NBA eyes midseason tournament, sources say

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The NBA is eager to restart the conversation with its teams and the players’ association about adding a midseason tournament to the league’s calendar, sources told ESPN.

Commissioner Adam Silver, a proponent of the idea, has gained optimism that the success of the play-in tournament could drive momentum to reengage teams on another tournament idea that had been discussed before the pandemic, but never reached a vote of the board of governors, sources said.

The NBA has pushed to incorporate more competitive elements to the league’s calendar in recent years, including the play-in tourney, in-game coach’s challenges and All-Star Game changes like the player draft and scoring targets.

The NBA would need an agreement with the National Basketball Players Association and a two-thirds majority of its 30 teams to incorporate an in-season tournament plan. The league could start exploring the idea again with teams and the NBPA as soon as this year, sources said. It is too late for the league to consider the idea for the 2021-22 season.

Original midseason tournament proposals centered around a European soccer model event that would tie into the NBA’s traditional schedule. The league had discussed an eight-team single-elimination tournament that would be incentivized with $1 million per player payouts to the winning team, sources said. The NBA had discussed a scenario of pool play embedded into the regular-season schedule to determine those teams advancing into the single-elimination tournament.

Among the questions that the league likely still needs to address to teams: Could franchises be assured — especially those in big markets — that there wouldn’t be gate revenue losses by shortening the regular season to 78 games to accommodate the tournament? Some teams had been hesitant to incur short-term losses on potentially losing two home dates, especially when those games had been worth anywhere between $2.5 million and $4 million in pre-pandemic times.

Previous concerns among front-office executives had been that some star players on the league’s most lucrative contracts might prefer the several day scheduling break that would come with failing to qualify for the eight-team, single-elimination tournament, sources said. The buy-in of star players is telltale to achieving the league’s goals of impacting fan interest, television ratings and revenues. Nevertheless, the NBA’s optimism has remained buoyed on achieving that support, in part, because of how many elite players embraced the competitive nature of the Play-in Tournament and All-Star Game changes, sources said.

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