Currently the divisions mean nothing at all, and winning one is pointless as it doesn't guarantee anything. Not to mention the obvious hangups of POR, OKC, and Minnesota being in the same division, and NO being in the west.
By changing to two large divisions winning one would be very significant, and it should get a large reward. I think a bye in the first round of the playoffs would really help the league as it could trim playoff teams to 12, and fans of each team would really think they had a shot.
The playoff's are so overblown right now everyone (nationally) is bored by the time they're half-way done. If the top four teams don't play in the first round there will be some holdover anticipation, and all the teams that face them will have won a series first (making their fans confident), this would add tremendously to the drama.
While we're at it the season's way too long now to hold national interest, and has so many games it really takes a toll on injuries, energy levels to teams, and really messes foreign players up. Too many stars take tames off, and with the rise in foreign popularity many players are playing in the offseason (which is good for global interest).
Realistically a number of things can be done to correct these problems that generally contribute to a lot of teams/players taking games lightly and playoff series being blowouts.
In entertainment the concept of "leave the people wanting more" is a big deal, and realistically the league should trim its playoffs, total # of games in regular season, exhibition games to increase the importance of each game and reduce injuries, WHILE making the divisions more regional to encourage rivalry AND reward division winners to make it meaningful.
Here are the solutions:
Portland, Sacramento, Oakland, LA (X2), Phoenix, and Utah.
Denver, Minnesota, Milwaukee, Chicago, Oklahoma City, Dallas, San Antonio, Houston
Indiana, Detroit, Cleveland, Toronto, Boston, New Jersey, New York, Philadelphia
Washington, Charlotte, Memphis, Atlanta, New Orleans, Orlando, Miami
They're not televised usually, not that interesting, and cost the same amount, not good business strategy.
Have only two pre-season games at the end of training camp (one home, one away) after which teams can make cuts.
Afterwards have each team spend a full week in Europe/Asia having each team play an exhibition game against a foreign team. Add a 100K incentive for each player to play to help entice stars to play in the games and create more foreign interest.
Teams then could spend one more week at home practicing before the regular season begins.
games player: 4
games reduced 2-3
According to the new divisional realignment have each team play every team w/in their division 4X (teams in divisions with 8 teams play three times 3 times, alternating yearly), for a grand total of 28 divisional games that are meaningful, helping to create better regional rivalries.
Out of division teams play each other 2X a year (one home, one away) for a total of 44 games.
Total Games : 72
Games Reduced: 10
Not a big hit as far as owners attendance is concerned, more regional associations, and by the end of the season fans are not attending the games of losing teams. This helps to shorten the season a considerable amount and with the games saved all back to backs can be eliminated along with trimming off a week and a half of the season. It also adds to the importance of games, meaning less players taking games off. In addition, TV coverage wouldn't have to be cut at all, which is a large source of the league's revenue.
Right now the playoff structure is a joke with far too many teams (w/no chance) making the playoffs, and the games themselves dragging on forever, boring the common fan. By giving the division winners a bye there will be a sense of anticipation for the second round of the playoffs, by eliminating two teams from the playoffs, they will be more of an honor to be at and there won't be any blowout series in the first round (3-6, 4-5 in each conference). AND a strong incentive is given to winning the division, adding to the pre-playoff drama instead of things mostly winding to a lull. The first round would have to be a five game series in order to not tire teams out too much, and again, playoff coverage in the playoffs wouldn't be cut at all, just more time given in the first round to the 3-6/4-5 matchups so that there were never more than four series going at one time.
These moves would not sacrifice national coverage whatsoever while allowing the players more rest during the year to ensure a high level of play (13 less games a year), giving stronger incentive to win regular season games, making regional rivalries more significant, and making the playoffs overall more competitive.