Though some players and teams were openly critical of it, NBA commissioner Adam Silver said Friday that he hopes the new play-in tournament becomes a regular thing.
Silver, speaking on ESPN Radio, said the biggest thing he felt the new tournament did was create more incentive for teams to finish out the regular season.
"Over the past few years, pre-pandemic, there's been a lot of reference to our long regular season and the issues around player resting, and we tried to address that as well," Silver said on ESPN Radio. "We moved to a 72-game season because of the pandemic and somewhat condensed so we had 10 fewer regular-season games, and I had hardly heard a mention about it. ... I think the way we dealt best with the resting, although we have some rules around it now, was the motivation for teams to care about being in the playoffs and their actual play-in position.
"That incentive is what made the biggest difference, not the reduction of the 10 games."
The final play-in tournament game will take place on Friday night, with the Golden State Warriors and Memphis Grizzlies fighting for the final spot in the Western Conference.
This season, the seventh and eighth seeds squared off, with the winner advancing into the playoffs and the loser then taking on the winner of the ninth and 10th seed game. Silver didn’t commit to that format for the future, saying it’s possible they could adjust how the play-in works.
Plenty of teams, especially those involved, questioned the play-in as the regular season started to end. Both Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban and star Luka Doncic slammed the idea when they were tracking for a play-in spot — something they later played out of — and even LeBron James was upset by it.
“Whoever came up with that s*** needs to be fired,” he said earlier this month.
While he understands their criticism, Silver thinks that the benefits of the play-in tournament far outweigh the negatives.
"I haven't made any secret that I want it to be [around long term]," Silver said on ESPN Radio. "I have two constituencies I need to convince of that. One is the 30 teams, and I think for the most part they've supported it. Again, I understand the sentiment if I were a team — a 7-seed in particular — the notion [that] after a long season, you could potentially play out of the playoffs. I understand those feelings. I think at the same time, the teams recognize the amount of additional interest we've created over the last month of the season plus those play-in games make it worth it.
"Of course, the other constituency is the players. For example, one player, who is on the executive committee of the union, said to me yesterday that he really likes the play-in tournament but he felt it could potentially be a bit unfair. For example, if you were the seventh seed and you were a significant number of games ahead of the 8-seed, the notion that you could somehow lose two games and be out of the playoffs seems unfair.”
Silver hopes for near-full arenas in time for NBA Finals
Several teams are starting to increase fan capacity for the postseason, something made easier as more and more people are receiving their COVID-19 vaccines.
The Knicks sold out 15,000 seats at Madison Square Garden for their first two games against the Atlanta Hawks, which will mark the largest indoor gathering in New York since the pandemic began. The 76ers, Mavericks and Jazz all announced that they plan to increase capacity for the playoffs, too.
Silver, though he didn’t commit to anything, said he thinks that arenas will be close to full in time for the NBA Finals.
“I think it’s very possible that come July, when our Finals will be, you’ll see essentially full buildings,” Silver said on ESPN Radio.
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