Wednesday, April 19, 2006

No more divisions!

Yesterday's Clippers/Grizzles fiasco raised a few questions. Should you lose on purpose? Well, probably not. Besides that, though, it made us wonder: what, exactly, is the point of divisions?

We understand why they exist in sports like football and baseball - where each team isn't given the chance to compete against every other team. But in the NBA, every team gets to play eachother, so overall record is a fair indicator of who the best team is. Why can't we just take the best eight records in each conference, seed them according to who has the most wins, and move on?

You know what...we're even willing to throw out conferences in the NBA. Screw the East and the West. Take the 16 best records, regardless of conference or division, and there is your playoffs. The best 16 teams are in, no argument.

You wouldn't have embarrassing scenarios like the Griz/Clips tankfest or the East trying as hard as it can to send four teams to the playoffs with sub-.500 records.

What would change? Well, divisions, we are told, make certain games more competitive, because teams see eachother more often. Rivalries emerge. Grudges fester (and anytime something is festering, that's a good thing.) Except, well...we can't really think of any heated NBA rivalries at the moment. I guess you could call Indiana-Detroit one...but not really. Miami and the Lakers? Eh, not really, ever since Shaq and Kobe kissed and hugged. Honestly, when is the last time two teams got together and you thought to yourself, "Wow, I'd better not miss this one, who knows what could happen!?!?"

Rivalries, in the age of the free agent, exist only when teams meet repeatedly in the playoffs. Players switch teams so often, divisional rivalries just aren't that meaningful. Jonny Damon playing centerfield for the Yanks and Adam Vinatieri kicking game winners for the Colts should tell you all you need to know about the state of rivalries in pro sports. They are meaningful to the fans, but to the players? Not so much.

So let's get the 16 best teams in the playoffs. Give the fans the most competitive games. If the NBA insists on making every round 7 games and having the first round last longer than Hanukkah, the least they could do is have the 16 best teams available to watch, right?

The only confusing thing would be how to handle the All-Star Game, sans conferences. But wait! We have a solution. Continue to have the fans vote for the best players. But now, the two-highest vote getters are the captains. They can now pick their teams from the next 30 highest vote getters. They can even give their teams their own names.

And we will do this live, at half-court, right before the dunk contest. It will be like we are at recess, only we are grown up and on national TV. Seeing Yao Ming mumble through his picks, while Vince Carter imitated revving a motorcycle every time he made his pick might be exciting, we aren't sure. Plus, imagine the rivalries that would create? How pissed would the two guys who don't get picked be?

Who would be against this? No one! Is there anyone even casually interested in basketball that wouldn't be glued to their TV sets for this?

Not only would that single handedly make the All-Star game worth watching, it could intensify rivalries as well. You think Gilbert Arenas hold grudges now, wait til Vince leave him off the All-Star team. Like you wouldn't be cheering for a Washington-NJ playoff series? And if it happened? Could you even imagine the ratings.

Now, where is the guy who convinced David Stern to go to the current playoff format, where being a 6 seed is better than being a 5. We need to get this idea in that guy's head - now - because this needs to happen. It doesn't even matter if the NBA decided to keep its conferences (which it might, hey you never know). The All-Star game was just saved.

Read the Rest After the Jump...

Dwyane Wade is better than you at standing up

This has been bugging us for quite some time: Dwyane Wade's Converse commercial. You know the one. "Fall down seven times. Stand up eight."

Now, the commercial is pretty cool - anytime you get to see clips of NBA players in high school, that's kinda neat. And when Dwyane is "knocked over" and laying out of bounds, and gives that camera that little head nod...well, it's so fake even Danny Almonte wasn't buying it (a Danny Almonte reference! what year is it?!?!). But the tag, just doesn't make any sense.

Think about it. If you fall down once, how many times do you have to get up? Once, right? OK, so if you fall down twice, you get up...twice! Good, you're starting to get the hang of things here. Let's see if we can keep the pattern going: three falls...stand up three times! Now let's really get crazy: if you fall down seven times, how many times should I stand up?

Eight. Very good, class.

Even David Beckham could figure this out.

Does this make sense to anyone else? Why do you have to stand up eight times, if you only tripped seven? What if Converse ran an ad saying, "fall down once, stand up twice." They'd get hammered! Are we all really that bad at math? Seven and eight are too high for us?

(And this is coming from someone who has dropped more math classes than a certain college allows. Something isn't right here.)

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Losing is better than winning...when?

So the Clippers lost to the Grizzles last night, and by doing so, improved their chances of advancing in the playoffs. Makes sense.

You've probably been beaten over the head with this, but in case you were living under a rock the last two days, here's why: The NBA rewards the its three division winners in both the Eastern and the Western conferences with the 1, 2 and 3 seeds. So the three best records aren't given seeds 1-3; the three teams that win its respective conferences are. So Dallas went out and won 60-plus games, far and away the second highest total in the Western Conference, but because they finished second in their Division to San Antonio, they were given the 4-seed. Denver was given the 3-seed, despite winning 45/46 games.

Denver as a 3-seed makes the 6-seed much more appealing, because if you are the 6-seed, you are matched up with the 3-seed in the first round. So despite being a 6-seed, you would get to have home court advantage in the first round. If you are a 5-seed - which is better than the 6, mind you - you have to play Dallas on their home court. Seems fair and well thought out.

So in a playoff format that David Stern had to have borrowed from Bud Selig
("Bud...Dave here...yea, hey listen...say you were running my league...what's the one thing you'd change? Playoffs, really? Hmm, alright...I'm gonna trust you with this one...start talkin'.") it's better to be a 6-seed than a 5. You're saying that the NBA front office envisioned no scenario in which this could have happened? For as shrewd as Stern always is...this just leaves us shaking our head. We want to meet the guy who convinced Stern this was a good idea. We think he has a future selling stuff to people.

But the scenario brings up a question that ops up from time to time: Is there ever a scenario where it is better to lose than to win?

A couple scenarios happen every once in a while that makes losing seem the more logical choice than winning: should a team tank its last 10 meaningless games to ensure the No. 1 draft spot? Should the Clips or Grizz try to lose to get that 6-seed? Both of those instances make losing look awfully appealing.

But if your team is willing to go out and intentionally tank games...that's just not good. On any level. You think a team that blows games on purpose going into the playoffs is a good team or has any shot in the playoffs? That's the kind of attitude you want on your team? What kind of coach ever - under any circumstance - encourages losing? That "culture of losing" is incredibly hard to turn around, and if the coach is encouraging it, hell, if anyone in the organization is encouraging it, your team is going to suck - and suck hard - for the foreseeable future. At least as long as that person is there. Losing on purpose undermines anything the coach ever said. It's the easy way out - and players taking the easy way out is worse than it sounds. Much worse. No one taking that path will ever be successful.

And to tank games for a draft pick? Kind of like the way the Cavs tanked it in hopes of getting LeBron? Its arguable that the culture of losing was so firmly embedded there that they might as well start fresh. Which seems reasonable. But if you are going to do that, you had better clear house. Any player or coach who can stand to intentionally blow games has to be gone - every single one. This better be a firesale that makes the Florida Marlins look like the Louvre - just clinging onto every single asset for dear life.

And that player you are losing to get? He had better be a demi-god. An absolute franchise-maker, a no-way-in-hell-is-he-not-an-All-Star-every-year kind of guy. If he walks on water, you are only mildly surprised. "LeBron just skipped acorss the pool? Yea, saw him do that last week, pretty cool, huh?" So drop the Nuke on your team, fine: but you better be getting the Next Coming as a result. Its the only way that works.

And losing games to move from the 15th spot to the 11th? Hope that chair at the Ping Pong Party is comfortable, because you're going to be sitting in it for a while.

That "culture of losing" is so, so, so hard to turn around. Harder than the average fan realizes, we think. Fans have a tendency to look solely at a roster, see the obvious talent, and wonder why they aren't more successful. Well, fans and Isiah Thomas (it is so hard not to use him as a punchline; you have no idea).

Here's a perfect example: When Jim Leyland flipped out the other day, all people heard - analysts and fans alike - was, "we stink, we stink, we stink, I'm outta here!" Don't get us wrong, that's great television, but everyone missed the most important part, and we're paraphrasing here, but it was something along the lines of, "We could have won today and that would have been OK, or we could have lost today and that would have been OK, the guys were just ready to get on the plane to Oakland." That kind of indifference caused Jim Leyland - when's the last time you heard him go on a tirade? - to snap.

The reason is, he knows how hard it is to turn around the culture of losing. And if your team is actively encouraging that at any level? Well, you better enjoy those draft picks, because you're going to be getting a lot of them.

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