NBA unveils details and team groupings for next year’s in-season tournament

As part of the new collective bargaining agreement, the NBA announced the addition of an in-season tournament to add some spice to the early part of the season. Reviews seemed to be pretty mixed on the idea, and I assume that’s especially true of people that don’t follow soccer and all the concurrent competitions and other scheduling quirks they do. That sport was the motivation for this idea. If you do follow soccer, think of it like the FA Cup running concurrently with the English Premier League season, only with a few differences to help it fit in the NBA schedule. Or perhaps a better example–it’s like how college basketball plays early season tournaments that also count as part of teams’ regular season non-conference record.

Here’s Richard Jefferson explaining how it works in video form.

If you prefer to read it in my words instead–first of all, thanks. And secondly, here’s how it goes (my source):

  • Teams have been divided into groups based on last season’s record. Each conference has three groups of five. They were decided by a random drawing where each group features exactly one team from each segment of last year’s standings. There is one top three team, one team that finished fourth through sixth, and so on down to 13th through 15th.
  • Teams will play one game against each of the other four teams in their group–two at home and two on the road. Those games will also count towards regular season records.
  • Those games will be played on Tuesdays and Fridays in November. There will be no non-tournament games on those days, so it’s easy to keep track of which games are tournament games.
  • The top team from each group and the best second place team from each conference will advance to a knockout stage (that’s eight total teams). The quarterfinals will be held on December 4th and 5th on the home court of the better seeded team. Winners will advance to the semifinals in Las Vegas on December 7th. The winners of those will play the championship in Las Vegas on December 9th. The championship does not count as a regular season game.
  • Winners of the championship get bragging rights, a big trophy, and like $500,000 for each player. I think I ordered that from most to least important.
  • The tournament will also have an MVP award and all-tournament teams.

So what about those losers that don’t make it to the championship game? Do they end up playing fewer games by getting knocked out early in the tournament? You bet your bottom dollar they don’t.

  • Teams that are eliminated in the group stages will play two regular season games against other eliminated teams on the off days of the knockout rounds of the tournament (that would be on December 6th and December 8th). The games will be between teams that were already scheduled to play against each other at some point during the season anyway where possible.
  • Teams that lose in the quarterfinals will play one more game against another quarterfinal loser.
  • All of this means that every team will play 82 games no matter how well they do in the tournament. The only exception is that the two teams that make the finals will play 83, but game 83 is for some cool cash, so I think they’ll be okay with it. Teams also get some money for advancing into and through the knockout stage.

The Hornets are in a group with the Bucks, Knicks, Heat, and Wizards. It’s a little bit of a tough draw given the Hornets got the defending Eastern Conference Champions out of the third pot that otherwise featured the Hawks and Raptors. At least the Wizards are in there, and they are expected to be the worst team in the league.

The tournament concept should be fun, especially for fans of teams like the Hornets that never win anything. The limited scope of the tournament means any team getting hot at the right time has a chance to win it. Even if the tournament idea doesn’t tickle your fancy too much, I think it’s hard to argue that winning games in a tournament isn’t at least a little more exciting than winning seven random regular season games in November and December. It’s an enhancement to the early season schedule that people otherwise tend to not care about.

I think the league did a good job setting this up to maximize incentive for teams to care while adding some spice for fans early in the season, when people tend to care the least about the day-to-day of the NBA. There’s a chance for Cinderella stories that the NBA Playoffs tend not to provide and excitement for fans of teams that otherwise wouldn’t compete for anything meaningful this season.

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