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The NBA should expand the playoffs to include all 30 teams. I am dead serious about this. While this idea may sound as radical and insane as Hunter S. Thompson's idea to eliminate the pitcher in baseball, I have good reasons to believe that the NBA should expand its playoff tournament to include all 30 teams or all 32 teams should it expand that big.
The number one reason the NBA should do this is because it would be more entertaining. I went to an NBA career conference in Las Vegas during NBA Summer League and one of the things that was discussed was that sports is entertainment. Yes, it's true that sports is also serious and intense competition for athletes, coaches, and members of sports organizations, but at the same time, what really drives the economics of the NBA is that it is about entertainment. Having an NBA playoff bracket with all 30 teams would create more excitement and potential chaos, making the NBA wildly more entertaining than it has previously been.
Imagine a #15 seed upsetting a #2 seed or a #11 seed upsetting a #6! Such results would have people who don't even care about basketball jabbering away with excitement as if they've been following the NBA from the beginning of the season. There would also be so many entertaining first round series' like an 8-9 matchup, a 7-10 matchup, or even a 5-12 matchup. This would have the flavor of the NCAA tournament and the timing would be perfect since the NBA playoffs begin right after March Madness!
Secondly, having all 30 teams make the playoffs would greatly reduce the amount of tanking that goes on across the league. It would eliminate the conflict of interest between barely making the playoffs and getting a shot at the lottery. Teams would have no reason to not play their hardest down the stretch and get an 8 seed because it would ensure home court advantage in the first round of the playoffs.
In addition, such a radical reform of the playoffs would certainly call for reform to the lottery process, increasing the pool of teams that enter the lottery. Instead of having 14 teams make the lottery, the NBA could expand the size of the lottery to 22 teams, only keeping out the teams which qualified for the conference semifinals. From there, the lottery could either give each of the 22 teams in the pool an equal shot at the #1 pick or just have the same system but with 22 teams instead of 14. The NBA could also increase the number of teams whose draft order is determined by the number generators.
Any of these changes to the lottery would make tanking much less appealing while also increasing the appeal of trying to win as many games as possible down the stretch. It would give every team in the NBA reason to compete hard throughout the season since they would be competing for a seed in the playoffs as opposed to a certain spot in the draft.
Third, under the present proposed format with 30 teams, the race for #1 seeds would be super important. Teams with the #1 seed in each conference would get a highly coveted first round bye, eliminating the fear of getting bounced out early and also giving themselves more rest than any other team in the conference. Clinching home court advantage would suddenly be more important than ever and it might even give a team like the Spurs a reason to compete hard in the regular season to get the top seed.
Fourth, such a playoff expansion would certainly call for a shorter regular season, something the league has been discussing for a while. The league could shorten the regular season to 66 games, the length of the most recent lockout season and give teams more breaks in between games. This would mean less back-to-backs and also that the NBA Finals would still end in mid-June or possibly earlier.
Fifth, this could bring back the best-of-five series format for the first round. Best-of-seven for the opening round would be ridiculous since it would really give lower seeded teams no chance of advancing. In addition, best-of-seven for the opening round would make the playoffs extend for far too long. By making it best-of-five in the opening round, teams with the first round bye wouldn't get too rusty, and in addition, lower seeded teams would feel like they have a shot if they can steal game one on the road. Best-of-five as opposed to best-of-seven certainly increases the odds of an upset and upsets is certainly something that would make this new format all the more entertaining and exciting for the league and its fans.
Sixth, this format would encourage stars to stay in smaller markets. If every team made the playoffs, guys like Kevin Love may wanna stay where they are drafted and lead a team to a playoff series victory as opposed to bailing and ganging up with other superstars. I think that guys would still want out of really bad teams, but all the same, this would make free agency more fair for smaller market teams who want to hang on to big name players.
The impact this change in format could have on free agency is huge and I think it would be for the best. As opposed to having superstar players on bad teams whine and complain about their petty situations, they would be forced to own up to their teams' shortcomings in the playoffs and be humiliated on national television should their team lose in the opening round. They would have no choice but to say that they still have something to play for because they actually would! They would have a seed to play for and an opportunity to pull off a first round upset as opposed to looking ahead to next season or free agency.
Seventh, this would create as much parity as possible. The NBA wants more parity and having more teams feel like they get a fair slice of the pie. If every team made the playoffs, every team would feel like they have a shot at the championship even if its very small. For the exception of the Ivy league, every conference in NCAA Division 1 Men's basketball has a conference tournament that decides who gets an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament.
Every team from every conference goes to their conference tournament, which means that almost all NCAA Division 1 teams, for the exception of Ivy League teams are still mathematically alive for the national championship! How exciting is that? If every NBA team knew that no matter how bad their season was going there was still hope to pull off an upset in the playoffs, they would compete so much harder and play with even more optimism. Fans of every team would feel like their team had some sort of a shot and they would all get to see their team host at least one playoff game.
Eighth, the NBA trade deadline would be even more maddening and exciting. Teams could suddenly change the course of their season in a matter of hours. A team with a low seed could land a big name player and suddenly enter the conversation as a "dark horse" even if they were seeded as low as #15. Imagine if the Knicks made a deal for Kevin Durant at the trade deadline! The Knicks would instantly be a viable contender to win the Eastern Conference!
Finally, this would eliminate the worry of some really good teams missing the playoffs and some bad teams making it. By expanding it to all 30 teams, nobody would feel like they got robbed because they were in a better conference. Everybody would get the same chance to prove themselves and only have themselves to blame as opposed to the system.
In conclusion, I think that while this idea sounds crazy on its face, it actually has a lot of benefits that would make the NBA a lot better. The league would be so much more entertaining and it would give every team a reason to compete hard throughout the season as opposed to playing for next year or even further down the road. Teams like the 76ers would have a lot less reason to try to stockpile draft picks and play for the future since the "future" would always be the present in a way. Teams would be much more oriented to playing for the present as opposed to the future and that I think would make for a much better NBA product. (Note: If you want to read Hunter S. Thompson's idea to eliminate the pitcher from baseball, click here)
---Ben Parker: follow me on twitter @nba_lord