The NBA was once a simple, two-division league, a structure that remained in place throughout the 1960s and '70s. Expansion gave the league 17 teams for the 1970-71 season, so the format was changed to a two-conference, four-division structure. That basic template remained in place for 34 seasons through further expansion, franchises changing coasts and the absorption of the remnants of the ABA. Finally, when the Charlotte Bobcats limped into existence in 2004-05, the league's 30 teams were aligned geographically into the two-conference, six-division format we've come to know and ... love?
Well, not so much. Do you know how many times I check divisional standings through the course of a season? Zero. In March, when front-running teams begin to clinch division titles, I'm always taken aback by the news. Oh yeah, those things.
We only notice divisions in seasons such as this one, when the collective ineptitude of the Atlantic Division presents us daily with the sight of a the fourth-place team in the Eastern Conference standings sporting a record four to five games below .500. Of course, in practice, that team isn't really a four-seed, because it won't have home-court advantage against the five-seed it will eventually play in the postseason.
To paraphrase Forrest Gump, divisions just don't make no sense. At least not anymore.