Along with the 3.2 billion other people that will tune in to watch the action, I have World Cup fever. And you know what? As a league, the NBA could learn something from soccer. Beyond the spectacle of the cup, one of the things I love about soccer is the multitude of in-season tournaments. In the U.S., teams play in the Open Cup and in England, there’s the F.A. Cup and the Carabao Cup.
I would love to see this take hold in the NBA.
Adam Silver hinted that the league was considering the idea back in 2014, but we haven’t heard much about it since, which is a real shame. The NBA playoffs are the pinnacle of basketball entertainment, but we need to wait until April for the action to start. Frankly, it can be a real slog to get there. With an in-season tournament, there’s opportunity to add playoff-level excitement to the entire season.
The regular season is too long. Adding a single-elimination tournament is a great compromise between reducing the number of regular season games and maintaining revenue for all parties involved. Every few weeks, the regular schedule could be put on hold for a weekend and another round of the tournament could take place.
Giving fans of bad teams an opportunity at an “NBA Cup” run is a great way to keep fan interest from waning. When it’s January and your team is already 15 games under .500, it can be tough to give a darn about basketball. While an in-season tournament run isn’t a replacement for winning a championship or even making the playoffs, it gives those teams a chance to compete for something.
One roadblock to an in-season tournament is players needing rest. Teams that go deep in the playoffs multiple years in a row rack up a lot of miles. While the NBA has taken steps to crack down on players sitting out games, franchises should be free to rest their players at their discretion for the tournament. In fact it would help create more parity. A team with legitimate title hopes will likely rest their best players, and won’t take much grief for doing so. A bad team with nothing to play for in the regular season wouldn’t hear the end of it from their fans if they sat their starters.
Besides, for those teams resting their stars, it’s actually a great chance for end-of-the bench players to get some exposure on the big stage in a “win-or-go-home” scenario. Think about the opportunity for instant folk hero status. Imagine Jake Layman or Caleb Swanigan hitting a game winner at the buzzer to advance his team to the next round.
So how would it work with only 30 NBA teams, not 64 or 32? I think our friends over at Pounding the Rock have the solution; allow last season’s G-League Championship finalists to participate and you have an even 32 teams. Talk about upset potential. Granted they’d have the same odds of winning a game as Portland State would against Kentucky, but that’s precisely why even casual fans watch a 1 vs. 16 in the NCAA tournament, to see a historic upset.
The NBA is truly a great product, but lack of parity is a real issue that doesn’t seem to be getting better. This past season in particular had a feeling of inevitability. Despite all of the crazy story lines we had this year, we all knew that it was just leading up the Warriors vs. Cavaliers Part IV, didn’t we? An NBA Cup would shake all of that up without having a major impact on the playoffs themselves.
Let the NBA take a page from soccer leagues around the world and make the regular season more exciting. Give bad teams something to play for. Set up a scenario where we can see more legendary moments that will live forever through conversations in sports bars across America. It’s time to bring a mid-season tournament to the NBA.
Catch me discussing the idea of a mid-season tournament, the NBA Draft, and more all this week as I guest-host the Bald Faced Truth for John Canzano, 12-3pm on 102.9/750 The Game. People outside of Portland or otherwise unable to be near a radio can listen from nearly any internet connected device at www.1029thegame.com