In a time of the year when there is so little NBA talk that Lebron’s son’s first dunk is making headlines, here at GBB we like to get creative with our content. It’s a time when we can put aside all the rules and make our own, we can blur lines and think about what the NBA looks like through a different lens.
Under the influence of the top heavy Western Conference and the recent (severe) struggles of the Memphis Grizzlies, I took a stab at redrawing NBA division lines in hopes of creating a better situation for Memphis. Of course, in reality, the NBA isn’t drawing division and/or conference lines to cater to one team, but I have the luxury of bias, so here it goes.
I will be discussing each newly drawn division in detail in a series of articles. Keep in mind, the new divisions will have new names, and a different conference structure, to be discussed as well.
But first… the method behind the madness.
If you’ve followed the Grizzlies post-Vancouver move, you have probably heard that Memphis is geographically the eastern-most Western Conference team. It’s almost silly when you look at a map, Memphis is located just east of the Mississippi River and almost directly in the same longitude as Chicago and Milwaukee. (The same could also be said for New Orleans, but they are less important for this admittedly biased article.)
Also, it was always an easy way out complaint that Memphis should be moved to the East when the team ran in to Western Conference stalwarts like the San Antonio Spurs or the Oklahoma City Thunder. The Eastern Conference is unanimously lesser in this decade, and that doesn’t look to be changing anytime soon. Just by simple research, the year that the Grizzlies lost in the Western Conference Finals (2012-13 season), they were the five seed in the West, which with the same record would’ve been the two seed in the East.
Life is different in the Eastern Conference.
But in my creativity I’ve decided that the current conference structure is simply not good enough, there is a better way, a more beneficial way for the Grizzlies to get out of this hole they have so gracefully dug. So I give you the new NBA conferences: SouthWest and NorthEast. (Yes, I wrote them with the grammatically wrong capital letters on purpose.)
If you took a map of the NBA teams and drew a line from Jacksonville, Florida through Seattle, Washington, you can evenly divide the number of teams in the NBA. The teams on the right side of that line are mostly northern and eastern United States cities, the teams on the left side of the line are mostly southern and western cities, hence the names of the conferences. Of course, neither are a perfect match to their new conference name, but there will always be exceptions based on the current locations of teams.
Before I move on, I would like to acknowledge in my redrawing of the conferences that the SouthWest conference teams will have a higher travel bill than that of their NorthEast foes. That is a valid concern, though one that is unavoidable due to the larger geographic area of the western states of the U.S. If that is a major hang up for you, consider the travel that Memphis and New Orleans endure when competing on the road against their much-more-western conference rivals.
In the new structure, there are redrawn divisions, but this time divisions matter. Sure, in today’s NBA divisions carry some weight, but only because they provide home court advantage. Other than that, there is no real use for them, and definitely no strong rivalries created within them. Speaking of home court, its time the NBA playoffs wasn’t saturated with teams that make playoffs because they weren’t quite bad enough to slip out of the top eight in their conference.
Each division will have a divisional winner, the best regular season record (tiebreakers determined by record against divisional opponents), and a newly unveiled wild card winner. (Wild card winners are the teams with the best record that did not win their division, there will be one from each conference.)
If this system sounds eerily similar to that of Major League Baseball and the National Football League, you would be correct in that assumption. The prestige of making the playoffs in those leagues is much higher than that of the NBA because of how few teams make the playoffs. I love watching NBA Playoff basketball, even if half of the league makes it to bonus basketball, but there is no question that the regular season games would mean more if less teams were given a shot at the championship.
Each conference will consist of three divisions, each with a logical geographic drawing, which house five teams each. This is the exact format of the current divisions, but in my utopian system, the teams are shuffled a bit, and the conferences look different.
West Coast Division
The West Coast division is the first of three divisions in the SouthWest conference.
My first decisions was to split up teams in the same city, aka Los Angeles (and New York, to be discussed later). Sure, there is something to be said for divisional rivals being the in the same city, but LA is Laker territory, the Clippers are just the little brother tugging at the shorts of Laker dominance. Secondly, Portland is a loner no matter which way you divide up the league, but in this case, they follow the flow of Interstate 5 through California.
This division also has a nice balance of rich history and new faces. The Lakers hold it down with the storied teams and championships, while Golden State gives the division the new swag in their own dominance. Phoenix has a newfound opportunity to compete against close neighbors in similar cultures.
The tendency is to think about the divisions as matchups that are happening in this upcoming season. Of course, when redrawing the division lines, the effect will take place in an upcoming season, but the divisions can’t be based on who would matchup well. The crown of the NBA is overthrown rapidly in today’s mobile age, so divisions have to be chosen for geographic and cultural reasons.
For example, the numerous matchups that would happen between GSW and the Lakers this season would be must-see TV. Lebron and his newbies versus the dream team Warriors? That’s an awesome divisional rival in the making. But just as Lebron left Cleveland (twice), the reign over the NBA can shift with some ink to a paper. Who knows what the Warriors look like in two years? Or Sacramento, for that matter?
The teams in the new West Coast division are teams that are geographically close and culturally similar.
Keep an eye out for the next two divisions of the SouthWest conference. Let Adam Silver know how to find me.