By now, you may have seen the reporting from ESPN’s Zach Lowe and Adrian Wojnarowski, detailing possible landmark changes to the NBA’s regular season schedule and playoff seeding structure.
The proposals in the report are extensive and, frankly, a lot to parse through. Here’s an attempt to cut through the jargon and lay out exactly what the NBA, NBAPA and broadcast partners are reportedly discussing:
So, what’s being proposed exactly?
Three things, and we’ll deal with them chronologically, as they would occur in an NBA season.
A 30-team regular season tournament, towards the beginning of the season.
A (separate) postseason play-in tournament between each conference’s 7, 8, 9 and 10 seeds — at the end of the season.
The reseeding of the final four teams remaining in the playoffs, independent of conference or geography.
Let’s take them one-by-one:
30-team regular season tournament
According to Lowe and Wojnarowski, the in-season tournament would involve every team in the NBA and would take place between Thanksgiving and Christmas each year. That time frame was reportedly agreed to for two reasons. One: It doesn’t interfere with the league’s trade deadline or buyout/waiver window, when rosters change dramatically. And two: It limits competition for eyeballs with other sports (e.g. NFL playoffs, CFP championship) at their time of highest interest.
The tournament would be multi-stage (i.e. Group Stage → Knockout Round → Quarters/Semis/Finals), with each stage being built into the regular season schedule. Players and coaches would reportedly receive compensation for advancing through this tournament, to mitigate against a lack of interest in competing.
Postseason play-in tournament
This is something that’s been hypothesized by much of the NBA cognoscenti for a couple years now to de-incentivize tanking, and it’s a tantalizing prospect. Instead of the No. 7 and No. 8 seeds in each conference being decided purely by regular season record, this proposal introduces two four-team tournaments to decide the final two seeds in each conference.
Those tournaments would go like this: the No. 7 seed would host the No. 8 seed, witht the winner getting the No. 7 seed. The loser of that game would play the winner of a game between the No. 9 and No. 10 seeds, with the winner of that game earning the No. 8 seed.
Make this happen, now.
Reseeding of the final four teams
The idea of reseeding the entire NBA playoffs 1-16 — as opposed to 1-8 in each conference — has also been discussed often in recent years, given the competitive imbalance between the Eastern and Western Conferences.
This proposal represents something of a compromise. Under it, teams would play through the play-in tournament and first two rounds of the postseason as normal. But, when only four teams remain, those four teams would be reseeded completely based off regular season record, potentially ensuring that the two best teams meet in the Finals and not the conference finals (*dollar signs intensify*).
Imagine this being the law of the land during the 2018 playoffs, for example. Instead of the Warriors and Rockets squaring off in the Western Conference Finals and the Cavaliers and Celtics in the East, those four teams would have been reseeded as such:
(1) Houston Rockets vs. (4) Cleveland Cavaliers
(2) Golden State Warriors vs. (3) Boston Celtics
The NBA would certainly have preferred the Warriors and Rockets having their epic seven-game showdown from that season in the Finals, as opposed to the sweep the Warriors dealt the Cavs. (And Rockets-Cavs would have been a damn fun series, to boot.)
So, how many games will each team play in a given season?
It depends on how they fare in the regular season and play-in tournaments. According to Lowe and Wojnarowski, teams would play a minimum of 78 regular season games and a maximum of 83. In terms of number of games played, the postseason schedule would presumably remain the same.
And when might these changes be implemented — if at all?
According to Lowe and Wojnarowski, the league is working hard to reach a solid agreement before the board of governors convenes in April, with the goal of implementing these changes in the 2021-22 season.
On the feasibility of all of this coming to fruition, the report closes with: “Talks are ongoing, but serious traction is emerging for dramatic change for the future of the NBA.”
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