Another one of Adam Silver’s ideas is to hold a mid-season NBA tournament, which would generate interest in what would otherwise be mundane mid-season matchups, give teams a chance to compete for more than just one title, and, most importantly, make money.
“The competition committee talked about and seemed excited about potentially [running] some sort of midseason tournament,” Silver said this week. “[We are in the] very early days in the discussion of that, but we’re looking at other opportunities in the league to create excitement. As one of our general managers said at the meeting, there’s very few things that you can win in the NBA. When you think about European soccer, for example, they have the FA Cup and they have other tournaments throughout the season.”
The format could take a number of different avenues. The league would need to figure out format, location, time, schedule, television partners, and a number of other factors.
But ingenuity and innovation isn’t supposed to be easy.
Why not allow the NBDL Finalists to take part for a 32 team tournament? Not only would this clean up the format, it would also provide a fantastic opportunity for some of the charm of the cup tournament that truly makes it special in the soccer world. Additionally, it would be great publicity for the NBA’s developmental league.
Could an NBA knockout tournament be a television success? Absolutely! Turner Sports has plenty of experience televising the NCAA Tournament and the NBA could theoretically follow the exact same format if it played out in home arenas across the country. You could have Raptors-Knicks playing at Noon in Madison Square Garden at the same time Celtics-Grizzlies was tipping off in Boston. If the tournament took place at one site in Las Vegas, the entire tournament could easily be played over the course of two weeks.
I love the general idea, but the concept may be flawed from the outset. Several reasons:
1) The FA Cup in England works because it’s not just teams from the Premier League playing for yet another Premier League-sponsored title. It’s teams from the Premier League and other leagues from around England competing for a separate title. Sure, usually the best teams from the Premier League will win, but lesser teams are given a chance on the big stage, and the format is different enough to make winning it actually mean something. If the NBA holds a mid-season tournament with just the top 4-6 teams in the league, as described in the SI.com article, then essentially they’d just be holding substantially less meaningful version of the NBA Playoffs. No one will care. You’d want this mid-season tournament to give lesser teams a chance to win something, or at least compete.
Yoder proposes including D-league teams. I think that’s a great start, but why stop there? For something like this to really work, you’d need to include “basketball teams” from all over the place. Who hasn’t wondered if the best college teams could beat the worst NBA teams? The NCAA is a business, and its players may soon be compensated, so why not open the tournament up to the AP top 5 in the NCAA? It was mentioned that the tournament could include games played in Mexico and London, so why not give international teams a shot? It sounds crazy, but the reason things like the FA Cup work is because they are tournaments with teams from many levels and leagues. The NBA holding yet another competition to find out the best team in its league is redundant and stupid. Which brings us to point number two.
*As noted by Yoder, high-level English soccer teams may have three or more things going on at once: the Premier League (the main domestic league), the FA Cup (a cup competition between Premier League teams and teams from lesser leagues), and the Champions League (a season-long league with the best from around Europe– arguably the most important league) or Europa League (teams that couldn’t get into the Champions League).
2) The soccer cups work because, although different leagues and conferences generally fall under the same governing umbrella, they are club-based, not league-based. Clubs are more independent in soccer, whereas NBA teams are exclusively part of the NBA. So the reason why a NBDL-NCAA-international tournament probably wouldn’t happen is because NBA teams are NBA teams. There would likely be too much red tape and self interest to create a truly appealing tournament, even if the NBA was the primary beneficiary of its success (see World Baseball Classic). The FA Cup is organized by an at least slightly different body than the one that organizes the Premier League. It’s interest is the FA Cup, not in promoting Premier League teams.
3) Incentive. The recently-held Basketball Tournament, which offered the winning team $500k in cash, was a truly novel idea because it created actual incentive and an environment where former college and NBA players wanted to play, and real amateur teams were constructed. I’d argue that any NBA mid-season tournament should include cash incentives for players and teams, or real league-based incentives for the NBA teams participating. If it’s part of the preseason, like the International Champions Cup in soccer (which is a series of preseason friendlies that European teams care about very little), then it will be treated as just that: the preseason. Every possibly format seems to jam the square idea into the circle that is the 82-game NBA season. I think that’s the wrong way of going about it. If this tournament creates additional matchups, and therefore additional revenue, then why not shrink the NBA schedule to, say, 70 games? Who says it has to be 82 if there are other, more meaningful games to be played? In the end, you wind up with roughly the same number of games, and likely more revenue.
4) Yoder says the World Cup was a success in America because it meant something. He’s right. Any NBA Tournament would have to mean something for it to truly succeed. It couldn’t just be an exhibition showcase. Players and fans would actually have to feel like something was at stake. That sentiment is hard to create in American sports. It could be done, but I’m not sure the NBA has enough incentive to create a truly compelling tournament that players, and perhaps more importantly, fans, would care about.