Mavericks owner’s plan no solution to very real NBA playoff problem

Mark Cuban is good at pushing the envelope, throwing out principled ideas that rattle the establishment.

His brutally honest comments on paying college athletes and racism in America most recently brought howls of protest and commendation alike.

The most recent firestorm from the IU grad and owner of the Dallas Mavericks, though, miss the mark. They sound more self-

serving than well-thought.

Cuban, whose Mavs play in the NBA’s rugged Western Conference, thinks it would make sense if his team was in the East.

Oh, there is more to the proposal than that.

In Cuban’s plan, the Mavs, San Antonio Spurs, Houston Rockets and New Orleans Pelicans would move to the Eastern Conference. The Chicago Bulls, Indiana Pacers, Detroit Pistons and Milwaukee Bucks would move to the West.

The problem is legitimate. The NBA is far out of balance, with the weaker Eastern Conference often sending teams with losing records to the playoffs. Atlanta was the No. 8 East seed last season at 38-44. Phoenix, at 48-34, did not make it in the West.

Dallas was the West’s eighth seed with a 49-33 record last season but would have been a No. 3 seed in the East. Cuban acknowledged he had some selfish motivation for the plan. However, he said he believes the league would benefit as a whole.

“It’s not like you’re reducing competition,” said Cuban, who noted the teams he suggested moving to the West are approximately the same distance from Portland as Dallas and closer than New Orleans, San Antonio and Houston. “You keep Cleveland, Washington and other good teams in the East. It kind of shakes things up in terms of not just interest but also in terms of how people rebuild.

“It just changes things up and it changes the thought process of a lot of teams. It makes both conferences very competitive, at least for the short term and, I think, based on the history of the teams, for the long term as well.”

For his part, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver has expressed concern over the long-term disparity. Unlike the NFL, which doesn’t have such lopsided conference records, time hasn’t leveled the success rate.

For Indiana, Cuban’s plan is especially nonsensical. Moving the Pacers, Bulls, Pistons and Bucks to the West would significantly increase travel for the team and inconvenience for the fans.

With the added stress of cross-country flights a weekly event, that alone would take a toll on the teams’ success. Imagine back-to-back games — a scheduling reality — that had the Pacers playing at home one night and in Portland the next.

A bigger concern is for the fans. Most conference road games would start at 9 p.m. or later. That is simply not good business.

Cuban’s plan is a nonstarter.

The issue of conference parity, though, is not.

One workable solution may be to simply take the 16 teams with the best records for the playoffs. That avoids the patently unfair situation like the Atlanta-Phoenix disparity last season. Such a move is just the next step for the league which has dissolved much of the significance in Divisions.

Whatever the outcome, the lack of balance in the NBA conferences is more than just a temporary phenomenon. The time is approaching when this likely will be addressed.

When it is, however it is, Cuban once again had a hand in bringing light on an important league issue.

Bob Johnson is a sports correspondent for the Daily Journal.