NBA to spread winning feeling

BILL HARRIS -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 7:37 AM ET

SACRAMENTO -- Toronto isn\'t anywhere near the Atlantic Ocean, unless hundreds of years of geographic surveys have gone horribly awry. But Toronto is attached to Lake Ontario, which is attached to the St. Lawrence River, which is attached to the Atlantic, so in that regard it sort of makes sense that the Raptors will be a member of the NBA\'s Atlantic Division next season.

The league will expand by one team -- the Charlotte Bobcats -- and change to six divisions from four, with five teams in each. The Raptors will be with the New York Knicks, New Jersey Nets, Boston Celtics and Philadelphia 76ers.

Should the Raptors be happy about this? According to Richard Peddie, the president and CEO of Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment Ltd., the team officially is in favour of the plan, which is expected to pass easily.

\"Larry Tanenbaum (MLSEL part-owner and the company\'s NBA governor) was very involved in the process as part of the league\'s planning committee,\" Peddie said. \"One of the biggest champions of this was the Detroit Pistons. I called (Pistons president) Tom Wilson and asked him why he felt it was so important to push this through.\"

Wilson and Peddie like the idea that more teams have a chance to win something.

True, there will be six division champions annually rather than four. But if making more teams feel like winners is the determining factor, the league could have 30 one-team divisions, and each club could raise a banner every year. For example, the Raptors would have won the Canadian Division last season with a 24-58 record.

BOOKKEEPING

But this new arrangement basically is a bookkeeping move, anyway. The playoff format is virtually unchanged, with three division winners per conference being seeded at the top, rather than two. The regular-season schedule won\'t change much, either, which is a very good thing. Teams will continue to play home-and-home series every season with all the teams in the opposite conference.

The NHL doesn\'t do that anymore and it\'s a big mistake. The Maple Leafs don\'t visit certain cities in the West for three, four, five years. Thursday they played their first game at the Staples Center in Los Angeles, which opened in 1999.

If you\'re a Raptors season-ticket holder, you witness enough bad games that you should be guaranteed (barring injury or jail time) to see Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O\'Neal and Carmelo Anthony and Steve Nash and Kevin Garnett at least once a season. And fans in the West should get to see Vince Carter once a year, too. It\'s just common sense.

The Raptors will play four games a year against their division rivals, and three or four games a year against the other 10 teams in the Eastern Conference. Over the long haul that may result in fewer games for LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers in Toronto, but if you\'re in the camp that believes James is the next Michael Jordan, then getting the Raptors out of the Cavs\' division is not a bad idea.

This also means every divisional road game for the Raptors will take place in the Eastern time zone, and marginally fewer 8:30 p.m. (Eastern time) starts in current Central Division locales like Milwaukee, Chicago and New Orleans.

Speaking of the New Orleans Hornets, they\'re the one team that gets the short-term shaft, moving from the weak East to the powerful West.

\"Realignment is always a touchy subject, because people think about what it means today,\" Peddie said. \"But that all works itself out. Nobody wants to move to the West right now because the West is so strong. But in five or 10 years it could be totally the opposite.\"

Well, that\'s easy for Peddie to say. His team has not been moved into a division with Tim Duncan and Yao Ming.

But the Raptors still have a lot of improving to do anyway, whether they\'re playing in the Atlantic Division or the Atlantic Ocean.

Proposed NBA realignment would produce six divisions:

EAST

ATLANTIC

Boston

New Jersey

New York

Philadelphia

Toronto

CENTRAL

Chicago

Cleveland

Detroit

Indiana

Milwaukee

SOUTHEAST

Atlanta

Charlotte

Miami

Orlando

Washington

WEST

NORTHWEST

Denver

Minnesota

Portland

Seattle

Utah

SOUTHWEST

Dallas

Houston

Memphis

New Orleans

San Antonio

PACIFIC

Golden State

L.A. Clippers

L.A. Lakers

Phoenix

Sacramento


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