Revamping Silver’s season salvaging tournament


Image via Wikimedia Commons

NBA Commissioner Adam Silver at a game between the Cleveland Cavaliers and Washington Wizards at Verizon Center on Nov. 21, 2014, in Washington, D.C.

By Sean Tierney, Staff Writer

The NBA is star-driven and tailor-made for a culture centered on social media and big personalities. From Lakers forward Kyle Kuzma’s outlandish outlets to this year’s historically talented rookie class to the earth-shattering player movement that happens every summer, professional basketball has no shortage of content to fill airtime on ESPN and posts on Twitter.

The league has grown massively in popularity over the past decade. Despite its upward trajectory, there is still one nagging obstacle that holds the NBA back — an 82-game regular season.

Commissioner Adam Silver and other NBA brass are now desperately searching for a way to keep the NBA relevant within its own season. Even the most die-hard fans know that it’s hard to get excited for any given game in November, which likely has little-to-no impact on the end of the season.

The NBA, much like the MLB and NHL, has historically looked to its all-star weekend to inject excitement and promote fan engagement during the dog days of the long season, but the NBA’s all-star weekend fails to live up to the hype. This fact has pushed Silver to explore more extreme measures to maximize league value.

Enter the “NBA Cup,” Silver’s European-sports-league-inspired solution to midseason apathy.

The idea for a midseason tournament is something that has been kicked around since Silver first assumed the role of commissioner in 2014. But recently his efforts have become more serious — going so far as having a working proposal for how a midseason tournament could be implemented, which also includes additional schedule changes. The latest public draft was released to all 30 teams, as well as press, on Dec. 20, 2019.

Silver commented further on the topic on Jan. 3, saying a more finalized plan will be put before the NBA Board of Governors in April, after further negotiations with owners and the NBA Players Association.

It’s unclear whether the NBA Cup will ever become a reality, but for now, we can critique the NBA’s current proposal and have fun creating our own NBA schedule changes.

The NBA’s Dec. 20 proposal includes a shortening of the regular season to 78 games, with the addition of a midseason tournament as well a play-in tournament at the end of the season to determine the seventh and eighth seeds for each conference. In addition, the NBA also informed teams of a third-party study that it commissioned, which found that 60% of fans want a shorter regular season, 68% were interested in a midseason tournament and 75% were interested in a play-in tournament to determine playoff seeding.

The midseason tournament would be slated to run from late November to mid-December and consist of two main phases — a group phase and a playoff phase. The group phase would consist of each team playing eight divisional games, which will also count toward regular season record. After the group phase, the six divisional leaders and two wild card teams would be seeded into a playoff bracket, which would play out until one team is crowned NBA Cup winner.

The current proposal awards $15 million to be split among the winning players and $1.5 million to be split among the winning coaching staff. The current proposal leaves the door open for additional incentives for teams and players. The end-of-season play-in tournament for the playoffs would feature the seventh- and eighth-place teams playing for the seventh seed, and the loser of that game would play the winner of a ninth- vs. tenth-place game for the eighth seed.

The NBA must implement something meaningful that players and coaches will take seriously. The NBA also wants to discourage the modern trend of “load management,” a symptom of the long regular season with many meaningless games, by making each regular-season game more impactful on the postseason.

While the current proposal takes steps in the right direction, it does not do enough to incentivize teams to care about a midseason tournament or curb load management. If the NBA wants players to care about a midseason tournament, then there needs to be playoff implications — money will mean nothing to star players already making millions.

Additionally, 78 regular-season games are still too many to make every game meaningful. To address these concerns, I offer a rebuttal, one that takes inspiration from The Ringer founder and CEO Bill Simmons’ proposed schedule changes.

First, the NBA season should be shortened to 72 games. In addition to these 72 games, there should be a midseason, single-elimination tournament in November or December. This tournament would include all 30 teams, with each conference on a separate side of the bracket and each conference leader getting a first-round bye.

Wins in round one, two and three will count as one win each toward a team’s regular-season record. The teams with byes will earn a free win for round one. A win in round four counts as two regular-season wins. Winning the NBA cup championship will count as three additional regular-season wins. The winning team would also be awarded the 31st pick in the following draft.

In addition to this midseason tournament, only the top five teams from each conference, by number of total wins, would make the playoffs. The sixth- through 11th-place teams must then each participate in a single play-in game (six vs. 11, seven vs. 10 and eight vs. nine). The winners of these games would fill the final three playoff spots for each conference.

These changes may seem complicated, but they effectively address all the things which the NBA is trying to solve. The midseason tournament would be an exhilarating change of pace to get fans excited for games in November — a big money opportunity for the NBA. Teams would be motivated to be successful in the tournament because additional wins may be the key to making the playoffs.

When there are only 72 regular-season games and a team needs to finish in the top five of their conference to guarantee a playoff spot, load management becomes a much bigger gamble that teams won’t want to take.

If the NBA wants to take a leap ahead of other American sports leagues in the fight for supremacy, it’s going to have to take chances and set itself apart. The schedule changes above would do just that, while also solving some of the most pressing obstacles that the NBA faces in cementing and growing its fan base. Silver has the opportunity to revolutionize the NBA season and do so in a way that fans will enjoy — he should make sure he gets it right.