NBA's outdated and unfair regional (Western and Eastern) conference structure

It’s time for the NBA to look critically at its outdated and unfair regional (Western and Eastern) conference structure. In the interest of fairness, such a structure assumes that, overall, there is parity between the teams in the two conferences. But that hasn't been the case for two decades.

Pointing to the NBA championship teams doesn't prove regional fairness or unfairness, because championship teams are, by design, not average. They are the outliers.

Pointing to All Star game winners also doesn't prove regional fairness or unfairness, because we all know that All Star games are played for entertainment.

Pointing to the best players in the game and what teams they choose to play for is where we need to look. It is assumed that the best players tend to want to play for teams that are in the larger markets. Does the Western Conference have more teams with larger markets than does the Eastern Conference? Honestly, I'm not sure.

What I am sure about is that we have lost parity between the teams of the two regional-based conferences, and that spells UNFAIR. It's unfair to the teams, players and fans of the Eastern Conference because they are seen as having the weaker conference with the weaker teams. And weaker teams play more games against other weaker teams. It's also unfair to the teams, players and fans of the Western Conference that have strong teams that don't qualify for the postseason, but who nevertheless have better records than Eastern Conference teams who do qualify for the postseason. And that's after playing more games against other stronger teams.

How does the NBA fix it - if they even want to fix it?
By throwing out the regional-based conference structure. It's that simple. Accept that it's unfair and outdated and throw it out. Essentially, all 30 teams in the NBA would be in a single conference.

What about regional rivalries?
Giving up on the unfair regional-based conference structure will not kill or suppress regional rivalries. They'll still play each other 2-3 times per year, and maybe in the postseason as well.

What about the extra travel required of the players if all 30 teams in the NBA are (essentially) in a single conference?
I don't think it's an issue. Some flights would end up being an additional hour or two. But, folks, the old regional-based conference structures in most sports date back to when buses were part of the transportation equation. These days buses are used to get between airports and hotels, and not to get a team from one city to another city.

It is time to seek fairness in the NBA’s conference structure. Just like when we vote; we want to know that our vote counts just as much as anyone else’s vote. Anything else is UNFAIR. It is inexcusable to have an NBA team get into the postseason and have a shot at a championship when they have a worse won/loss record than another team that played against stronger competition, won more games, and yet didn’t get into the postseason.


Hall of Famer
I'd love for Silver to implement a new approach to the seedings and see how that plays out. Eliminate division titles and conference champions and see how it goes. I'm open for change to the sport.
I’m not opposed to re-ordering the seeding for the top 16 teams overall but the West having the stronger and deeper conference over the last couple of decades is unrelated to market sizes and just more western conference teams building better and sustainable success. But yeah, it’s unfair to West teams. Surprisingly, this year it wasn’t a problem since the top 16 teams record wise made the playoffs.

There’s every bit the market for East teams and if anything, they have the advantage and more opportunity for national exposure of having their games going when people are just getting off work in the West and prime time in the East. Where’s many people on the east are getting ready for bed when Western Conference games start. Remember the East Coast bias? West games didn’t get the amount of coverage unless you were in a select few markets that wouldn’t explain the depth of the West or lack thereof of the East.

It comes down to bad management. The New York teams are notoriously mismanaged. Brooklyn only recently righting the ship. Chicago has had bad fortune and others just go through the ups and down plenty of teams i the West do as well. Usually small market teams.

I think the top heaviness of the East the last 20 years inspired teams to make short sighted moves or hold on to mediocre cores for too long. Washington has twice been guilty of this(the big 3 of three options, Wall/Beal). Philadelphia(up until the process), Milwaukee(before Giannis), Detroit, Charlotte has spent years clinging to low hang 5-8 seeds out east despite having dead end teams because there’s money to be had for being in the playoffs but it’s not really viable to long term success.

There is also an observation that the Eastern Conference teams in general held on to a specific brand of basketball for too long. That’s 90’s New York Knicks and Miami Heat. That eastern conference style ball. While teams like the Kings, Mavs, Suns and eventually Warriors were changing the game. You had almost all eastern teams sticking to the formula. That’s not to say run and fun was the only viable offense since the Lakers and Spurs were the most successful teams of that era, but the East teams also lacked three point shooting which the Lakers and Spurs embraced.

There is definitely as issue with the top markets getting all the cake. More than half of the league top 10 plays in either Los Angeles or New York but that doesn’t explain the overall unevenness of the conferences.
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