With the field of NBA playoff contenders being complete, it’s time to make a churlish, contrarian argument which has no possibility of being enacted or even much loved: I favor an arbitrary, committee-driven system for determining the playoff field. I believe this for basically all sports, by the way.
What is the purpose of a playoff system? It’s to determine, among the best teams, who the very best team is. Usually, due to the way the schedule is determined, there’s some doubt as to who is actually the best team and so some sort of playoff is the best method to resolve that. Of course, practically speaking, we know that the Indiana Pacers, say, have no chance of winning the championship. Furthermore, we are uninterested in the Indiana Pacers. Would you watch the Indiana Pacers in a regular season game? Of course not: they’re a boring basketball team. Why would their boring style of basketball be made any more aesthetic or worthy by sullying the playoffs? We know that the Bulls will run them over in four or perhaps five games, with no problems and little interest. Let’s cut to the chase and just not invite them to the playoffs. When it comes to the playoffs, we should all be unapologetic elitists and keep the riff-raff out.
This year, there are, by my count, ten actually interesting teams (Chicago, Miami, Boston, Orlando, San Antonio, Dallas, LA, OKC, Denver, and Portland). The committee would take this into account and make the bottom four teams do a play-in round in order to earn the right of playing the superior teams. This happens to be the arbitrary decision-making for this year. But the number of really interesting teams vary each year and therefore requires a specialized decision each year. Last year’s playoffs would’ve had twelve teams after eliminating half of the Eastern Conference. Two years ago, there would’ve been only eight teams. And so on.
Hopelessly arbitrary? Of course! It’s just the logical opposite of the current system, which prizes a rigid structure which ends up creating too many boring series which are occasionally interesting (e.g. Bulls-Celtics 2009). Let’s cut to the chase.