Phoenix Suns In Favor Of Playoff Reform, And Rightfully So

Oct 29, 2014; Phoenix, AZ, USA; Phoenix Suns owner Robert Sarver against the Los Angeles Lakers during the home opener at US Airways Center. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports
Oct 29, 2014; Phoenix, AZ, USA; Phoenix Suns owner Robert Sarver against the Los Angeles Lakers during the home opener at US Airways Center. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports /

Yesterday, Sam Amick and Jeff Zillgitt of USA TODAY Sports took an in-depth look at the NBA’s conference problem. Under the current playoff format, the eight best teams from each conference make the postseason, but the cries for the best 16 teams making the cut — regardless of conference — grew louder this season.

No surprises here, but the Phoenix Suns were one of the louder voices in the crowd.

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Last season, the Suns were expected to be competing with the Philadelphia 76ers for the worst record in the league in a tank year. Instead, the Suns wound up competing for the final playoff spot in the West, falling one game short despite winning 48 games. Phoenix won as many games as the third seed in the Eastern Conference, the Toronto Raptors.

Under a “16 best teams get in” structure, the Suns would’ve earned the 13th seed and faced the No. 4 Indiana Pacers in the first round. Indiana was a struggling team heading into the postseason and the 38-win Atlanta Hawks took them to seven games in the first round.

The 2013-14 season was just the second time in NBA history a 48-win team did not make the postseason, and the disparity in average winning percentage between the West (.548) and the East (.452) was undeniably large. The West won 674 games and lost 556; the East won 556 games and lost 674.

This season, the Suns haven’t been quite the same surprising story, but if the season had ended before last night’s games, Phoenix would have qualified for the 15th playoff spot under this “16 best teams get in” concept that’s slowly building steam.

According to Amick, Suns owner Robert Sarver had a few things to say about playoff reform. His comments are exactly what you’d expect from the owner of a team that will get the short end of the stick for the second season in a row:

It’s not just about the Suns, however, since the immense gap between the conferences has been on display once again in 2014-15.

Heading into last night’s games, the West had an average win percentage of .533 compared to the East’s .467. While the Oklahoma City Thunder, New Orleans Pelicans and Phoenix Suns grapple for the West’s final playoff spot, the two losers of that struggle would have a spot if they played in the East.

As Zillgitt and Amick point out, the NBA Playoffs are not March Madness, where any underdog can pull off the upset and become a Cinderella story. In a seven-game series, the best team usually wins. But wouldn’t the playoffs be a little less predictably formulaic if we weren’t watching 38-win teams from the East sneak into the postseason as the eighth seed?

According to Amick, of the 18 playoff teams since the 1993-94 season without a top-16 record, 13 of them had a record of .500 or worse. All 18 of those teams were eliminated in the first round.

In that same time frame, the top 16 teams were in the playoffs only five times. Of the 18 teams that missed the cut, 13 of them had winning records.

In the proposed playoff reforms that have been floating around, getting rid of conferences feels like an impossible and needless task. Eliminating the conference structure would lead to way more traveling, which would either diminish the quality of games and lead to more players sitting out, or would prolong an already lengthy regular season.

Keeping the conference structure but taking the 16 teams with the best record feels like the best first step, but even in a playoff series, the travel implications would extend the length of the postseason given the nature of the 2-2-1-1-1 format.

At this point, Amick and Zillgitt believe reforms to the playoff structure — even with Adam Silver “looking into it” — feel like a distant dream. That means that the Suns, who currently sit at 35-33, will continue to feel like a disappointing team to their fan base despite the fact that they’d be a playoff team in the East (or under a “16 best teams get in” structure).

No one’s saying this Suns team would have any chance of winning a playoff series if those playoff reforms were the standard. A matchup with the No. 1 seeded Golden State Warriors or Atlanta Hawks would probably end the way everyone would expect it to.

But maybe if the best 16 teams got into the playoffs, the 2013-14 Phoenix Suns would’ve made the playoffs and knocked off the top seed from the East in the first round, stirring up even more excitement about their future heading into the offseason.

Maybe that excitement would’ve attracted a big-name free agent.

Maybe that playoff experience and the prospect of making the postseason again in 2014-15 would’ve kept fan favorite Goran Dragic happy and in the Valley of the Sun.

And maybe Suns fans would feel more optimistic about their current personnel on the fourth youngest roster in the NBA.

But we’ll never know. Because the Phoenix Suns, who once again have a top-16 record, seem destined for another lottery appearance under a playoff structure that won’t be changing any time soon.

Next: Phoenix Suns: Brandan Wright Getting Acclimated

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