In a couple of years, the NBA postseason as we know it could be completely different. According to ESPN, the league is considering major changes to playoff structure that could include a play-in round, an in-season tournament and reseeding the teams before the conference finals.
The NBA has been discussing these changes with the National Basketball Players Association, according to ESPN, and the hope is that some of them will be put in place by the 2021-22 season.
The midseason tournament taking place after Thanksgiving would be the most radical addition that is on the table, similar to the European soccer model. ESPN reported that the 30 teams would participate and players and coaches would receive compensation for winning.
However, if implemented, it will be interesting to see how seriously teams take an in-season tournament that has no bearing on the ultimate goal of a championship.
As for the actual postseason, the league is considering play-in games to determine the final two playoff spots in each conference. Currently, the top eight teams in each conference make the postseason. But under the reported proposal, the seventh and eighth seeds would play for one spot. The loser of that game would play the winner of the matchup between the ninth and 10th seeds to determine the final playoff team.
Such a proposal could dramatically impact teams during the regular season, because there is potential for a team finishing 10th in the conference to still make the playoffs, provided it wins out in the play-in round. And it would put more pressure on teams in the lower half of the playoff bracket to finish in the top six to avoid a play-in. This could certainly create more late-season intrigue and is similar to MLB’s wild-card game in which the two best non-division winners play an elimination game to advance to the postseason’s next round.
Best teams meet in NBA Finals
Finally, reseeding the playoff bracket before the conference finals would be a nod toward having the two best teams match up in the finals regardless of conference. The WNBA has done this for a few years and it avoids the possibility of the teams with the best records playing each other before the championship.
One consequence of the changes is the number of regular-season games being reduced — most teams will play 78 or 79 games.
According to ESPN, there has been “no real pushback” to the proposals from the 30 teams so far. These are dramatic changes, but none of them seem nonsensical. The NBA appears to be open to change, and is adopting from other leagues’ adjustments that could benefit professional basketball in the long run.
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