With the release of the Portland Trail Blazers’ 2022-23 regular season schedule, a clamor rose about the travel and early run of tough games the Blazers are set to experience this season. Following the uproar, we explained that Portland’s geographical location played a large role in the annual scheduling follies, and that nothing much could be done about that.
Soon after, a reader wrote in to remind us that something COULD be done: realigning NBA divisions so the Blazers weren’t quite so much of an outlier among their Western Conference compatriots. That’s the subject of today’s Blazer’s Edge Mailbag.
What are your thoughts of an all pacific time zone division? It makes no sense that OKC is still in the same division as the Blazers. Swapping Phoenix and Portland makes some sense to bring better alignment in the western conference.
Tim, Portland OR
You’re onto something there. Some kind of review and renewal of the Division/Conference system in the NBA is long overdue.
You can envision the current NBA alignment between East and West as a diagonal line, running from the Minnesota-Wisconsin border southeast, until it hits the Florida panhandle. If you appreciate the ludicrousness of “Florida” being mentioned anywhere near a discussion of the Western conference, you’ll understand how silly it is that New Orleans, Louisiana and Memphis, Tennessee reside, right now, in the “West”.
So, too, the NBA’s “Northwest Division”, which features exactly one Northwest team…the Trail Blazers. The Utah Jazz and Denver Nuggets sit in the southwest of the U.S., while Oklahoma City is perched right above Texas (again, remember Northwest), dead in the middle of the continent.
Part of the follies can be explained by the unusual number of teams in the league right now. 30 does not divide evenly by much. 15 teams in each conference leaves only one option for divisions: three groups of five. This becomes uncomfortable when you consider that these small groups are almost meaningless in terms of actual play—and given the geographical disparity, also in terms of real rivalries—but “Division Winner” is still a playoffs tiebreaker.
Frankly, until the league expands, I don’t see much hope of addressing this issue. As soon as you need to divide into an odd number of conference teams and tiny divisions, proximity takes a back seat. Frankly, even with the Phoenix-Portland swap suggested in the question, the Blazers are still way out there. Their connection to other Northwest teams doesn’t make any sense.
Fortunately, the league is likely to expand, and that move could add extra teams to the West. The two names offered most consistently are Seattle and Las Vegas. That would be a boon to Portland, and would help set the map aright again.
Significantly, moving to 32 franchises would put the split at 16 teams per conference, not 15. The league could then return to two divisions per conference instead of three.
North-South division lines become an easier matter. The Pacific Division would have the Blazers, Sonics, Kings, Warriors, Lakers, Clippers, Jazz, and the Vegas franchise. The Midwest Division would include the Suns, Nuggets, Thunder, Rockets, Spurs, Mavericks, and Timberwolves. An eighth team would be needed, likely the Bucks or Bulls.
Note that this oddity is only necessitated by Las Vegas being an expansion spot. If a team goes anywhere else, the Suns then slip into the Pacific, the other new team likely goes to the Midwest.
A vertical line down the continent then delineates the two Eastern divisions. The Mid-Eastern Division would consist of Milwaukee or Chicago, the Raptors, Pistons, Pacers, Cavaliers, Hawks, and the Grizzlies and Pelicans, now properly placed in the East. The remainder of the franchises run along the Atlantic coastline, parallel to the Pacific Division on the other side of the country.
Adding Seattle will help the Blazers with travel, and Las Vegas isn’t far away either. Immediately Portland’s isolation would cease. The Timberwolves and Suns will become outliers, because that Midwest Division covers a vast amount of territory, but it’s not that much more onerous and frankly, it’s time for someone else to bear that burden.
That’s my realignment proposal. What are your great ideas? Comment below, and don’t forget to send your questions to firstname.lastname@example.org!