J.A. Adande and Israel Gutierrez discuss whether the NBA playoffs need changes.
J.A.: It's March, when even my NBA-influenced mind becomes consumed with college basketball. Usually the college game improves when it adopts elements from the pros, such as the shot clock and the 3-pointer. Now there are musings from NBA commissioner Adam Silver that he is intrigued by the idea of incorporating a component of the best thing college ball has going for it: the single-elimination tournament. Silver isn't ready to scrap the entire four-round, best-of-seven NBA playoffs yet. But he's open to a play-in tournament to determine the No. 8 seed, for starters.
Now, Step 1 toward implementing that would be eliminating the draft lottery (I'm in favor of the wheel), because it wouldn't be truly all-or-nothing if the consolation prize was the No. 1 pick. They'd also need to figure a way not to punish the other playoff teams by making them wait too long while the mini-tournament is completed. Should they play on home courts or neutral sites? And how would the TV rights be divided? In sum, is a bit of March Madness (or April Asylum, on the NBA calendar) worth all of the changes and decisions that would come with it?
If they want to return randomness back into play, shorten the first round. Other than that, leave the tournaments to the collegiate ranks.
"-- Israel Gutierrez
Israel: Frankly, I don't really understand the idea. And like most of these concepts that get tossed around (the four-pointer?), it very likely won't see the light of day. We've talked about trying to further incentivize winning, even at less than a championship level. And until that's solved, we'll have the occasional tanking years. However, if the current system remains the same, there will be less and less incentive to tank because even the sure things don't seem like sure things anymore. Just look at evaluations of Andrew Wiggins now compared to the evaluations before he entered college. I mean, would we be accusing teams of tanking if they knew the equivalent of Anthony Bennett would be the reward? Of course not. And this year, we've seen the love affair with the freshmen sensations die down significantly.
I just have a feeling we've hit rock bottom with the tanking thing. Calling out these franchises, as many have done lately, will help deter some of this in the future, I think. As for the predictability of the NBA playoffs, I tend to find nothing wrong with it. Because if you look at other sports, there's always a complaint. The one-and-done format doesn't always allow the best teams to win it all. The best-of-seven system, while taking some drama out of the first round, almost always guarantees the best team wins. And you still occasionally get a series like Heat-Spurs to settle it all. If they want to return randomness back into play, shorten the first round. Other than that, leave the tournaments to the collegiate ranks.
J.A.: Predictability isn't a problem. Did you know the only time both No. 1 seeds reached the NBA Finals in the past 12 years was Lakers-Celtics in 2008? I agree with the shorter first round . . . but only for the No.1 seed. It would provide added incentive for finishing with the best record in the conference. The thought of missing out on home-court advantage isn't enough to scare veteran teams like the Heat and Spurs into going all out during the entire regular season. But the prospect of shaving up to four games off of their playoff run might entice even Gregg Popovich to suit up his stars rather than sit them out with "a variety of maladies."
What I love most about the NBA playoffs is they offer a chance at redemption, whether it's later in the game or later in the series.
"-- J.A. Adande
Yes, it's theoretically easier to fall prey to an upset with a shorter series. But we've actually seen more 1-seeds go down in best-of-seven series than we did in the best-of-five days. The potential for rest outweighs the risk. But you don't want too much rest, which is why I'd have them play the shorter series rather than get a bye. I'd also keep the conference-based brackets, even in an imbalanced season like this, because it makes it more likely that the same teams face each other every year. Is there any rematch you want to see as badly as Pacers-Heat? That's your likely Eastern Conference finals. The only way it would happen in an "open" field would be in the NBA Finals . . . and too much could happen before then.
Israel: I like that idea. It serves both purposes: a chance for more "randomness," and giving the No. 1 seed the closest thing to a first-round bye you can offer. Think about that possibility for the Heat, for example. They, along with the Spurs, would probably need the rest most among all of the possible No. 1 seeds this season. But even in the NCAA tournament, the randomness only really happens in the opening two rounds. After that, the chalk usually rises to the top, with few exceptions. In the NBA, there's currently enough parity at the top to consider the final three playoff rounds fairly competitive (certainly in the West). But think about it: You can probably make a case for the Heat, Pacers, Spurs, Thunder, Clippers and Rockets as championship contenders. How many NFL teams could you really make a championship case for as their playoffs approached?
J.A.: This is one time the NBA doesn't need to be more like the NFL. The NBA playoffs are wonderful in their current form. I didn't even believe they needed to change the format of the NBA Finals from the 2-3-2 setup. The best team -- or at least, the more deserving team -- always won, regardless of the game sequence. The NBA offers as true a test of merit as can be found in sports. The NHL playoffs are as long, and even more grueling. But with goals at such a premium, a game and a series are more likely to turn on a single play. They also can be taken over by a hot goalie, the way a locked-in pitcher can turn a baseball postseason into his own. Baseball plays the most regular-season games, but sometimes its champion is simply the team that clicks in October.
The NBA playoffs usually reflect the patterns, themes and identities that developed in the preceding 82 games. They contain so much drama, even though they may lack the element of surprise. Even the 2004 Detroit Pistons, who remain one of the great NBA outliers in so many ways, adhered to the oldest cliché in the game: defense wins championships. What I love most about the NBA playoffs is they offer a chance at redemption, whether it's later in the game or later in the series. And that's why I don't want to see single-elimination in the NBA. The playoffs are demanding, but at least they're not cruel.
Israel: And you didn't even mention the coaching strategies that are adjusted from game to game within a series. That's far more fascinating a study than any single-elimination game can offer. Look, the NBA playoff system isn't perfect, of course. Too many days off between games, too many possibilities of one team waiting a week-plus while its potential opponents hash it out in a long series. But look what the other leagues are doing: baseball, adding more playoff teams; football, considering adding more playoff teams. More, more, more.
The NBA should follow suit and only consider changes if it means more postseason action. It's what most fans can't wait for, anyway. Let's not complain about what an 8-seed can or can't do and try to force an upset. It'll happen again one day. And when it does, it'll be that much more exciting because it's so rare.