The NBA has proposed cutting 4 games out of the regular season to create a mid-season tournament and it’s not a bad idea. It’d create intrigue and drama and develop new storylines to make the regular season, especially the first half, more compelling. Of course it could create unintended consequences such as injuries, resting stars, lost revenues or teams giving up on the season way, way too early, but who knows?
Yet rather than dissect the various manifestations an in-season tourney may bring, there’s already a multitude of NBA prognosticators for that, I’d prefer to focus on a different idea. What I’d like to see instead is a single elimination tournament at the end of the season between the non-playoff teams for lottery seeding.
Let’s lay it out and think about it. Once the regular season is over the playoff teams get a week to prepare for the playoffs. During that time the 14 non-playoff teams, 7 from the west and 7 from the east, could play a single elimination tournament over the course of 5 days, with the top non-playoff teams getting a first round bye. However the, let’s call it ‘lottery tournament’, should not be based on conference, it should be based on record, so the highest seeds are the best non-playoff teams record-wise, on down to the lowest seeds with the worse records (tie breakers could be conference and then divisional records). In the first round you’d have 6 games and in the second round there’d be 4. Then there could be a day off. In the third round there’d be 2 games and then on the last day there’d be 2 more – one for the lottery winner, between the 1 and 2 for the top and second pick in the lottery, and before that game a consolation game between the losers for the 3rd and 4th pick. Beyond that, order the lottery based on how far the other teams made it in the tournament with tie breakers being determined based on regular season record, point differentials in tourney games or something else.
Now, what would a lottery tournament do for the NBA? First, it’d give the fans something exciting to watch during a week when there are no games on. Additionally, fans of the non-playoff teams would have something to cheer for. It may even build more excitement for the playoffs from casual fans. So the fans would win big. The owners would win big too. Think about the added revenue this would generate, from ticket sales to broadcast rights and merchandising. They could even bid on hosting it as well, though I’d prefer to see it held in a non-NBA city each year, like Vegas, Seattle, Pittsburgh or St. Louis.
The players would also benefit. Many non-playoff teams have a lot of young inexperienced players who could gain valuable experience from a playoff atmosphere. Some may even emerge as budding stars or crucial role players as happens each year in the playoffs when certain guys raise their profiles in the post-season. So players, fans and owners would benefit; as would businesses around the hosting arena.
Beyond those winners, the biggest winner would be the game itself. Think about it - no more tanking. With the best among the non-playoff teams getting the best lottery picks there’d be no more incentive to tank. In fact, every year every team would have to do everything possible to be as competitive as possible. And there’s no way a fringe playoff team would try to not make the playoffs in lieu of getting a good pick. Maybe an owner would rather want a top pick over an 8th seed, but the players and coaches wouldn’t, and once the owners got the revenue from a playoff series they’d be fine as well.
So NBA, forget the mid-season tourney and create a lottery tournament, ending tanking while adding revenue and excitement. Where’s the downside? Adam Silver, pardon the pun, but the ball is in your court.