September 24, 2023

The in-season NBA tournament focuses on more engagement early in the season without impacting teams’ approach

NBA Commissioner Adam Silver has long pushed for the in-season tournament.  (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

NBA Commissioner Adam Silver has long pushed for the in-season tournament. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

LAS VEGAS — The NBA is hoping for buy-in for its newest and arguably most ambitious venture, the in-season tournament that kicks off next season.

Buy-in from the players, coaches and fans – all hoping they care. The risk is that the reverse happens, that by implementing pool play similar to a football format that will culminate in a championship on December 9 in Las Vegas, a message will be sent that the league itself doesn’t care about basketball at the start of the season.

Traditionalists will cringe if the 82-game season is slightly disrupted, but it feels like the constant player movement has torn that traditional fabric a bit. The idea has been kicked around for years and will eventually be implemented, pushed by NBA commissioner Adam Silver.

The nuances have been explained, but the bottom line is that the NBA loves and persists in the effect of the play-in tournament, which created so much meaningful basketball in the intermission after the All-Star that teams spent three hours were in full foam. months before the playoffs began.

Getting players and fans ready for those early winter evenings by adding extra stakes on Tuesday and Friday nights from November 3-28 (excluding Election Day) is what the league hopes to achieve here.

The play-in fits right into the rhythm of the regular season, while this is a lot more disruptive. The prize money for each player ($500,000) could be an incentive to curb tax management – hard to explain since games haven’t caused much wear and tear early in the season anyway – but it’s clear that the NBA is on looking for the long term and not just the immediate here.

NBA senior vice president Evan Wasch, creator of the play-in tournament, said there are five measurable measures of success: viewership for group play and the knockout round compared to normal regular season play, attendance, analysis of social media, direct feedback from fans and feedback from the players and teams.

“The greatest work comes after it’s done,” NBA senior VP Joe Dumars said during a recent phone call with select reporters. “How can we improve this? What did we do well? What did we do wrong? It will be interesting to hear the feedback on this as that is where you can improve and make this a much better product.

Jimmy Butler and the Miami Heat advanced from the play-in tournament to the 2023 NBA Finals. (Bryan Cereijo/Getty Images)
Jimmy Butler and the Miami Heat advanced from the play-in tournament to the 2023 NBA Finals. (Bryan Cereijo/Getty Images)

“There’s the question of ‘why’ and whether it will work or not,” Wasch said. “Most general managers didn’t necessarily care about that. What they cared about was that this doesn’t detract from my team’s hunt for the [championship]. And so it cannot be materially disturbing in any way. We talked about versions with long breaks in the season to play this, and GMs thought that was too far.

Wasch believes that if the tournament games are baked into the schedule, with the play and division of the pool before teams advance to the knockout round, the standings or teams’ approaches will not be adversely affected.

In addition, the fact that the NBA is entering into a new media rights deal that will take effect in two years cannot be dismissed. This is something they can sell to television partners or streaming companies, believing it will be such a hit that everyone will benefit financially.

“Then obviously that benefits general managers, coaches, players, you know, through BRI (basketball-related income),” Wasch said. “So our ability to explain why this was so important as a new tent pole for the competition, combined with a minimally disruptive approach that we took, is really what got people on board.”

Neither Dumars nor Wasch would dare say that every team and general manager is on board for this, but the league’s ambitious vision is for it to become such a regular part of NBA life that over time it will become second nature – that new players don’t even think of this as something new, just an extra incentive at the start of the season, and a trip to Las Vegas in early December for their troubles.

Wasch used other sports as a guideline, such as tennis and golf that have separate majors year-round that bring out the best of the best, but the rhythm of a basketball season is completely different.

They have not yet spoken of an Elam Ending or including international teams in this lineup, but with Silver and his affection for other sports, nothing can be ruled out. The NBA hasn’t been afraid to mess with fringe issues like the All-Star Game format, which Wasch used as a “perfect example” to ensure players and fans alike care in 2020.

That All-Star weekend was right in the wake of Kobe Bryant’s unexpected death and in Michael Jordan’s adopted hometown of Chicago — and that game’s fourth quarter delivered a riveting drama that truly hasn’t been seen since in the mid-season showcase. season.

LeBron James shoots over Trae Young during the 2020 NBA All-Star Game in Chicago.  (AP Photo/Nam Huh)

“There was a perfect storm of events and changes leading up to that 2020 All-Star Game that created one of the most competitive games we’ve ever had, and the energy was palpable for everyone in the arena,” Wasch said. “The whole crowd was standing, hearts racing, viewers off the charts. Again, [it] meant nothing, there was no outcome for that All-Star Game, more than anything. But with players competing at that level, fans were conditioned to care. And we think it trickles down to players and teams.”

What will determine this as a real success is the matchups. If there is an extra help in December from the big teams that we only see play twice a year, or if the likes of LeBron James and Stephen Curry go to work an extra time outside the normal schedul
e, people will flock to the TV show. screens come, just for the novelty and curiosity of it.

If it’s lesser-known teams or players going through the motions on those Tuesday and Friday nights leading to a ho-hum final four heading into Las Vegas, Silver will have an egg on his face and will have to reevaluate the league.

But it’s clear that the league feels it has to do something to spice up the regular season, which just at first glance feels a little weird.

The game itself should be enough, but you should give the NBA credit for trying – now it’s up to everyone to care.

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