cavs do.
But for fans, the real question is: Which matchup is more entertaining? Isn’t that what it comes down to in the end?
That’s the argument from supporters of retooling postseason seeding. The NBA Finals attracts millions of viewers eager of watching the best basketball all season. The Finals are supposed to showcase the best two teams in the NBA. But what if the team from one conference is, well, not so good?
This season ended with a historically exciting Finals. LeBron James led the Cavs to their first title ever, and the first pro championship for the city of Cleveland in more than 50 years. And to do it, the Cavaliers had to topple the Warriors, which set the all-time mark for wins in a season (73), and they had to do it by coming back from being down 3-1 in the series — something no team had ever done.
There was history all over the place in this year’s championship round, and tons of people tuned in. But what happens in a year where there’s not so much on the line? Or if the teams aren’t super exciting? Shouldn’t the NBA consider how to ensure the Finals features the most exciting basketball every year?
Personally, I love the new seeding idea. It would make the finals more exciting and more fair so that the true best play each other. But tell us what you think by taking the poll below!
Photos: Ezra Shaw/Getty Images (celebration), Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images (action)