- On the latest Open Floor podcast, Andrew Sharp and Ben Golliver discuss the NBA's postseason problem and how the league can fix it.
Over the weekend, the Rockets crushed the Cavaliers in Cleveland and appeared to be the second-best team in basketball (behind the Warriors, of course). In fact, their win was decisive and the Cavs looked so overwhelmed that it sparked a conversation about the NBA playoff structure in the latest Open Floor Podcast episode.
In turn, a series of questions came up for Andrew Sharp and Ben Golliver to answer... If the Rockets are in deed better than every team in the West, shouldn't they get a shot at competing for a title? Why are the playoff still governed by geography? Get the answer to that on more on this week's podcast.
Check out the full episode here and subscribe to the podcast on iTunes. (The following transcript has been edited and condensed for clarity).
Andrew Sharp: I think that this is a commentary on the state of the Cavs. Everyone is too bored with speculating on what's wrong with Cleveland and how to fix them, and now the conversation is shifting to how we can just fix the playoffs to avoid having to watch this Cavs team sputter through another underwhelming Finals—although at this point I don't even really see them getting there. But we do get an email almost every week about reseeding the playoffs, so I feel like this is a good day to talk about it. My first question to you: How close are we to this becoming a reality?
Ben Golliver: Well, we haven't really heard any official movement on it from the league, so I would guess not any closer really. Look, I try pretty hard to be an independent thinker and sometimes that works out really well for me and sometimes it doesn't. On this particular issue, you remember how hard I was banging this drum. It was a weekly thing for me, and it feeds into the Western Conference superiority and all the like. The problem for me is that I almost have burned myself out on it. Ramping up for another annual round of this just because we feel pity for the Cavaliers and we don't want to see them stomped by the Warriors in June. It's a tough ask.
Now, at the same time, let me propose this: Personally, if I could do it, I would take the top 16 teams regardless of conference. I think dividing by geography is just so arbitrary. It makes no sense to me, and the 15 most eastern teams aren't in the Eastern Conference and vice versa with the West because you've had franchises move and so forth. That really bothers me and seems illogical. I would just take the top 16 teams and I would also try to balance the regular season schedule so that Western Conference teams don't play each other quite as often, so that you would get true parity across those records. I understand that's kind of a big ask.
Sharp: Your solution for everything is to just blow up the entire system. You're pushing for anarchy at every team, whether it's the All-Star Game, the playoffs, the regular season schedule. I try to keep things a little bit more realistic, but I enjoy your prospective there.
Golliver: Usually it's only one of two: It's either I'm the most traditional person you know and I want to see nothing change, or let's run all the way to the other end with it. That's kind of how I operate. What about this as a compromise: What if the reseeding just takes place in the final four? You get to the conference finals and you realize Cleveland is the weakest link of the four or whoever it might be. I guess this year let's say Cleveland and Toronto are in the Eastern Conference finals. If Cleveland is the weakest link there, they have to play the Warriors on one bracket, you put Houston and Toronto on the other bracket. That sets up Golden State vs. Houston Finals, which everyone wants to see. That could be a compromise.
What would bother me about that is a lot of the time the West has three of the top four teams, so you would still be kind of leaving someone like the Spurs out in that scenario. But wouldn't it insure a better Finals if we did that?
Sharp: I love it. It's very rare that you and I are on the same page. I have a couple different thoughts on this, actually. Let me start from the beginning. First of all, I think we're closer than you realize to the NBA exploring this. I think the All-Star Game is a sign that the league understands that there's a problem that needs fixing, and I don't think it was just about the All-Star Game. I think the league recognizes that there's an imbalance here. I also think that if one good think comes from the Warriors era. It could be that the league decides to shake things up to keep interest at it's peak. Everybody at the NBA recognizes that this is a window of opportunity for the league to really gain some ground over the next few years, especially as football is kind of flailing in the wind. And it wouldn't surprise me at all if in a year or two from now, Adam Silver says, 'Look, we're going to screw with the playoffs a little bit to try to optimize competitive balance and make the most of the interest in all these games.'
Golliver: Andrew, I love your optimism but let's not forget the NBA has also tried out the dunk contest wheel and team dunk contest. They've tried out a lot of really bad ideas.
Sharp: All-Star Weekend is celebratory and usually the ideas don't work. I understand that. I also understand that you'd have to get the owners on the same page as well, which is a tough ask, because the Eastern Conference owners have no incentive to try to reform any of this.
Golliver: There is one incentive, though, and maybe it's not particularly to them. But when you have the salary cap stuck in the mud this year because there wasn't as much playoff revenue because there were so many blowouts, especially from Golden State. You would increase your playoffs revenue—no question. More games, more ticket sales, more BRI, more everything if you insured you had the best teams playing each other for the most amount of games in your playoffs. That's the argument. It's an economic argument, as well as viewership and kind of catering to your fan base argument. That's going to come at the expense of certain subgroups, sure. But we've seen owners kind of float along being propped up by financial incentives that kind of benefit the league, rather than just benefiting their own teams for decades. So this wouldn't be out of line with that.
Sharp: There's another substantive reason to make this change beyond just wanting more exciting playoff games. I think that if you look at the imbalance of the conferences—which at this point goes back 20 years—part of the problem for the East has been that a lot of short-term thinking actually works for them. The Bucks trading for Eric Bledsoe makes more sense in the East, because he could be the different between a first-round series and making the Finals, and that's been true on a lot of different teams over the last 20 years. Where for West coast team, it doesn't make sense to think like that because at best you're in a seventh seeed situation, and you're getting blown out of the gym in the first round.
The hidden story is that basically the best Eastern Conference teams have been mismanaged, and some of that mismanagement comes down to GMs sensing an opportunity to make some modest progress. You can even look at the Wizards. They would get their ass kicked in the West every year, but they've spent a of money on a team that is reasonably competitive in the East because there's not as much talent. And I think that happens up and down the conference, and if suddenly these teams were forced with going out and playing actually good teams—if the Bucks matched up with the Spurs in the first round of the playoffs, there would be no allusions about how close they really are. As it is now, I think some of these teams are able to trick themselves into thinking they're closer than they really are.