The last time the Minnesota Timberwolves had a winning record was in 2004-05, finishing at 44-38. It was the 14th best record in the NBA that year - but 9th best in the West* and thus no playoffs for KG and gang. It's been a long, arduous decade since, but some things don't seem to change: the West remains much stronger than the East, and it's not uncommon for decent teams to stay home while poorer teams make the postseason.
*MN finished a game back of Memphis; a precursor to the end of this season?
And now that MN is finally back within sniffing distance (assuming Wolves have a keen sense of smell) of the playoffs, something stinks. Something is rotten in the state of basketball.
If the season ended today, K-Love would once again be off to play golf instead of preparing for a first round matchup. This despite the fact that the Wolves hold the 15th best record in the NBA. Three teams from the East with sub-.500 records would make the postseason instead.
Set aside the geographic argument that can be made for Minnesota being in the East. The bottom line - and this is not news - is the current system works against teams from Portland to Denver to Memphis.
Yeah, you say, old hat. So what? Well, I have a solution in mind. Of course, the obvious answer is to take the 16 best teams regardless of conference and seed them 1-16. It's been proposed many times by many people, but doesn't appear to be in the NBA's plans any time soon. I guess the league wants the conferences to have some meaning beyond scheduling. But I assume Messrs. Silver, Taylor, Cuban and their brethren would like the playoffs to showcase the best their league has to offer.
So my suggested new rule is simply this: The top 8 teams WITH WINNING RECORDS in each conference qualify for the playoffs.
If fewer than 8 teams in a conference qualify, then teams with winning records from the other conference fill the vacant slots. Teams with winning percentages of .500 or less may qualify only if no team in the other conference has a winning record.