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What would NBA mid-season tournament look like?

With a new format being tested in the G-league, is it coming soon to the NBA?

NBA: All Star-Celebrity Game Quinn Harris-USA TODAY Sports

The NBA recently announced a renovated G-league, not only with new teams, but with an expanded Showcase Cup - all but confirming the initial report by Shams Charania from the Athletic that the league is still seriously discussing a mid-season tournament idea.

Now, with the new format for the G-League Showcase Cup detailed in the official release, we have a much clearer picture of what is being discussed, as the G-League is often used as testing grounds for later changes to NBA:

“The league’s 29 teams and NBA G League Ignite will be separated into four regional pods, where they will play 12 games against one another in NBA G League markets. The teams with the best winning-percentage in each regional pod, along with the next four teams across the league with the best win-percentages, will advance to compete for the Showcase Cup in a single-elimination tournament during the NBA G League Winter Showcase.”

Commissioner Adam Silver has been a long time champion of the idea, reportedly inspired by the league’s observation of international soccer league formats and now reignited by the success of the play-in tournament. The initiative would still need backing from both the NBPA and at least two thirds of the NBA’s 30 teams.

How it works in soccer

Most national soccer leagues are composed by 20 teams and each team plays 38 league games per season. However, these leagues usually do not include a playoff stage. The best record in their “regular season” is that year’s league champion.

That is one of the main reasons a tournament style competition (which they call “Cup”) is so appealing to fans and players. It creates a different type of competition, based on drawing opponents and the facing elimination in every round.

Gianluigi Buffon of Juventus FC lift the trophy as players Photo by Nicolò Campo/LightRocket via Getty Images

What the tournament successfully does is create different levels of competition throughout the year. Elimination games can make a regular Wednesday in January feel much closer to a season defining moment - like a playoff game - than a random regular season one. This, in turn, generates engagement, content and, ultimately, more money.

Speaking of money, the cash prizes in soccer are not exclusive to the champion. All teams that advance a stage get a prize, which is increased at every round, making each round interesting for the clubs, even if they end up not winning it all.

The Drawbacks

When you compare that format to the NBA, the differences are clear and a lot of what makes the idea work for soccer is lost. NBA fans are already used to an established regular season being used as a qualifier for the “knock-out stages” - the Playoffs. You already have mixed both types of competition in one single tournament, the famous “best-of-both worlds”, and the winner is the undisputed champion.

Adding a mid-season tournament may create difficulties for fan engagement - you either have to track which competition your team is playing for today (the soccer way soccer); or you track which of the regular season games count for the tournament (the last season WNBA way). Being a WNBA and a Soccer fan myself, both formats can be confusing.

Seattle Storm v Connecticut Sun - 2021 Commissioner’s Cup Championship Game Photo by Barry Gossage/NBAE via Getty Images

Additionally, players and owners have very different and opposing concerns. On one side, players would worry with the wear and tear on their body, and some stipulate stars could choose to sit-out those new tournament games. Proposals have included a new 78 regular season schedule, but that would still mean a total greater than 82 games played before the playoffs, especially for teams that advance in the mid-season tournament.

On the other hand, for the teams that don’t make it to the knock-out stages, owners - especially in big markets- worry about the impact those lost games will have on their gate revenues.

The league seems to try to solve players and owners issues with compensation. Not only they are now discussing individualized cash prices for the winning players, but it has also discussed adding draft picks as prizes in the past.

The Bright Side

Being a long time proponent of the idea, the league is looking to add that different level of spice into the long winded NBA regular season. They knows that a middle of the season game can mean very little to a casual fan, and seems to believe that adding competition elements could entice those people and reenergize the league in a time of the year that some think can drag on for way too long.

It’s hard to argue against that. The success of March madness is only one example. We all have heard - and, as Phoenix Suns fans, now have seen for the first time in a decade - how different the energy and level of play in the playoffs can be. It’s impossible to describe, it’s just different. And it is SO MUCH FUN.

Los Angeles Clippers v Phoenix Suns - Game Two Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

I’m not saying a mid-season tournament would bring the same level of excitement, but if the NBA can find a way to replicate at least some of that in February, people (owners, players and fans alike) would not have much to complain about.

How do you feel about it? Would it be a waste of time on a meaningless competition? Or would it be an interesting way to bring a little of that playoff feeling to an earlier part of the year?


How do you feel about a mid-season tournament in the NBA?

This poll is closed

  • 42%
    No way! Waste of everyone’s time.
    (77 votes)
  • 38%
    Playoff feels early?! Bring it on!
    (69 votes)
  • 18%
    I don’t care either way...
    (34 votes)
180 votes total Vote Now

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