By Casey Egan
The NBA should look to its more successful and better-looking big brother—the NFL—and strive to create more parity in its ranks. Because, for the last few years, the early rounds of the NBA playoffs have been a mundane formality that appear to be pulling out all the stops to be less interesting than an Adam Silver hairstyle documentary.
The Cavs sweep their first round opponent. Memphis is “gritty” and still loses to the Spurs. Austin Rivers—the Barron Trump of the NBA—gets crunch time minutes thanks to a crumbling regime of nepotism. These are league customs, reminders of Spring, celestial calendar markers that we’ve come to accept and expect over the last few years.
The lone series that went the full seven games featured the freaking (yes, freaking) Utah Jazz, a team whose star player, Gordon Hayward, hands out Nature Valley bars on Halloween.
Hayward looks like his idea of a good time is mistakenly getting his neighbor’s mail and having the chance to return it to its rightful owner.
The Warriors will assuredly make quick work of the upstart Jazz—and the Warriors know it. Matt Barnes and Andre Iguodala recently lamented the Jazz’s opening round win, because of the lack of nightlife options they’ll have while in Utah.
That is how little the Warriors fear the Jazz. They are upset. Not because Gobert poses a potential challenge in the paint. Not because the altitude could cause a hiccup on the road. They are upset that their post-sweep celebration options will be underwhelming.
Though it wouldn’t be a stretch to assume Andre Iguodala has seen his share of Park City wine bars, something is still weird here.
Simply put, the NBA playoffs’ opening rounds are boring and predictable.
So how should the NBA improve its postseason product? What can it do to make its postseason more competitive, interesting, and less predictable? Here are a few ideas.
- Limit Gordon Hayward’s airtime.
1. Bring back the five game series—for rounds one AND two.
It’s hard to see the league returning to this format because of the revenue it would lose (maybe a total of about 10 games worth), but this format would certainly make the first few rounds more compelling.
If a team isn’t good enough to be where they are, they are gone by the first weekend. It’s a quick death. In seven game series, when more games are played, the statistically better team almost always tends to win. One of the reasons the NCAA Tournament is so exciting is that anything can happen in just one game. A smaller sample size creates room for greater variability. Florida Gulf Coast can beat second-seeded Georgetown. Donald Trump can be elected president. And Matt Flynn can look like Joe Montana.
2. Limit the playoffs to the top eight teams from the entire league.
The main argument against this is that the NBA would never go for it because of all the revenue it would lose. I propose that the NBA could just make some sort of NIT-equivalent for the teams that don’t make the playoffs to make up for the phantom funds (super stoked for the Lakers-Knicks finals in the inaugural tourney this year!). But seriously, just look at these first round matchups we would get:
#1 Warriors vs. #8 Jazz
I know, I know, we already have that. But at least you didn’t have to sit through Clippers-Jazz and Warriors-Trail Blazers to get to it. Bear with me.
#2 Spurs vs. #7 Raptors
The league’s most international team playing against the only squad based in a foreign country? It’s hard to think it wouldn’t draw better ratings than this year’s #2 Spurs vs. #7 Grizzlies matchup.
#3 Rockets vs. #6 Cavaliers
Not only would a matchup of two of the league’s best (The Beard vs. King James) be fantastic for ratings, we’d also get tons of new footage for the 2017 flopping reel.
#4 Celtics vs. #5 Clippers
Doc Rivers would get to face the team he won a title with, and Paul Pierce would get one final farewell in a city where his jersey will one day hang in the rafters. Blake Griffin could tour his new home, while Chris Paul blows another gasket drooling at an actually competent coach drawing up plays being run against him.
3. Put literal wildcards into the playoffs.
If the NBA reserved the lowest playoff spot in both conferences for a random team selected from all the non-playoff teams, drawn on national television, it would certainly add some entertainment. Sometimes really bad teams have particular proclivities for giant-slaying. The division-winning Seahawks never seem to figure out the perpetually mediocre Rams. The Chicago Bulls finished the season with a .500 record, yet went 6-1 against the league’s best—the Cavs, Spurs, and Warriors. Howard Stern married a supermodel. You just never know how things are going to play out.
The NBA has shown itself to be a progressive league. It even admits fault from time to time—Adam Silver acknowledged that the All-Star Game should be tweaked. The NBA even puts out its “2 Minute Report” on refereeing, where it admits that LeBron fouled someone and they didn’t call it—or something like that.
So when will it cut the fat and improve the first two rounds of snoozefests?