Opinion: In-season tournament is just what the NBA regular season needs

The NBA is introducing a new in-season tourney this season for the first time ever.
The NBA is introducing a new in-season tourney this season for the first time ever. | Ashley Landis, Associated Press

For as long as I can remember, the chief complaint about the NBA regular season has been that it doesn’t matter.

An 82-game schedule is huge, and when there aren’t incentives along the way other than playoff seeding, it’s hard to get the players and fans engaged enough to care, especially before the trade deadline.

But I think the NBA has hit on a great idea with the in-season tournament and there are three reasons I believe this is going to work — glory, hardware and money.

First, it’s important to peel back the curtain a little bit and talk about why the players care about the playoffs and winning an NBA championship. That might sound a little obvious — I mean, of course they want to win, but they’re also highly incentivized to do so.

It’s not an easy feat to win a title and any NBA champion immediately has their names cemented into the history books as being a part of the best team in the world the season in which they win. Professional athletes are competitive by nature, but the chase for that glory and the ultimate prize fuels them.

Then there’s the hardware — the Larry O’Brien Trophy. Players want to hoist that trophy, they want their pictures taken while they kiss it, they want to show it off to thousands of cheering fans during a parade. It’s tangible representation of the glory.

But make no mistake, one of the greatest incentives for anything has and always will be money. During the playoffs, there’s money to be made by the league, the teams and the players.

But that’s the playoffs. People are wondering, why should the players and the fans care about the in-season tournament? Well, for the exact same reasons.

This is essentially the warm-up championship, and you’d be hard-pressed to find professional athletes who, when presented with any kind of title, wouldn’t want to compete to be crowned champion of something, anything. There will be glory attached to the in-season tournament.


There is also hardware. The NBA Cup will be awarded to the team and they will hoist it following an in-season title game to be played in Las Vegas in December.

And finally, there’s money. Every player on the in-season tournament winning team will receive $500,000.

There have been people who have scoffed at the prize money, pointing out how small that is to some of the top-tier players in the league. Sure, but if you’re not making $25 million a year (and even if you are), $500,000 is nothing to turn your nose up at.

Think about the number of players on a team that are on a veteran minimum contract, or the players that are on rookie deals. This prize money is going to be a lot to them. In the case of the Utah Jazz, Kris Dunn and Walker Kessler could essentially make a fifth of their annual salary, just for winning the NBA Cup. That’s not insignificant!

And here’s a little secret, the players stand to make more money by winning the in-season tournament, than they could make as a top-seeded team who wins the NBA Finals.

During the postseason, players earn money from a playoff pool, which grows every year. The 2023 playoff pool total was $26,969,000 and was distributed to teams as follows:

Best record in the NBA: $777,777.
Best record in a conference: $680,680 each.
Second best record in a conference: $544,539 each.
Third best record in a conference: $408,400 each.
Fourth best record in a conference: $333,064 each.
Fifth best record in a conference: $257,729 each.
Sixth best record in a conference: $182,395 each.

Teams participating in the first round: $402,493 each.
Teams participating in the conference semifinals: $478,913 each.
Teams participating in the conference finals: $791, 402 each.
Losing team in the NBA Finals: $3,164,739.
Winning team in the NBA Finals: $4,776, 070.

This means that if an NBA team has the best record in the league and then they make it all the way to an NBA title, they would earn a total of $7,907,335, which comes out to about $465,137 per player (on a 17-man roster). And, that’s before any of those winnings have been voted to be shared with support staff (trainers, team chefs or literally anyone else who works for the team) or used to purchase championship rings.

The in-season tournament prize money is a huge incentive that won’t be overlooked by the players, who will also just plain want to win. And when the players are engaged and fueled and incentivized, so are the fans.

I’m pro-fun, especially when it comes to basketball, and I agree with those who have said the NBA regular season has been lacking.

I don’t know if the in-season tournament will be perfect or that there will be as much buy-in from fans in the first year, but I think this has a chance to really make a difference and increase the level of fun that is had by everyone involved.

This is a good idea, and it’s just what the NBA regular season needs.