NBA reportedly sends teams plans for in-season tournament, other 2021-22 changes

Kurt Helin

Despite the idea of an in-season NBA tournament is being met around the league with feelings ranging from apathy to disdain — even with a $1 million per player payout for winning — the NBA is pushing forward with major proposed changes for its 75th season in a couple of years.

Plans for the in-season tournament, a 78-game season, play-in games for the last two playoff slots in each conference, and reseeding the conference finals — things Adam Silver and the league office have been promoting for a while — have been sent to teams, reports Shams Charania of The Athletic.

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Ultimately this will require the owners to approve it, with a vote possible this April.

A couple of these ideas seem to have broad support around the league.

The idea of play-in games for the last two seeds in the conference is popular. The proposed format would be that teams 7 and 8 would play with the winner getting the 7 seed. Then the 9 and 10 seeds would play, with the loser eliminated. Finally, the loser of the 7/8 game and winner of the 9/10 game would play one game for the eight seed. Combined with the new, flatter lottery odds this is seen as a motivation for teams to compete for the 9/10 seeds rather than tank.

The idea of re-seeding the final four teams also has support. This would take the last four teams standing in the playoffs — the Eastern and Western conference finalists — and re-seed them based on regular-season record. For example, if this were in place last season, the Bucks would have faced the Trail Blazers in one semi-final, and Toronto would have hosted a healthier Golden State in the other.

Expect both of those to become reality, they have support in league circles and it’s easy to see why the league’s broadcasters would be excited about them.

The mid-season tournament is a much harder sell, both to players and front offices. The players largely look at it as a college gimmick — James Harden said: “are we in college?” — and teams don’t see the motivation. We’ll see how much a $1 million payout changes that, but likely not much.

NBA Commissioner Adam Silver likes the  European soccer model, where teams play for multiple titles in a season. It’s different than the “championship or bust” mentality in the US, which has some fans seeing a trip to the Conference Finals as a failure. Silver hopes, over time, this would give NBA fans something else to root for.

The idea would be eight games (a home-and-home, essentially) against the other four teams in a division. Those division winners and two wild cards would advance to the knockout stage, which would have a “final four” in a neutral site (probably Las Vegas).

With that, the regular season would be reduced to 78 games, although teams that advance to the finals of the mid-season tournament would still play about 81 games. While that is a reduction in the schedule, it’s not a meaningful amount in terms of reducing load management.

It likely would take a lot of political capital for Silver to get this approved, if he can.

However, this is moving toward a vote and Silver is not going to slow that train down. He wants it (even if he is on an island with that).

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