The 37-win Atlanta Hawks are in the NBA playoffs and the 47-win Phoenix Suns are not. Oh, the humanity.
Some are outraged that the Western Conference so dominates the East. Some are calling for revolution. Some are heeding the call.
Even NBA commissioner Adam Silver says he’s open to considering a playoff change that would include the top 16 teams in the league, not just the top eight in each conference.
Terrible idea. Terrible.
Is it fair that a quality team like the Suns is conducting exit interviews this week while a hapless team like the Hawks is on the NBA bracket?
Oh, I don’t know. Is it fair that Milwaukee’s weather stinks and Miami has South Beach? Is it fair that Tim Duncan is in San Antonio and Kevin Durant in OKC because of lottery luck, while the Wizards can’t catch a break with the ping-pong balls?
They don’t do it for fair.
There are multiple reasons to keep the current system, and no reason good enough to change it.
Conference superiority is cyclical. Sure, the West dominates the East these days and has for a decade or more. But not so long ago, the East dominated the West.
The ’97 Clippers made the playoffs at 36-46. The ’96 Kings and the ’93 Lakers made it at 39-43. Heck, in the ’80s, the West was awful. The ’88 Spurs made the post-season at 31-51.
What goes around comes around. The East will live again.
But you want the top 16 teams in the playoffs? OK, then you have to scrap the conferences. Equal scheduling. You want the West teams lumped in with the East? Then you have to lump in the schedules, too.
Just grab some Pepto Bismol. You’ll be sick to your stomach. How would the Thunder like a schedule in which it played the Spurs twice and the Raptors thrice? The Mavericks twice and the Bobcats thrice? The Lakers or Clippers twice and the Magic thrice?
Could happen, would happen, by scrapping conferences.
The NBA’s geographic setup isn’t perfect. But it tries. The NBA does what the NFL and baseball fail to do – create regional rivalries. The NBA is split east/west. Baseball has tried to compensate with interleague play, but the NBA doesn’t have to compensate. All the Pacific Rim teams, all the Southwest teams, all the Rocky Mountain teams, are in the same conference.
That helps with rivalries, helps with travel wear and tear, helps with local television promotion. Wonder how the Knickerbockers would like 10 Pacific Time Zone games a year instead of five. Nothing like a 10:30 p.m. tip to draw the masses. Or the Lakers 25 tips at 4 p.m. California time.
NBA travel already is a bear. Play in Indianapolis one day, New Orleans the next. That gets worse – much worse – when the conferences are scrapped.
Truth is, the West franchises should stand their ground against any change. Their current superiority helps the West, in two ways.
First, the lottery. Guess which team is in the lottery this year? Phoenix. The rich get richer. The Suns will get no worse than the 14th pick in the NBA Draft, and with some San Antonio-type luck could get a top-three pick. Meanwhile, Atlanta will get the 15th pick after being drubbed out of the first round for the third straight season.
Second, running in the fast heat helps, not hurts, the West franchises. You’ve got to be serious in the West. You can’t be Atlanta or Milwaukee, be mediocre year after year yet still reap some degree of success. Those franchises take forever to figure out the treadmill they’re on.
Not so in the West. When you swim with sharks, you’ve got to have sharp teeth.
Take the Rockets, for example. Houston has had one losing season since 2002. But winning a little isn’t good enough in the West. The Rockets went 42-40 in 2009-10, followed by 43-39 and 34-32. Good teams all. None made the playoffs.
So general manager Darryl Morey went about the business of building a flexible roster. When James Harden became available, the Rockets were ready with a trade. When Dwight Howard hit the open market, Houston was ready with cash and a contending team.
Had the Rockets been in the East, they might have been thrilled with perennial playoff teams that might even win a series. And no chance of title contention.
Being in the Western Conference comes at a cost. The price is high -- a good team sitting out the playoffs. But it’s worth it. Being in the Western Conference makes you better.
Save the conference system. Save the West.
Berry Tramel: Berry can be reached at (405) 760-8080 or at . He can be heard Monday through Friday from 4:40-5:20 p.m. on The Sports Animal radio network, including FM-98.1. You can also view his personality page at newsok.com/berrytramel.