The idea of a 1-16 seed NBA playoff format is not new, but it’s an idea that is gaining steam after a week in which the league saw a seismic shift in its competitive balance.
The West is the best, and there’s no denying it after LeBron James landed in Los Angeles. The Lakers’ coup of King James, by far the best available free agent on the market, means that virtually all of basketball’s biggest stars now reside in the Western Conference.
Bookmakers have certainly taken notice. LA would have been a 100/1 underdog to win the NBA title without LeBron; instead, they’re now paying 7/2.
Meanwhile, The Golden State Warriors are now less than an even-money favorite to win it all. The so-called super team only added to their ridiculous array of talent by signing four-time All Star DeMarcus Cousins. As a result, the defending champions are paying just 4/7 at Ladbrokes to do it all again next season.
It seems NBA Commissioner Adam Silver has taken notice too, and major changes could be coming as a result.
The Case for Re-Seeding the Playoffs
There were already complaints about league imbalance before one if its best players moved from the East to the West, and LeBron’s signing only makes the optics worse. Three of the top-four betting favorites now reside in the West, with the Boston Celtics being the only exception.
Silver has apparently heard all the griping, and earlier in the season he floated the idea of switching to a 1-16 seeding format for the post-season.
Under that system, the 16 playoff teams would be seeded from best to worst, regardless of which conference they reside in.
For example, it could see the Philadelphia 76ers meeting the Los Angeles Lakers in the first round, something that had previously been unheard of in the NBA. The idea would be to reduce any East-West imbalance and put the best possible product on showcase.
“You also would like to have a format where your two best teams are ultimately going to meet in the Finals,” Silver said in a press conference.
It’s worth noting that the WNBA has already made a similar change, switching away from a conference format to a 1-8 seeding structure in 2016.
I Would Fly 40,000 Miles
The Commissioner remains insistent that he’d like to find a way to make the new format happen, but there is one sticking point he keeps coming back to — travel.
By most estimates, seeding teams from 1-16 would mean the amount of post-season travel would jump by about 44 percent. Right now, teams travel an average of 90,000 total miles during the playoffs. However, with a lot more east-to-west flying under the potential new format, that would increase to 130,000 miles.
It would also force a more balanced regular season schedule between the two conferences, leading to an estimated 150,000 miles extra travel during the rest of the year.
However, Silver still sounds intent on getting something done, according to ABC News.
“It’s still my hope that we’re going to figure out ways,” Silver said. “Maybe ultimately you have to add even more days to the season to spread it out a little bit more to deal with the travel.”