The NBA playoffs are just a few short weeks away, and the playoff seeds are nearly set. In fact, the seeding is almost exactly the same as it was a month ago, and a month before that. But what if it weren’t? On the latest episode of The Bill Simmons Podcast, Bill Simmons and Kevin O’Connor share ideas that would eliminate conferences, seed the playoffs 1 through 16, and possibly even shorten the season.
Listen to the full podcast here. This transcript has been edited and condensed.
Bill Simmons: What if the NBA just had the Sweet 16? What if we threw away conferences? What if we just did 1-through-16-seeds? One plays 16. I wrote in my mailbag today, for the 100th straight year, about the Entertaining As Hell Tournament, which I think could tie into the need to rest players. I think it’s hard to expect these guys to play 82 games unless they’re superhuman like [Russell] Westbrook. But the point is, [you play] 76 games, you guarantee seven playoff spots for each conference, the other 16 teams play for the last two spots. If we had an NBA Sweet 16 and you just guaranteed seven spots in each conference for the first 14 teams, and then after that [had] a play-in tournament for the last two and then we go 1 through 16, all of a sudden, for a team like the Clippers, that makes their road a wee bit easier. Right now they are the ninth team. [In this system] they would play Toronto. It would be an 8–9 matchup, Toronto vs. the Clippers.
Kevin O’Connor: I hate conferences. First of all, it’s disappointing that the league still has them in the sense that every team should have equal strength of schedule entering the season. I prefer a shorter schedule, like 58 games where you play every team twice.
Simmons: Fifty-eight games? That’s not happening! Are you crazy?
O’Connor: It won’t be 58 games, but if you have that as a baseline you can have some type of structure that allows the teams to play basically equal schedules, right? Because right now, the conferences are weighted [more] heavily on one side than it is in the other. I just would like to see some balance across the league because that way we get to truly see these teams for what they are. We won’t see, I don’t know, the Miami Heat starting off terribly, fighting for the 8-seed. We won’t see the Chicago Bulls potentially in the playoffs because we’re going to have the 16 best teams. I think with modern traveling, sleep, I think player health now, it would be fine having the players travel more if the schedule was structured a little bit better with no conferences.
Simmons: So if we had an NBA Sweet 16 this year, Golden State would still play Denver, 1 vs. 16 if the season ended today. It’s a dramatic difference for the number-two team because San Antonio right now is gonna play Memphis probably in Round 1. You at least have to break a real sweat in the Memphis series, right? They got big guys. You’re gonna have to break out the guns to get through that one. Otherwise, if you’re in an NBA Sweet 16, San Antonio is playing Miami in Round 1, the 15-seed. And Houston, instead of having to deal with the Clippers, [Editor’s note: At this point, it would be the Thunder rather than the Clippers.] who I still think they’d beat, they’d be playing the Pacers in Round 1.
Now, the flip side of this argument would be, "Well, Round 1 would be much more boring because [as it stands now] Houston-[Thunder] is almost overqualified to be a first-round series, [and] that would be awesome." I’d say we would still get a couple good ones because the Celtics are the 5-seed right now, and you’d have Atlanta as the 12-seed right now. That’s a pretty good series. You’d have Washington against Oklahoma City in Round 1, how ’bout that?
O’Connor: John Wall vs. Russell Westbrook, that’d be fun.
Simmons: And we’d have Toronto and the Clippers. Those are two great series. So, what would be the obstacle against this happening?
O’Connor: I think the main argument is traveling. I think you could have teams going West Coast to East Coast in the first round of the playoffs.
Simmons: Aww, it’s so tough on their charter planes.
O’Connor: I don’t think traveling is much of an issue today.
Simmons: It’s not.
O’Connor: Especially with the days off teams have in the playoffs. It’s not an issue, but that’s the only argument I’ve really ever seen presented against having no conferences. That’s the only legitimate argument anybody has ever brought to the table against no conferences.
Simmons: Whenever I hear the travel arguments, they make it seem like they have to show up two and a half hours in advance to check their bags and then go through TSA and sit in first class. Like, these guys are getting right on a plane that lands right at the airport and then they get in a fancy bus that takes them right to the Ritz-Carlton. They’re fine. The Celtics could leave Boston at 8:30 in the morning and they get to L.A. at one o’clock and they’re in their hotel by 1:30. They’re all good. They’re staying in a suite. On the plane, they’re in these big comfy seats and they have Wi-Fi and they’re getting fed shrimp and lobster. They’ll be fine. My preference would be that this is the last year that we have the traditional system. I really don’t understand why we have 82 games. I wrote about it today. There’s no rhyme or reason to how we ended up there. It’s just this arbitrary number that they kinda settled on. Seventy-six makes so much more sense because you’d play the other conference 30 times total, you’d play your non-division teams 30 times, three times each, and then you would play the four teams in your division four times each. That gets to 76 and you’re good. You’re losing one game a month; you can solve every back-to-back, four-in-five-nights issue. I don’t understand why they wouldn’t do that.