NBA in talks to add in-season tournament, re-seed conference Finals, shorten season

NBA commissioner Adam Silver
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For more than a year now, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver has said that the league’s upcoming 75th season — the 2021-22 season — would be the perfect time to make radical changes to the league’s schedule, trying new things to generate interest to counter the drop off in people watching traditional broadcasts.

Those changes may become a reality.

The league is in negotiations with the players’ union and broadcast partners to make sweeping changes that season. The idea would be to shorten the regular season by a handful of games (still playing at least 78), to add a mid-season tournament for every team, re-seeding the final four teams in playoffs regardless of conference, and more.

Zach Lowe and Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN have the details.

The NBA is engaged in serious discussions with the National Basketball Players Association and broadcast partners on sweeping and dramatic changes to the league calendar that include a reseeding of the four conference finalists, a 30 team in-season tournament, and a postseason play-in, league sources told ESPN.

These scenarios include the shortening of the regular season to a minimum of 78 games, league sources said.

Discussions are progressing with hopes of bringing a vote to the April meeting of the league’s Board of Governors that would introduce some — if not all of these proposals — into the NBA’s 75th anniversary season of 2021-2022, league sources said. The NBA still has work to do coordinating with constituents on the myriad of implications involving the proposed changes.

Getting all the parties involved to agree to this is a Herculean task. Silver is more of a consensus builder than a commissioner who wields his power like a dictator, but he’s going to need to twist some arms to make this happen. The argument to the teams is that while they lose a couple of regular season home games and that gate revenue (plus local broadcast revenue), the extra money from a mid-season tournament broadcast package would more than make up for that.

Let’s take a look at each proposal.

Re-seeding Conference Finals

There has been a concern in recent years that with the depth of the West the league’s two best teams meet in the conference finals, sucking the drama out of a Finals where the outcome feels obvious. Re-seeding the final four teams left in the playoffs could lead to more dramatic matchups in both rounds.

For example, if this had been done last season, the conference Finals would have been the Bucks vs. Trail Blazers and Warriors vs. Raptors (a scenario that probably sends the Milwaukee into the Finals and has Toronto taking on a healthier Golden State team). Two seasons ago it would have meant the 65-win Rockets take on LeBron James’ Cavaliers and Golden State vs. upstart Boston in the conference finals, potentially setting up the Rockets/Warriors as the NBA Finals (those were the two best teams that season). In both cases, the NBA gets what it wants, which is its biggest name players on its biggest stage in meaningful games.

While it breaks with tradition, it doesn’t change much in terms of the scheduling for the league or the broadcast partners. It’s possible some owners in the East object if they see their chances of reaching the Finals decreasing.

Mid-Season NBA Tournament

Adam Silver has been enamored with the European soccer model, where teams play for multiple titles in a season. While there is the regular season, there are also multiple cups and other championships — for example, the FA Cup in England — that gives fans something else to root and hope for. A team stuck in the middle of the Premiere League table could make a run deep into the FA Cup, giving those fans hope and a reason to tune in.

Silver also has liked the idea of being able to sell this tournament as a separate broadcast package — remember FOX and CBS had serious interest in broadcasting NBA games during the last negotiations — that generates more revenue for the league.

This likely would run early in the season, between Thanksgiving and Christmas (ideally adding interest during a part of the year when fans are more focused on the NFL and college bowl games).

Structurally, this would start with some already-scheduled regular-season division games also counting as part of a round-robin group stage (putting a double meaning on those games and upping the importance of what could otherwise be a bland regular season night). From there, the top teams would advance to a knock-out stage event (which would have the separate broadcast rights).

To motivate teams and players, there is going to have to be a significant financial incentive for them. This new tournament is not baked into the culture of the sport or the psyche of fans the way it is in European soccer. It’s going to take a long time for this to grow, it can’t be a one-year thing.

Playoff play-in games

This is another proposal that has bounced around the NBA in various forms for a few years. The idea is to take seeds 7, 8, 9, and 10 and put them in a special tournament. The 7 seed would host the 8 seed in one play-in game, with the winner automatically advancing to the playoffs. The 9 seed would host the 10 seed, and the loser of that game is out. Then the loser of the 7/8 game and the winner of the 9/10 game would meet in a one-game, winner gets into the playoffs contest.

Last season this would have meant in the East Orlando would have played Detroit, with the loser of that game facing the winner of a Charlotte/Miami matchup for the right to continue on in the playoffs. In the West, the Clippers and Spurs would have been the 7/8 matchup, with the loser having to face the winner of a Kings/Lakers game to be in the traditional part of the postseason.

The league’s goal here is obvious: Get more fan bases interested in the games late in the season and not looking ahead to the draft and free agency. (There has been a legitimate concern in at the top of the league about the focus on transactions by fans and not the games themselves, and what that would mean for the future of the sport.)

Shortening the NBA season

That’s not happening here in any meaningful way. This will not address concerns about load management or injury concerns from players.

The regular season would become 78 games, although teams that advance to the finals of the mid-season tournament would still play about 81 games. It is possible that if a 9/10 seed team also made a run to the finals of the mid-season tournament they could play 83 games; however, that would be a very rare occurrence.

Cavaliers Evan Mobley out 1-2 weeks with sprained ankle

2022-23 Cleveland Cavaliers Media Day
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The Cleveland Cavaliers might have the best frontcourt in the East this season with All-Star Jarrett Allen and the emerging star Evan Mobley, but it may be a few weeks before we see them together.

Mobley is out 1-2 weeks with a sprained right ankle, the Cavaliers announced a couple of days before their preseason opener. Mobley stepped on a teammate’s foot and rolled his ankle during practice, according to Chris Fedor of Cleveland.com.

Mobley, who finished second in the Rookie of the Year voting, averaged 15 points and 8.3 rebounds a game in his first campaign, but his more significant impact was on the defensive end. Mobley earned All-Defensive Team consideration as a rookie — an incredibly rare feat — and with Allen formed an impressive backstop for teams trying to drive the paint.

Reports out of Cavaliers training camp rave about the improvements made in Mobley’s offensive game, but we’ll have to wait a few weeks to see that for ourselves now. Mobley, with a more consistent face-up game and jumper, has the potential to develop into a top 15, maybe even top-10 player in the league. The Cavaliers are banking on the young core of Mobley, Allen, Darius Garland and the just acquired Donovan Mitchell to be able to take the team far in the next few years, with Mobley’s improvement key to just how far they can go.

It sounds like Mobley will be good to go for the start of the season.

Karl-Anthony Towns just cleared to walk Saturday following non-COVID illness

Karl-Anthony Towns Offseaon Workout
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Karl-Anthony Towns has not been in camp with the Timberwolves, sidelined by a non-COVID illness. Beyond that, there were not a lot of details other than his girlfriend Jordyn Woods saying on social media that she had taken him to the hospital.

Towns spoke to the media for the first time this season on Monday and said he was just cleared to walk again on Saturday, but did not get into detail about whatever illness he is dealing with.

First, it is Towns’ right if and when to disclose what he went through. This is not an on-court injury leading to a loss of playing time, and it is his call to talk about.

Towns has been sidelined before by illness, including COVID. After losing his mother and other family members to the disease, he also had a long battle with it. Fortunately, this is not that virus, but whatever it was it sidelined him for a couple of weeks.

That missed training camp is a setback as the Timberwolves try to get used to a two-big lineup with KAT and Rudy Gobert, plus some other new faces. Still, Towns and Minnesota should be good to go by the start of the season, a team thinking playoffs and much more after spending big this offseason.

Lakers reportedly ‘seriously considered’ Westbrook trade for Hield, Turner

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“If you make that trade, it has to be the right one, you have one shot to do it. So we’re being very thoughtful around the decisions on when and how to use draft capital in a way that will improve our roster.”

That was Lakers GM Rob Pelinka on media day talking about the possibility of the Lakers trading the only two first-round picks they control this decade — 2027 and 2029 — to upgrade this roster around LeBron. Pelinka was clear the Lakers were committed to building a winner around LeBron, “We have one of the great players in LeBron James to ever play the game, and he committed to us on a long-term contract, a three-year contract… He committed to our organization. That’s gotta be a bilateral commitment, and it’s there.”

But should that include a Russell Westbrook trade to Indiana for Buddy Hield and Myles Turner? Shams Charania of The Athletic updated and added to the extensive previous reporting on this trade, saying the Lakers kept the door open right up to the start of training camp but didn’t pull the trigger.

Vice president of basketball operations and general manager Rob Pelinka, owner Jeanie Buss and senior basketball adviser Kurt Rambis seriously considered sending Westbrook and unprotected first-round picks in 2027 and 2029 to the Pacers for center Myles Turner and guard Buddy Hield, sources said. They held a series of meetings in the days leading up to camp to analyze the possible Pacers deal from every angle, with the views of Ham and Lakers executives Joey and Jesse Buss also being strongly considered in the process. The organization even delayed the midweek news conference for Pelinka and Ham as the debate continued…

If they were going to gamble on a make-or-break move of this magnitude, the thinking went, then everyone had to have confidence in the same vision. But when that wasn’t the case, sources say, the choice was made by Pelinka to remain patient and see, yet again, if Westbrook might find a way to make this imperfect fit with the Lakers work.

Hield and Turner would absolutely improve the Lakers. Turner can play the five, is an elite shot blocker who could provide a strong defensive back line next to Anthony Davis, and is a respectable 3-point shooter who can space the floor. He’s a natural fit. Hield brings shooting that the Lakers have coveted for years and need more of now.

That trade would have moved the Lakers up the ladder to a solid playoff team in the West. Would that trade make the Lakers contenders? Probably not. It still would have come back to the bubble version of Davis and LeBron being ready for the final 16-game sprint to have a puncher’s chance (that may be the case regardless of other moves). Also, it would have messed with future free agency plans in Los Angeles — the Lakers can have around $30 million in cap space next summer to chase Kyrie Irving (although Shams reports that’s not in their plans) or other name players, Hield is owed $19.3 million next season and Turner will be a free agent the Lakers would need to re-sign. This deal would end the dream of a free agent taking a little less than the max to come to the Lakers (a dream not likely to come to reality anyway).

As Pelinka said, the Lakers have one shot with trading their two picks to upgrade the roster — they have to hit a home run, this can’t be a solid single. The Lakers were not convinced Hield and Turner could be that home run tandem.

So Los Angeles will go into the season with a starting five of Westbrook, Kendrick Nunn, LeBron, Davis, and Damian Jones, with a bench of Patrick Beverley, Thomas Bryant, Austin Reaves, and Dennis Schroder. The Lakers will see if it fits, how far it looks like this group can take them under new coach Darvin Ham, and watch the market to see what other stars could become available.

The Lakers aren’t done dealing, but it looks like a deal with Indiana is now in the rearview mirror.

PBT Podcast: Philadelphia 76ers 2022-23 season preview

2022-23 Philadelphia 76ers Media Day
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The Philadelphia 76ers are title contenders — if James Harden and Joel Embiid can play up to their potential on the biggest of NBA stages. That hasn’t always happened before, particularly with Harden.

Those two are now set up well. Philadelphia learned its lessons from the playoff loss to Miami last season. GM Daryl Morey rounded out the roster with more toughness and two-way players in the form of P.J. Tucker, Danuel House and DeAnthony Melton. Add in the development of Tyrese Maxey and Matisse Thybulle and you have a deep roster of quality players — down to BBall Paul.

Noah Levick of NBC Sports Philadelphia joins me to discuss if Doc Rivers is ready to take this team to the next level, and if all the additions can come together when it matters. Can Harden shake his history of playoff reputation and lead a team to the Finals?

You can always listen to the entire podcast below, listen and subscribe via iTunes at ApplePodcasts.com/PBTonNBC, subscribe via the fantastic Stitcher app, check us out on Google Play, or anywhere else you get your podcasts.

We want your questions for future podcasts, and your comments, so please feel free to email us at PBTpodcast@gmail.com.