It’s August, and that means it’s the worst month of the year. It’s hot. It’s long. It’s on the ‘towards the end of summer’ side of the summer-break time continuum and not ‘in the middle of summer’ or ‘at the beginning of summer’. There are no federal holidays. February can also fuck right the fuck off, but August is the worst. Baseball is boring af and has the least amount of drama. With so many games, literally anything could happen, but it happens so slowly it’s like if you had to watch a time-lapse video of a plant growing in real time. The NFL is in the preseason and the only news is who got hurt or who is protesting. The NBA, of course, is in its dead season.
But I’m here to rescue you from that malaise, my friend, with a proposal so radical it will make Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez look like Chuck Schumer. You may have heard at some point over the last, oh, 20 years or so that the Eastern Conference is inferior to the Western Conference. You may have also heard the LeBron James joined the Lakers this summer, causing an even greater chasm between the two conferences. The horror! We can’t stand for injustice like that, no siree. But have no fear, I’m here to save the day with a proposal to solve all of these problems.
Are you ready?
The NBA schedule actually doesn’t need to be fixed.
If you’ve read or watched anything about basketball over the past few years, this might come as a shock. Everyone knows the East is inferior, right? Everyone knows that the good Eastern Conference teams get to ‘beat up’ on the shitty Eastern Conference teams while every team in the West has to run through a GAUNTLET of competition. You or one of your loser friends has probably made some form of the ‘But if the Nuggets were in the East they’d be a 2 seed!’ argument before.
The problem with these arguments is that no one really quantifies how bad the East is, or how imbalanced the schedule really is. Sure, you can find that the West has a better record against the East and that the West has won more NBA titles over the past 20 years. That’s great and all, but that doesn’t really convince me that the schedule is unfair during the regular season and needs to be revamped.
The East plays 30 games against the West and 52 games against itself, while the West is (obviously) the opposite. But so what? Let us not forget there are shitty teams in the Western Conference, also. Sacramento and Phoenix still exist, ya know? So it’s not enough to just say, ‘This is unfair because the West is better.’ I agree the West is better, but just because the West is better, that doesn’t mean the entire schedule needs to be tossed away like a Steph Curry behind the back pass in Game 7 of the NBA Finals.
For example, let’s say in any given year there are 6 good-to-great teams in the East. That means there are 9 bad-to-complete dog’s ass teams. And let’s say in the West it’s the opposite – in any given year, there are 9 good-to-great teams and 6 bad-to-complete dog’s ass teams. The exact number of teams will vary from year to year and the exact definition of good and bad will vary from person to person. But the point is, not all teams in the East are bad, and not all teams in the West are good. And while the 6-9 Rule (nice) is one I just made up, it’s better than just saying ‘The East sucks’.
If we accept the 6-9 Rule as true, that means that a Western Conference team gets 18 games against shitty Eastern Conference teams and somewhere between 18-24 games against shitty Western Conference teams. Conversely, an Eastern Conference team gets 12 games against shitty Western Conference teams and 27-36 games against shitty Eastern Conference teams.
That means, in total, that Western Conference teams play 36-42 games against shitty teams and Eastern Conference teams play 39-48 games against those same shitty teams.
It’s a disparity, but it’s not THAT big of a disparity. And some Western Conference teams actually get to play more shitty teams than some Eastern Conference teams would.
The only way to get a truly balanced schedule is for each team to play each other twice. That’s only 58 games. Any other idea – seeding playoffs 1-16, shortening the season and having a some sort of play-in tournament for the last few seeds – does nothing to actually balance the schedule, and also doesn’t necessarily solve a problem. That’s because no real problem exists. Once you factor in that there are good and bad teams in both conferences, even if that split isn’t divided evenly, there is still not a problem worth solving. Certainly not one worth revolutionizing the way the league is set up, which could have ramifications – draft positions, revenue, etc. – beyond just who gets to play the Hawks 4 times a year.
(Side note: I hate any proposal to change from an 82 game schedule. I value the historical numbers. I want to see LeBron surpass Kareem. I want to see Steph Curry double up Ray Allen’s record for made 3s. Reducing the number of games changes all of the standard historical landmarks – 30,000 points, 20,000 points, 10,000 rebounds all become moot because the number of games per season changed. Plus, it’s too easy of an out for people who want to change the rules. Oh sure, we’ll change the number of games. But when you put 82 as an obstacle it creates a barrier, a hard-stop, which means the solutions must be incredibly creative, which makes this all the more fun.)
I think this is why the NBA is so hesitant to actually make or propose any changes. It’s likely not going to make a huge difference in any outcomes anyway. Do you really think LeBron would have lost to Andrew Wiggins? Sure, maybe we end up with Rockets/Warriors in the Finals, but also maybe Chris Paul still gets hurt and we don’t. Maybe Dwane Casey still coaches the Raptors. Perhaps Mark Jackson still coaches the Warri – ok, he definitely would have gotten fired either way.
I’m not usually one to propose keeping the status quo, but until I see a proposal that actually solves a problem, and creates a better solution, I’m holding firm.
Oh and also, fuck August.