Sunday, June 17, 2007

Fixing the Finals in one easy step

As everyone knows, the NBA Finals were a little anticlimactic. A lot of people think the playoffs need to be fixed and everyone seems to know how to do it. I'm no different: I've got my suggestion, too.

Do nothing.

Look, we've been through this before. In the 90's the Bulls ruled. The 80's had the Celtics and the Lakers. Each time, fans talked about a competitive imbalance and the need to adjust. Each time, the imbalance corrected itself eventually.

The most common suggestion is seeding all sixteen teams in a super bracket, regardless of conference. There are two major problems here. The first is the current imbalanced schedule. If you switch to a super bracket, you have to go to a balanced schedule, which creates many other problems, starting with decreased emphasis on natural rivalries and an increase in travel.

The second major problem with the super bracket is what proponents actually champion: getting the best matchup in the Finals. In an ideal world, that would be great, but how would people have reacted if some combination of San Antonio/Phoenix/Dallas played for the championship? Yeah, it would be a great matchup, but you know everyone would be upset that there wasn't an Eastern team in it. They complain enough about 'late starts' for regular season and early round playoff games. What kind of noise would they make if it was the Finals? This plan has got serious flaws.

Bill Simmons has his own tricked up version of this, in which the last four spots in the super bracket are determined by a double elimination play-in tourney. He attempts to solve the playoff problem and the tanking issue. This plan might even possibly solve both. But it's too ridiculous and mocks any sanctity of sport that exists—it would be like if the BCS changed their formula every year. Oh, wait...

Everyone loved the Warriors first round upset of the Mavericks—this is the price you pay for that upset. When top teams bow out early, you shouldn't be surprised if it affects play in later rounds. The Utah/Golden State and San Antonio/Utah series probably would have never happened if not for that first round upset. Think George Mason 2006—Cinderella teams are fun until clock strikes midnight in a later round.

The only change that I wouldn't mind seeing is reseeding. Even with the first round upset, wouldn't a round two of Spurs/Warriors and Suns/Jazz, likely followed by Spurs/Suns have been better?

As for the hapless East, well, just wait. In a few years, the balance of power will swing back that way, just in time for everyone to deplore the Eastern Conference dominance.


PJ said...

It's just like the NFC vs. AFC argument. In the 90's, everyone argued that the "Real Super Bowl" was the NFC Championship (especially when it was between Dallas and SF. It happens in each sport at some time when one conference gets stronger than the other. Even so, true fans of basketball enjoyed the Finals I think. True fans of a sport watch that sport even if their team is out (I watched the NHL finals even though the Stars made their exit slightly before the Mavs.)

Knotwurth Mentioning said...

Once again, the NBA sounds startlingly like the NHL in its worries over the last few days. Too much defensive dominance, one conference being superior (before this year it was the East), certain teams being too good... but then, the NHL has actually started taking steps to fix it.

And I think I agree with you, to an extent. I think the salary cap is a good thing for the NHL to balance out the power, but more between conference rivals rather than between conferences. There is always going to be one side of the league that happens to be better at a certain point in time, and that's just a fact of sports. But at least there is a toss-up in the various conferences as to which teams are going to come out on top, which makes it a bit more exciting.

But, the defensive issue, at least in the NHL, is one that they've been struggling with for so long that you have to muse that it simply won't go away. I think that for them to test out ways to dampen the impact of trapping on hockey would be a good idea, because patience isn't paying off.