About a week ago, Mavericks franchisee Mark Cuban told followers on his niche social media app that he proposed expanding the NBA playoffs from 16 teams to 20 at the recent Board of Governors meetings. The idea seems to be going nowhere. Cuban's idea has been criticized as self-serving and absurd given that the current system already produces sub-.500 playoff teams.
Is the idea self-serving? The suggestion is that Cuban raised the idea as his Mavericks appear to be on the fringe of the West playoff race, and adding two teams per conference to the derby would bolster Dallas' chances of making it. That said, the Mavericks have missed the playoffs once in the past 15 years with the current system. It's not like the only way Dallas will get into the postseason is through an expanded playoff field. The only team with a better rate of making the playoffs over the last 15 years is San Antonio (15-for-15).
Is the idea absurd? The concern here is that mediocre teams will be rewarded with playoff berths. Except, here's the thing: mediocre teams are already rewarded with playoff berths! Neither the Celtics nor the Nets had any business in the postseason this past season, and the East's No. 8 seed -- which hasn't had a winning record since 2005 -- has been a hilarious joke for the better part of a decade.
If we're going to decree that bad teams don't belong in the playoffs, we need to seriously consider abolishing conferences or shrinking the playoff field. The NBA won't do either, so it's not really ridiculous to suggest that we might as well expand it. After all, there are also good teams being left out (exclusively in the West).
Here's the crux of the matter: The NBA playoffs are awesome. The end of the NBA regular season is often a mixed bag. You have some really good teams that have locked in their seeds and start resting. You have some really bad teams that have tanked out and are playing D-League level rotations. Then you have a bunch of teams either fighting for one of the last playoff spots or fighting for favorable seeding. These games are compelling!
By expanding the playoff field, you expand the frequency of those games. There will be more teams in play for more spots, and an even bigger push to obtain better seeding. Instead of five teams per conference that are out of the running by March, you're down to two or three (the truly bad). Especially in the East, everyone else will have a chance, which is actually interest-driving and entertaining.
Plus, we get four more playoff series. I'd argue these expanded series need to be really short: best-of-3, preferably. You also need to shrink the NBA season by a week. Go down to 78 games, which reduces your in-conference, non-divisional schedule by four games and is a minor tick toward mitigating conference imbalance. End the regular season around April 7, play the qualifying round series and go forward.
The No. 7 seeds play against the No. 10s, and the No. 8s play against the No. 9s. This season, that would have meant Celtics vs. Heat (fun!), Nets vs. Pacers (okay!), Mavericks vs. Suns (with the Jazz just one game away from getting there) and Pelicans vs. Thunder (holy mother of blog). That's fun basketball. Why not, right? Plus you get the benefit of something tangible for teams like the Suns and Jazz to play for through March and into April.
Look, so long as 45-win teams get left out while 38-win teams get in based completely on geography, the NBA playoff seeding system is real goofy. The purest fix is to reorganize the NBA into regions and seed the top 16 teams independently. Until that happens, we might as well help ensure no really good teams miss the playoffs by expanding the field, even if it eventually results in a 32-win team getting into the East bracket.
In any case, arguing in favor of more playoff basketball at the expense of a little regular season basketball seems like an easy call.