Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Let's ask a question and then bore ourselves before we can answer it

Too lofty for the grog, this one actually went to print:

Is the West too good?

What an original and insightful question, DS. Maybe you can blue sky on the All-Star game format next. No one's tackled that one yet.

As the balance of power in the NBA shifts even more to the West, it can be fun to play parlour games with the post-season.

It can be. But not in your parlour of inane columns.

Would the prospect of a 50-win team missing the playoffs in the West cause enough consternation to bring about a change in format? What about the chance of a 35-win team in the East qualifying as one of the 16 – ahem – "best" teams in the game?

No. And no.

Would a brilliantly written blog centred around exposing Doug Smith as a brainless hack actually help get Doug Smith fired?
What if he asked rhetorical questions and then redundantly answered them?

No. And no.

But that doesn't mean people aren't thinking about it, and talking about it.

The NBA isn't about to make a knee-jerk reaction to this regular season, even if the West seems stacked with all the good teams and many of the great players.

Right they're not. Here, Doug has engaged the age-old journalistic feat of lighting a match with angry grunt controversy and then putting it out with a fire hose of this-has-no-point.

Shaquille O'Neal moving from Miami to Phoenix and Jason Kidd going from New Jersey to Dallas are the two latest moves that have prompted concerns about the disparity between the two conferences.

Because Shaq was contributing so much to the landscape of dominance in the East lately.

"The West is the West, and as long as I've been in it, it's been like that," Boston's Kevin Garnett, a 12-year veteran of the western wars, was saying around the all-star break.

"Relieved can be an accurate word. It's fun to watch."

I think Kevin was asked if he felt relieved to be out of the West. Why does it feel like I'm writing Coles Notes for this piece of shit?

This year's difference between the two conferences has some thinking of how things could change in a dream world where the league messes around with its playoffs with frequency.

Having just the division winners qualify and then going by record without regard to seeding has been proposed. So has a "cross-over" when it gets down to two teams in each conference.

It's a debate that will rage as long as the West has so many good teams in comparison to the East, but it's also a debate that could have raged years ago.

"No one's remembering the '80s," says Raptor coach Sam Mitchell. "All those years of Boston and L.A. (in the finals)? Well, Boston has to go through Philadelphia, Milwaukee, Chicago, Atlanta. Those were the best teams. The Lakers had a walk compared to them. No one wants to talk about those times."

Because no one remembers anything but the Finals unless you're talking about your home team.

This year's playoffs could be decidedly one-sided where records at concerned. There's a good chance a team like Denver could win 50 games and not qualify in the West while two or maybe three teams with more losses than wins could make it to the post-season in the East.

Sucks for Denver fans. Really does. Unfortunately the NBA feels they need regional representation in order to keep people watching and attending basketball games. Neither Doug Smith nor the NBA nor I know if that is meaningfully true.

Since the NBA changed to its current format of eight teams from each conference qualifying for the playoffs in 1983-84, the 2000-01 Houston Rockets lay claim to being the team to miss the playoffs with the best record. With Hakeem Olajuwon winding down his Rockets career and Rudy Tomjanovich coming to the end of his coaching tenure, Houston went 45-37 and didn't qualify.

I'm sure hardcore Rockets fans care about that perceived slight just as, as a Raptors fan, I know that we lost out on drafting Allen Iverson because of a lame expansion rule. Unfair. Maybe they should take the top 16 across the board. Hell, if all the good teams are in the West, then it's unfair that Portland has to play good teams more often than the Sixers. I'm starting to ramble, but you've yet to make a point, Doug.

Coaches like Mitchell and players like Garnett bristle at the suggestion the East is the junior varsity conference and a playoff system that's been tweaked just once since '83-84 needs changing.

The league knows that things go in cycles – even if they are slow cycles – and Garnett said the depth of talent out West doesn't mean there are teams full of stiffs in the East.

"You don't have the big names or the big international names but there's teams in the East that can give some of the teams in the West the bang for the buck," said Garnett. "I mean, taking it off the top of my head, Toronto, Orlando, Washington, those teams are comparable teams.

Thanks for the mention, Kev. You left out Cleveland and Detroit. Detroit, with strength of schedule taken into account, may be the best team in the league.

"You can't just discount those teams because they don't have the records that are going on in the West. That's what it is."

The NBA is not baseball. There's no Yankee machine gobbling up free agents. There's no farm system developing prospects. There are complicated trades, complicated signings and the draft. Too many teams in the Eastern Conference have made those team-improving decisions terribly.

And it's not enough to change things, as much fun as it is to think about.

That was fun?

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