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


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.

Warriors owner Joe Lacob: We won’t tank

Former Warriors forward Harrison Barnes
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The Warriors are an NBA-worst 12-43. Stephen Curry will eventually get healthy. Klay Thompson will eventually get healthy.

This is Golden State’s best opportunity to secure a prime draft pick.

Warriors owner Joe Lacob, via Mark Medina of USA Today:

By the way, we’ll try to win every game. I’m not really about, ‘Let’s lose every game so we can get the best pick.’ You try to do that, you’re messing with the basketball gods. So we don’t believe in that.

Former Warriors executive Travis Schlenk (now Hawks general manager) admitted to tanking in 2012. Golden State had to convey its first-round pick if it didn’t land in the top seven. So, the Warriors traded their consensus top player, Monta Ellis, for an injured Andrew Bogut. Golden State lost 17 of its last 20 games, kept its pick and drafted Harrison Barnes.

The basketball gods were so mad, the Warriors went to the playoffs the next seven seasons and won three championships and two other conference titles.

Of course, Golden State will tank, which I define as any decision made – at least in part – to improve draft position through losing.

Management won’t instruct players not to give full effort. But tanking will show up in numerous other ways. The Warriors will be cautious with Curry’s and Thompson’s returns. Young players will get more minutes. If necessary, Steve Kerr might “experiment” with odd lineups not conducive to winning. Players often see these approaches, realize where the team is headed and lose focus late in lost seasons. That leads to even more losing.

Don’t get mad at Golden State for tanking. Hate the system that rewards it.

Though feel free to send a little animosity toward the Warriors for acting holier than though while tanking like everyone else does in a similar position.

Report: Kyrie Irving likely to miss an ‘extended period’ after shoulder procedure

Kyrie Irving
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Kyrie Irving injured his shoulder earlier this season, opted against surgery, missed 26 games, returned, injured his knee then aggravated his shoulder.

It might be time for that shoulder surgery.

Shams Charania of The Athletic:

I wouldn’t be surprised if this ends Irving’s season. The Nets are looking forward to pairing Irving and injured Kevin Durant next season.

This latest setback raises questions about Irving’s ability to stay healthy and productive. We shouldn’t assume Durant will ever return to his elite form, either. But at least Brooklyn has major upside with such talented players.

Even they don’t get an opportunity to take advantage this season, the Nets (25-28) will likely still make the playoffs. Spencer Dinwiddie will take charge at point guard, just as he did with Irving previously sidelined.

Brooklyn will visit Boston on March 3. Celtics fans were salty about Irving missing the Nets’ previous trip to Boston. I doubt that changes if Irving doesn’t face his former team in a couple weeks.

But Irving and Brooklyn are looking at the bigger picture after a significant injury like this.

Is Brandon Ingram worth a max contract? Will he get one?

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Brandon Ingram has made the leap to become an All-Star player this season. His jumper has become a weapon — another success story for Pelicans’ assistant coach Fred Vinson — and his ability to get to the bucket was never in question. Now he’s averaging 24.9 points per game and is shooting 40 percent from three (up from 33 percent the first three years of his career).

Will that get him a max contract this summer? Does he deserve one?

It depends on who you ask. From Tim Bontemps of ESPN:

Most executives believe Ingram isn’t worth a max contract, which makes his future difficult to predict.

“I wonder if [Pelicans executive vice president of basketball operations David Griffin] will hardball [Ingram] and say, ‘Get an offer,'” one executive asked. “Where is he getting it from?”

Another exec went the other way, suggesting Griffin could offer Ingram a full max to ensure he couldn’t take a short-term deal elsewhere, cementing him as the No. 2 option alongside Zion Williamson.

“Securing the extra year and not allowing him to sign a two-plus-one with someone is worth it,” the executive said. “Is the few million less you might save really worth the extra year?”

There are a number of struggling teams in need of talent that could step in and try to poach Ingram with a two-year max offer this summer: The Hawks, Hornets, Knicks, and Pistons all have the cap space and a fit.

Whether they will make that offer — possibly tying their hands in the 2021 free agent market — remains to be seen. Ingram is an All-Star averaging an efficient 24.9 points per game this season, he has real value, but max contract value? I’ve had sources this season tell me they expect he’d get the max but he wasn’t quite on that level.

Do the Pelicans see him as a max player?

They didn’t last summer. After the trade from the Lakers (which sent Anthony Davis to L.A.), Ingram didn’t get a max contract extension offer from New Orleans and told NBC Sports’ Dan Feldman he would “absolutely not” have signed for less. The Pelicans were hesitant to extend Ingram because he was coming off a season-ending injury — blood clots in his arm — that could linger, plus how well would he pair with Zion Williamson. Ingram had no hard feelings about it.

“I understood everything that went on with the contract and everything, because they wanted to know if I was going to be extremely healthy, if something was going to come back,” Ingram told NBC Sports. “Once I figured out the reason why they didn’t want to do the extension, we didn’t go any further with it. I knew it was not going to be the number we wanted.”

Ingram has stayed healthy, and the Pelicans are +7.3 points per 100 possessions when Ingram and Williamson are on the court together (small sample size alert). Ingram has more value to the up-and-coming Pelicans than he does any team trying to sign him away, meaning the Pelicans likely match any offer.

The question remains, will that offer be a max? Ingram expects it to be, but the rest of the league is undecided.

Nikola Jokic says he dropped 20-25 pounds during this season

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For November, Nikola Jokic averaged 15.8 points per game, with a below-league-average 51 true shooting percentage and hitting 23.6 percent from three.

In February, Jokic is averaging 27 points a game with a 66.3 true shooting percentage and is knocking down 35.3 percent of his shots from three.

The difference? He admitted he dropped 20-25 pounds during this season, thanks in large part to an improved diet. Look at what Jokic said to ESPN over the All-Star break.

“I think I didn’t shoot it that well in the first [part of the season], my shots were always off and short and I was a little bit overweight.”

He then went on to say he has dropped 20-25 pounds.

It was pretty obvious to observers that, despite playing for Serbia at the World Cup (where his team beat Team USA), he had shown up to Nuggets training camp heavy. Jokic is so skilled that even heavy he was a good player, but he was not the elite center the Nuggets need to be a threat.

He is back to being that Jokic now, looking like an All-NBA player who deserves some MVP ballot consideration — and the Nuggets need that version of him.

Denver comes out of the All-Star break as the two seed in the West, but only 3.5 games separate seeds 2-5. Denver has a tougher remaining schedule the rest of the way than any of the other teams in that mix, slip up a few games and the Nuggets could start the playoffs on the road.