The Spurs-Clippers series that ended last night was one of the NBA’s all-time great first-round series. It was also only possible because of the league’s bizarre division rules, which reward the winner of a division with a higher seed than another team in the same conference with a better record.
This has been the source of controversy recently, with the Portland Trail Blazers jumping from the sixth-best record in the Western Conference to the fourth seed because they won the Northwest Division. In a SUnday morning interview on Bleacher Report Radio, NBA commissioner Adam Silver discussed the issue:
In terms of the fact that a division winner may get a higher seed than a team with a better record in its conference, as you know, that’s the way it’s been. It raises the larger issue of if we should have divisions. My view is, if we’re going to have divisions, we should be rewarding the division winner. And maybe, people can fairly say, you have divisions, you reward the winner, but you don’t make a big enough deal out of the fact that they won the division, and fans aren’t even that knowledgeable about what the divisions are, and that’s a very fair point.
I think we should go one way or the other. There’s very little you can win in this league as opposed to, for example, European soccer leagues where there’s multiple cups throughout the season. There’s very little you can win here. You can win your division, you can win your conference, you can win the championship. But if ultimately, people’s view is, “Who cares who wins the division?” We should take a fresh look at it. Or make a bigger deal out of the fact that they do play a very long regular season, competing in an unbalanced schedule, playing teams in their division more than the rest of the teams in their conference, playing teams in their conference more than other teams in the league, and maybe those rivalries should matter and it should be a big deal that they end up winning.
The idea that there should be more things to win than just the Larry O’Brien Trophy is a worthwhile discussion to be had. It’s why Silver has said in the past that the league has internally discussed the idea of a mid-season tournament of some sort. But the NBA has a nearly 70-year history of only featuring one championship, and it would be an uphill battle to suddenly convince fans to care about other trophies as much. And even if they do, just rewarding division winners isn’t necessarily the best way to do that. Teams already hang banners for division titles, and nobody really cares.
It doesn’t seem like this discussion will go away anytime soon, though.