It’s not a surprise — Adam Silver wanted it, and fans voted with their eyeballs that they liked it — but now it is all but assured:
The NBA Play-In Tournament will be back next season. The league and players union have come to terms, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.
The NBA and the Players Association have agreed to extend the play-in tournament format through the 2021-2022 season, sources tell ESPN. The league’s Board of Governors will make it official in a formal vote soon.
— Adrian Wojnarowski (@wojespn) July 16, 2021
Everyone knew the play-in would return from the minute the Warriors/Lakers play-in game became ESPN’s most-watched NBA game since the 2019 Conference Finals. The other play-in games drew good audiences as well, and if the television networks liked it you could be sure the league and its players were going to make sure it stayed.
Silver has backed the play-in concept for a while but said he had to convince the teams (and their owners) it was a good idea.
“I think for the most part they’ve supported it,” Silver said earlier these playoffs on ESPN Radio. “Again, I understand the sentiment if I were a team — a 7-seed in particular — the notion [that] after a long season, you could potentially play out of the playoffs. I understand those feelings. I think at the same time, the teams recognize the amount of additional interest we’ve created over the last month of the season plus those play-in games make it worth it.”
The play-in accomplished what the league has wanted: Rather than a late-season fan/media focus on tanking to get better draft lottery odds, multiple teams were making a push to get into the play-in — or rise to the No. 6 seed and above to avoid it. That became the focus of the NBA conversation. The league wants more of a focus on its on-court product — not the process of team building and trades, which has been more popular than games for years — and this helped the league accomplish some of that.
Expect the play-in to be around for a while, although some tweaks to the format are possible.