The NBA Finals isn’t the only tournament basketball fans are interested in at the moment.
“I don’t understand the mid-season tournament,” former Sixers great and TNT analyst Charles Barkley told NBA Commissioner Adam Silver on NBA TV ahead of ahead of Game 2 Sunday night.
There haven’t been many firm details revealed about the NBA’s latest experiment, an in-season tournament set to begin next season modeled after European soccer. Speaking to Barkley, Silver said the plan is to take a series of regular season games and “designate those as tournament games,” with four NBA teams advancing to a neutral site to play for a new trophy.
“It’ll be a new tradition,” Silver said. “It will probably take a little while to get it going, but … it’s a long season to play for one championship at the end.”
Here’s everything we know about the NBA’s in-season tournament.
How will the NBA in-season tournament work?
The NBA hasn’t revealed a final framework for the new tournament, but Silver said every team will compete for the new trophy over the course of three rounds.
During an appearance at the Sports Business Journal’s World Congress of Sports conference last month, Silver said certain early regular-season games will also be designated as tournament games. After a knockout round and pool play, there will be four teams remaining.
“That will be the end of the tournament, and we’ll go to a neutral site to do that,” Silver said. “This will all take place in November and December of the season.”
The NBA likely won’t release more details until the 2023-24 schedule is announced during the offseason.
According to Yahoo’s Ben Rohrbach, there will be six intraconference pools made up of five NBA teams each. Eight teams — the six winners of each pool and two wild-card teams — will advance to a single-elimination tournament, with the final four teams moving on to the semifinals.
The rest of the NBA teams in the league would continue playing their normal regular-season schedule.
Next season’s schedule will feature only 80 regular-season games. Additional games will be scheduled once the in-season tournament advances to the knockout rounds.
Players will wear different uniforms during tournament games
Never overlook a chance to sell more merchandise.
Silver also told Sports Business Journal’s John Ourand tournament games will look different from a regular season game.
“Visually, it’ll look different,” Silver said. “The players will be wearing different uniforms, maybe the court will look different. You’ll know that that’s not just a regular-season game.”
With load management, do NBA players really want more games?
Thanks to the league’s 82-game season, NBA players already pace themselves by taking games off under the umbrella of load management. Now, two teams will play an extra, 83rd game.
So if players aren’t incentivized to play hard during the regular season to win the NBA championship, why would they care about potentially playing an additional game or two for a new trophy?
“There’s prize money. And it’s significant,” Silver said Sunday night. “So there’s a financial incentive, too, to compete.”
What is the point of the NBA in-season tournament?
There are two main reasons why the NBA is experimenting with an in-season tournament: increase interest in early-season games, and add a new annual event it can sell to media companies.
The NBA’s current TV rights deals with ESPN and Warner Bros. Discovery (formerly Turner) ends after the 2024-25, so you can expect the league to sell its new Cup tournament as a premium property along the lines of the NBA All-Star Game or the Play-In Tournament.
“I believe it will create new value,” Silver told Sports Business Journal last month. “Just as the play-in has had significant value, I think this Cup tournament will as well.”
ESPN and Warner Bros. Discovery are both expected to bid aggressively to keep their NBA TV rights. Tech giants like Apple and Amazon could also get involved to add an NBA package to their growing collection of streaming sports media rights, especially as the number of Americans doing away with cable continues to grow.
“I see the NBA creating something like a Monday or Friday Game of The Week on broadcast in an attempt to create more event programming around games of the week,” Michael Nathanson, co-founder of the research firm, MoffetNathanson, told The Athletic’s Richard Deitsch.
As for this season, it’s unclear which network will air the new in-season tournament’s semifinals and finals. Regular season games will once again appear on ESPN/ABC and TNT, with Sixers games airing on NBC Sports Philadelphia.