On Sept. 8, 2015, the NBA's Board of Governors unanimously approved changes to the way the league seeds playoff teams, eliminating the guarantee of a top-four seed for division winners in each conference and instead seeding 1 through 8 based on record. As well, the first tiebreaker for teams that finish the regular season with identical records will now be head-to-head record followed by division winner, not the other way around as it had been. These changes go into effect for the 2015-16 season.
Under the old system, teams could (and did) finish the regular season with a top-four record in their conferences but find themselves seeded fifth or lower. This happened in the West last season, when Portland received the No. 4 seed despite having a poorer record than both Memphis and San Antonio, who ended up with seeds Nos. 5 and 6 respectively.
The 2014-15 playoff seeds in the Western Conference were as follows:
1. Golden State Warriors (67-15)
2. Houston Rockets (56-26)
3. L.A. Clippers (56-26)
4. Portland Trailblazers (51-31)
5. Memphis Grizzlies (55-27)
6. San Antonio Spurs (55-27)
7. Dallas Mavericks (50-32)
8. New Orleans Pelicans (45-37)
Under this new seeding format, the teams would have been seeded like this:
1. Golden State (67-15)
2. Houston (56-26)
3. L.A. Clippers (56-26)
4. Memphis (55-27)
5. San Antonio (55-27)
6. Portland (51-31)
7. Dallas (50-32)
8. New Orleans (45-37)
It should be noted that even though winning the division gave teams like Portland a guaranteed top-four seed in the playoffs, they were not guaranteed home court advantage. That still went to the team with the better record. However, this change does correct the problem of having two title favorites — like the Clippers and Spurs last season — pitted against each other in the first round. That hard-won 7-game series left the victorious Clippers already bloody and bruised in early May.
Under the new format, Portland would have faced off against the Clippers in round one, while San Antonio faced Memphis.
Impact on the Suns
This playoff change has nothing to do with conference imbalance. The top eight teams from each conference still advance.
The Suns are still required to climb over seven other teams to earn a playoff berth and still have the Warriors and Clippers ahead of them in the Pacific Division. Unless both of those teams' locker rooms were to be stricken by an outbreak of dengue fever this season, neither the division-winner quirk of the previous season nor its removal for this season would have any tangible effect on the Suns' chances at making the playoffs.
Better for Phoenix's playoff hopes would be the NBA seeding teams 1 through 16 and disregarding conferences altogether. While that wouldn't have helped the 2014-15 Suns after a 1-10 finish to the season, the 2013-14 Suns would have been the No. 12 seed that year. However, this proposal has yet to gain any traction with the owners.
Also fishtailing is the league's attempt to revamp the Draft Lottery system. Commissioner Adam Silver told the Boston Globe on Sept. 10 that the league is wary of drastic changes to the system until the effects of the new TV money are more fully understood.
"Ultimately, the owners concluded that while we think we need to take a fresh look at the lottery system, let's wait and look at the system holistically once the new money comes in," Silver said.
"There's always unintended consequences, and at least everyone understands the rules of the road right now. I think we need to be deliberate about any changes we make, so we'll turn back to it, but we're going to leave things as is for now."