The NBA In-Season Tournament is Pointless

On July 8, the NBA released its full breakdown of the first-ever In-Season Tournament. The goal was to get fans excited for games during the regular season that otherwise would have supposedly drawn less viewership without this promotion, but ultimately, the NBA just shot themselves in the foot in terms of proposing their new “change” to the league.

Here are the rules for the tournament:

  • There are six groups, three per conference, each with five teams.
  • The teams will go through group play in November, and the teams with the best record in each group move on to play in the Knockout Round in Las Vegas.
  • There will be one Wild Card team from each conference as well.
  • The winning team will be crowned champion of the NBA Cup, with the prizes being up to $500k per player.

Does the winning team get anything that counts toward a playoff spot, or a championship? No. So why does the NBA do this? It is so obvious they are desperate for ratings, but the problem is this doesn’t change much. I am not going to eagerly run to my television to watch a regular season game between the Bulls and Nets because it counts toward group play.

Perhaps this is an attempt to decrease load management and keep players invested and motivated to play for the money. There is another flaw, though. Sure, a low-level reserve like Admiral Schofield or Trevor Keels could use the $500k, but even guys like Grayson Allen or Reggie Jackson (perennial role players) aren’t going to care about money that isn’t even worth a quarter of their yearly earnings. If a superstar like LeBron James or Kevin Durant doesn’t feel good enough to go all out on a night in November, he’s not going to play.

Maybe there will be a bit of a spike in viewership once the games hit Vegas, but the group-play games are such a reach for interest. The games start November 3, but the league is so early into the regular season that ratings don’t drop significantly yet. If this tournament were in January or March, I could see where the NBA would be coming from. October/early November still has the excitement of the season getting underway, December has NBA Christmas Day games, February has NBA All-Star Weekend, and April has the NBA Play-In Tournament.

The NBA claimed they averaged over 1.5 million viewers per night this past regular season (via The Athletic), which is not a bad number whatsoever. Is it as good as the NFL during the regular season? Hell no, but that’s because NBA games come to a dime a dozen, whereas the NFL regular season comes around just three times per week for less than half of the year.

The tournament draws similarities to the Champions League and how they take the best soccer teams in Europe and have them compete against each other outside of their own leagues for a separate trophy. But that’s the thing: it’s teams from all over Europe. Different leagues, all of them being the best in their respective countries. The NBA has a monopoly over the basketball world, unlike leagues in the soccer world. The goal for every aspiring basketball player is to get to America’s league, so if you want to see the best of the best go at it, you would already be watching the NBA’s teams compete. The tournament just adds a meaningless trophy that has players put in more of their time and energy for something that isn’t a championship.

I can understand and respect Adam Silver and the league for trying to get something that will catch the eye of fans in a long 82-game season. It’s not easy coming up with an idea that will get everyone excited, especially with the length of an NBA year, but this just isn’t it. There are other options that fans have wanted to see for a long time: a 1v1 tournament during All-Star Weekend, expansion teams, and other options. Plus, the league seems to be trending up within the past few years already, so why try to change it? Victor Wembyanama alone is spiking viewership, big off-season moves were made to get fans excited, and the league added the Play-In Tournament not too long ago, which adds games to teams’ schedules, which in turn, adds viewership.

I want the NBA Cup to work because I want to see the league thrive. In the end, who knows what this midseason tournament will do for the NBA? I just don’t see anything to get excited about. Maybe it’ll gain some traction, but for now, it seems like a “your team didn’t win the championship but they did win something (I guess)” type of trophy. Let’s hope this works.

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Jed Katz is currently a Journalism student at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Originally from Bergen County, NJ, Katz was a writer and editor for the Northern Highlands Regional HS newspaper, as well as a sports anchor for the morning show. He's been invested in the game for years, both being a basketball junkie and playing as a 2-year varsity basketball player. Katz produces content surrounding the NBA, NCAA, and premier high school hoops.