When Adam Silver presented the owners a series of changes he thought would help the game, much of the focus was on his proposal for a mid-season tournament just like European soccer. That and a shorter season.
One of those ideas — one rejected by team basketball people and ultimately the owners — was a four-team play-in tournament for the final seeds in each conference. The hope was to engage more teams (and fan bases) at the end of the season rather than have those fans talking about tanking and lottery odds. Plus, it was more television revenue and added drama at the end of the season with must-win games.
The NBA’s restart of a stalled and shortened season in Orlando gave Silver a chance to try it out in a modified form — Saturday Portland beat Memphis to get into the playoffs. The play-in generated a lot of buzz at the restart. Adam Silver told Chris Mannix of Sports Illustrated he would like to see a play-in series every year.
“I do see this as something we would embrace going forward,” Silver said. “As you know I’ve been talking about it for a while. We saw this as an opportunity to institute a form of it. I’m not sure if this would be the exact format going forward. But this is something we’d like to see stay.”
Don’t bet on it. At least not for a while.
The play-in did its job in Orlando — it generated interest and drama. Phoenix went 8-0 and almost pushed its way into the play-in, forcing Memphis and Portland to win their final games to hold their spot. With all the meaningful seeding set by the end of the restart, the play-in what people watched.
However, traditionalists tend to win out in the NBA. Silver’s play-in proposal was tied to a slightly shorter season (78 games), something owners shot down. That’s not changing now. Next season, after losing revenue and in-arena games this season, owners have made it clear they want to see 82 games, and as many of those as possible with fans in the building.
Silver, however, is playing the long game. He can wait. Expect him to bring up the play-in series again, now that he’s seen it can work. It’s all a matter of timing.