129 college basketball teams saw their seasons extend with invitations to one of four postseason tournaments for Division I men's college basketball. It's time for the National Basketball Association to take a cue from our universities and revamp their own postseason by adding the N.B.A. National Invitational Tournament.
Collegiate basketball has inherited much from the professional game. From the shot clock to the three-point line, the evolutionary flow has always been one way. Now it is time for the NCAA to return a favor, and the pros to insert its own second-tier tourney, just like the NIT.
Fans and media alike have long complained that the NBA playoffs, commencing in April only to stretch all the way into mid-June, are too long. Every time a sub-.500 team qualifies for the playoffs, as has happened the previous four seasons, basketball pundits note the ridiculous first round mismatches produced. The Chicago Bulls have a losing record, yet are still fighting for the eighth seed in the Eastern Conference. Folks, short of Michael Jordan getting a decade younger and returning to the NBA for the seventh time to rejoin his old squad, the Chicago Bulls have absolutely no chance to emerge from this year's playoffs as NBA champions. But if they do sneak into the playoffs, then until they get swept away in the first round they will officially be in contention.
But the Bulls don't belong in the over-extended postseason. At least, not this kind of postseason. The NBA should follow college basketball's long-running example, the National Invitational Tournament, and institute the NBANIT. The top four teams from each conference qualify for the NBA Playoffs, and teams seeded 5-8 in each conference, instead of being drummed out in the first round by teams like the Cavaliers and Lakers, those "playoff" teams that are undeniably one big step down, will compete in the NBANIT. Like in college basketball, these two tournaments can run concurrently. And since we've eliminated one full playoff round, an entire seven game series, the league could add a few more regular season games to the schedule and still crown a champion at the same time, but before fans have reached full playoff-basketball saturation.
If the NBA is especially ambitious they might consider staying hot on the heels of college basketball which went even farther in recent years by introducing two additional playoff tournaments, the CollegeInsider.com Tournament and the College Basketball Invitational.
There are 30 teams in the NBA, and I see no reason why every one of them can't experience the postseason, or at least A postseason, every year. If the Middle Tennessee State Blue Raiders and Missouri State Bears get to taste some March Madness of their own by facing off in a first round matchup in the second annual CollegeInsider.com Tournament, then why the heck can't, say, the New Jersey Nets and New York Knicks fight it out for greater New York City supremacy in a first-round, third-tier playoff series to conclusively determine the best of the worst of the worst of the Eastern Conference?
There is no good reason the last-place Washington Wizards aren't preparing, right now, to try and bring a title home to the nation's capital in 2010.