Back in July, the NBA announced that this upcoming season would include the inaugural in-season tournament. The rules and dates for the NBA Cup were announced, and the overall response was… bleh.
Some fans feel that the tournament is just a way to generate more TV time and money for the league. While the tournament will certainly bring in those things, let’s look at the optics. The NBA Cup should lead to more basketball being watched, higher-stakes games, and potentially more players and fans caring about the regular season. All of that sounds good for everyone involved, especially the fans.
Fans have voiced their frustrations about the NBA’s regular season for years, claiming that between the lack of effort from players and load-management concerns, the regular season’s sense of importance has been dwindling. This tournament could be a major step in reshaping that perception.
Players who would usually take a game off for rest or as a precautionary measure may now feel encouraged to play in order to help their team advance in the tournament. Players are also being rewarded financially throughout the tournament, with players on the winning team of the NBA Cup championship even earning $500,000 each. If nothing else will get a player to play harder, money will.
This tournament will also lead to top teams and stars facing off more often, which is in the league's best interest. For example, look at Phoenix Suns star Kevin Durant and Los Angeles Lakers star LeBron James. Through bad injury luck and scheduling quirks since they were in different conferences in recent years, the pair have not faced off since the 2018 NBA Finals. This tournament will allow the league to put its best teams and athletes on display and have them face off far more often.
The tournament deserves a chance to remedy the complaints that fans have had over the last few years. Major League Baseball recently took a chance with their implementation of the pitch clock, and it has proven to be a massive success, as numbers for baseball are up across the board.
This wouldn't be the first time in recent years that the NBA has won over their once-skeptical fans with a unique idea. Fans were losing interest in the All-Star game, so the NBA changed the format of the game entirely in 2020, making each quarter its own mini-game for charity and then implementing the target score. Fans were encouraged by the effort, but felt it would not pan out well.
Boy, were they wrong.
The 2021 All-Star game is regarded by many as the best ever. The target score made the fourth quarter incredibly competitive, with the world’s best going at it head-to-head. It was everything any sport could want from their All-Star game, creating timeless moments that will be rewatched for years to come.
The Play-In Tournament is another example of an idea that was initially hated by fans before they eventually came around after seeing it in action.
Evan Wasch, the NBA's executive vice president of basketball strategy and analytics, told Basketball News last year that these recent successes gave the league confidence to continue trying new things.
“[It gives us] confidence and, hopefully, credibility in the marketplace," Wasch said. "These ideas are not hatched overnight and then implemented. I’ve been with the NBA for almost 11 years and the concept of the Play-In Tournament even predates my time with the NBA, so it was a long time in the making in terms of crafting the right proposal, the right timing, the right format. Same with the All-Star changes; that was a partnership with our Players Association. Chris Paul, the union president, is on our competition committee and had a bunch of suggestions for how we could improve competition there.
"These things build up over time as we discuss them, which ultimately makes the product better when we do implement them because they’re thought through so effectively. We hope with our stakeholders and fans, that the credibility that comes with successful innovation sticks around as we [implement the] in-season tournament.”
The in-season tournament begins on November 3 and will conclude with the championship game held in Las Vegas on December 9.