It sounds as if new NBA commissioner Adam Silver is willing to do something that never really concerned David Stern: fix the NBA's playoff structure.
Silver, who officially takes over in February, has been alarmed by the state of affairs in the Eastern Conference — an ongoing issue since Michael Jordan's last title in Chicago (1998) and particularly disgraceful now. Only two teams have winning records, and the 8-15 Brooklyn Nets are only two games out of first in the Atlantic Division.
The plain fact is that nobody cares about division standings until the playoffs, when division winners are automatically (and often awkwardly) granted a top-four seed. Silver recently told reporters that the NBA's competition committee will strongly consider the possibility that "the divisions have outlived their usefulness," so there's hope for a more fair system in the near future.
But that's only a first step, and hardly the answer. It's time for the league to eliminate the conferences altogether, shorten the schedule and stop pretending the East-West thing has any meaning whatsoever.
It's not as if the existing system ever kept a potential title contender out of the playoffs. There is no parity in the NBA, dating all the way back to the Bill Russell-Wilt Chamberlain days, and any given season finds only a half-dozen teams capable of winning it all. But in April deserving teams could get bumped out in the dangerous Western Conference, with some awful Eastern teams making the playoffs.
The NBA owners, who shouldn't have a say in anything beyond the realm of their own organizations, are the ones holding up the perfect plan: no conferences and a 58-game season with two games against each of the other 29 teams — once at home, once away. That would eliminate fatigue, the absurd notion of back-to-back games and other pitfalls of an overly crowded schedule, including a wave of injuries that seems to become more drastic each year.
But, no, the owners have to protect their precious home dates. Forget integrity or common sense, just make sure they cash out to their satisfaction.
Around the NBA
• For the first time in their careers, Brook and Robin Lopez both are thriving in the league. Robin has been a big part of the Portland Trail Blazers' success, and Brook (currently out with an ankle injury) is well established among big men.
• Pretty weak stuff from Pau Gasol, taking on Lakers coach Mike D'Antoni by saying, "The fact that I'm not getting the ball in the post directly affects my aggressiveness and overall intensity." He also spoke openly of joining his brother, Marc Gasol, in Memphis: "a lot of attractive factors there." So the man has gone soft, once again. Nice retort by D'Antoni, by the way, saying confused players "don't have any trouble getting up to the pay-stub line." There's no future for Gasol in L.A., nor will that team be even remotely relevant over the next couple of years. Time for a trade by the Feb. 20 deadline.
• Kobe Bryant has been schooling the league's up-and-coming players for years, including the defensive end of the floor, where he once ranked among the best. Now it's payback time. Bryant's defense is almost nonexistent, and those young guys are blowing by him at will.
• It's unlikely the revamped Sacramento Kings will be significantly better with Rudy Gay and Derrick Williams on board, but they'll be a lot more entertaining. That definitely counts for something.
• The Warriors saw Dwight Howard at his free-throwing best Friday night (7-for-7): an aberration, to be sure, but revealing. It's also worth noting that teams are backing off the "Hack-a-Howard" strategy because stats show he tends to get more comfortable when he shoots 15 or more a game. This is an ugly, tempo-destroying strategy to begin with, best characterized by Denver coach Brian Shaw: "It goes against everything I'm about, and I won't do it again. It's not in the spirit of the game. I'm glad he made his free throws (against Shaw's team in November), and it shows me to just be true to who you are."
• It was only halftime of the Clippers-Brooklyn game on TNT, but Charles Barkley had seen enough: "The Clippers are softer than tissue paper, man. They've got the toughness of a flea. The toughest guy on your team can't be your point guard (Chris Paul) or your coach (Doc Rivers). They're not a contender. Not even close."
(Bruce Jenkins is a San Francisco Chronicle columnist. E-mail: email@example.com Twitter: @bruce_jenkins1)