It was hailed as a step in the right direction. On Tuesday, the National Basketball Association (NBA) announced that its Board of Governors unanimously approved changes to playoff seeding and qualification procedures that will send teams to the playoffs based solely on record effective with the 2015-16 season.
The NBA said in a statement, "As part of the modifications, the eight playoff teams in each conference will be seeded in order of their regular-season record. Most recently, every division winner was guaranteed a top four seed in its respective conference regardless of its record but did not receive home-court advantage if its playoff opponent had a better record."
Writing for Deadspin, Kevin Draper writes that the move would actually remove the divisions altogether. The changes in the NBA seeding rule also eliminates the playoff seeding advantage and the only difference between divisions now is the schedule of the games played. The changes in rule mean each team will now share at least 74 of 82 games in its conference. Draper described the divisions are "arcane, leftover from when teams flew coach and regional rivalries mattered."
He writes, "The fun question is whether or not the NBA should eliminate conferences. I say yes! Teams are already flying all across the country, and the NBA has repeatedly said that it would like an entire division based in Europe one day; clearly they think the players can deal with additional travel. During the 'Western' Conference playoffs this year, the NBA champion Golden State Warriors beat teams in New Orleans, Memphis, and Houston. If you check out a map, you'll see that those teams are all much closer to the East Coast than West. Eliminating conferences also eliminates travesties like having to watch the 38-44 Nets in the playoffs instead of the Russ Westbrook-led Thunder."
In his column "For The Win" for USA Today, Nate Scott also echoed the observation that the changes introduced in the upcoming NBA 2015-16 season will make the divisions meaningless. He added that the divisions were created to generate rivalries amongst teams by grouping them geographically so teams that are close to each other geographically can play against each other more often during a season. But the division rivalry is no longer needed, he said.
Scott writes, "In any event, the divisions just aren't needed as much anymore. And what's nice about the new system is it rewards teams for actually playing well in the season, as opposed to the system before, which rewarded you for playing well and being in the right division.
"Several times over the last few years, a team could have the second-best record in the conference, only to see themselves drop down to the 5-seed because they happened to play in the division of the best teams in their conference.
The NBA Board further stated, "The Board also approved changes to tiebreak criteria for playoff seeding and home-court advantage. Head-to-head results have become the first criterion to break ties for playoff seeding and home-court advantage between two teams with identical regular-season records; the second criterion is whether a team won its division. Under the old tiebreak system, a division winner was awarded the higher seed and received home-court advantage in a series if the two teams met in the playoffs."