In an interview in The Player’s Tribune late last month, Adam Silver told Trail Blazers guard C.J. McCollum that NBA expansion was “inevitable,” and that Seattle would be on the short list of teams considered. Although Silver said that expansion wasn’t a priority, NBA fans will likely speculate over the coming weeks what expansion would mean to the NBA.
There is no way of knowing what the NBA teams will look like when expansion does finally happen, but let’s speculate that expansion will happen in the next 3-5 years. If so, it’s very likely that the Western Conference will still be loaded with talent while the Eastern Conference is recovering from all their stars migrating to the West.
Assuming Seattle is chosen as an expansion franchise, the NBA will need to find another city to bring an NBA home to so that the league is balanced at 32 teams. Among cities that are likely on Silver’s short list include: Las Vegas, Pittsburgh, St. Louis, and Vancouver. If Silver decides to go with Pittsburgh, it’s likely that not much in the league would change considering the city could form an Eastern Conference team to counter the western city of Seattle. However, if Silver decides to go with the western cities of Vancouver, St. Louis(kinda), or Las Vegas, it could cause some drastic changes that could benefit the Grizzlies.
Before we look at how the expansion could benefit the Grizzlies, it is important to go over a few key rules involving the rosters for the expansion teams.
- The new NBA franchises will select a minimum of 14 players in an “expansion draft.”
- Current NBA teams can select up to 8 players to “protect” from being drafted in the expansion draft (so no, Seattle can’t draft KD back).
- The new NBA franchises cannot select more than one player from a current NBA team (with two new franchises, no more than two players can be taken from the Grizzlies).
Now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, let’s look at a couple of ways expansion can benefit the Grizzlies.
If the NBA selects two western cities to expand to, it’s likely Adam Silver will move one of the Western Conference teams to the Eastern Conference to make the conferences balance out. If this route is chosen, Memphis would likely be the team moving over to the Eastern Conference since geographically it is the closest Western Conference team to the East. There would need to be a few minor fixes to the divisions to fit Memphis, but the Grizzlies would slide into the Southeast Division smoothly.
Being in the Eastern Conference would turn the Grizzlies from a borderline playoff team in the West (according to most NBA media) to a legitimate playoff team in the East. Barring any major changes, Memphis could easily challenge for a top 4 seed in the East instead of fighting for their playoff lives in the West.
The Western Conference is already stacked with talent, and if LeBron decides to leave Cleveland for LakerLand next summer, it could cause the conferences to be more unbalanced than ever before. If the conferences are so unbalanced when expansion rolls around, Adam Silver may decide to do away with the playoff format we have today and instead opt for a format that allows the top 16 teams, no matter the conference, to make the playoffs.
Although it wasn’t an issue this past season, in years past the 9th or 10th seed in the West would have made the playoffs if they were in the Eastern Conference. Although the Grizzlies would still be stuck in the tough Southwest division and Western Conference, they can worry less about being a top 8 team in the conference to make the playoffs and can rely on being a top 16 team in the league. This would also potentially help the Grizzlies in terms of matchup.
For example, with this playoff format the Grizzlies would have played either the Jazz or Clippers in this past seasons playoffs instead of the Spurs. Defeating either of those teams isn’t a cake walk, but it’s more achievable compared to the Spurs matchup. A “Top 16” playoff format would allow the best teams in the league to compete for the Larry O’Brien trophy, and it could also reignite some rivalries that could only happen in the NBA Finals with the current format.
Obviously, moving to the Eastern Conference would likely benefit the Grizzlies the most in the short-term. The “Top 16” playoff format is probably the fairest format with how the league is looking right now, but this is a Grizzlies blog so who really cares what is “fair” for everyone else? There is still a ways to go before expansion becomes closer to reality, but with it being “inevitable,” expansion will be a hot topic around the NBA for years to come.