As an Oklahoma City Thunder fan, it would seem that I should be on the other side of this argument. The Thunder finished the regular season with a 45-37 record, tying the New Orleans Pelicans for the 8th best record in the Western Conference. With the Pelicans holding the head-to-head tie-breaker, the Thunder will be missing the playoffs for the first time since 2009. The controversy doesn’t lie with the Thunder not making the playoffs, but instead with who did make the playoffs in the Eastern Conference. Milwaukee (41-41), Boston (40-42) and Brooklyn (38-44) all made the playoffs in the Eastern Conference. While the Thunder couldn’t make the playoffs in the Western Conference, they would be a 6 seed in the not so strong Eastern Conference. NBA fans around the country are calling for a reconstruction of the playoff format, as the current system allows lesser teams to make the playoffs, while teams with better records are left to watch at home.
Adam Silver, current commissioner of the NBA, spoke about changing the playoff format earlier this season in an interview for “Outside the Lines”, Silver spoke about how the best teams in the league weren’t being represented in the playoffs. While Silver is right, and the best teams in the league aren’t being represented, the NBA doesn’t help itself when teams are blatantly tanking, with the New York Knicks and Philadelphia 76ers drawing the most attention from media outlets. A league that allows team to lose on purpose, for the hope of a brighter future (not a guarantee) has way bigger issues than worrying about the current playoff format. Take into consideration the records of the four worst teams in the NBA. The Timberwolves (16-66), Knicks (17-65), 76ers (18-64), and Los Angeles Lakers (21-61) combine for a total of 72 wins, just 5 wins better than the league leading Warriors (67 wins). The NBA needs to extend the minimum requirement for players to two years of college to ensure that its own teams aren’t taking risks, but instead making smart investments that they know can help their future. With an MVP-caliber player coming out of the draft every five years, it’s no wonder why a team like the Spurs can completely dominate the league for decades, while the city of Charlotte has never had the opportunity to make it past the first round of the playoffs. While a team like OKC is better than Brooklyn on nearly every level, the Thunder knew the task at hand and that they had to be in the top eight in their respected conference to make the playoffs. They didn’t, and it hurts as a fan. Brooklyn shouldn’t be punished that they happen to be in a conference where it feels like the same few teams lose 50 games every single year. Brooklyn had the same goal as OKC in terms of making the playoffs, and they achieved it. Tanking is hurting the league, especially the Eastern Conference.
Hopefully in the next few years, teams like the Knicks and 76ers will realize that their fans expect them to play their hardest every night, and the Eastern Conference in general will be better represented than it is now. Sometimes you just gotta swallow that the game of basketball isn’t always fair.
Sorry Thunder fans.