The implementation of a play-in tournament is not imminent. It falls behind the one-and-done rule and perhaps reseeding the playoffs 1-16 regardless of conference in the current reform pecking order. (It could go hand-in-hand with that change, only with one play-in tournament instead of separate brackets for each conference.) It is not coming next season, and it would be a shock if the NBA adopted it in time for 2020 or even 2021. It may never happen. Any such change would need approval from the competition committee, and then from a supermajority of 23 NBA teams. That process has not even started.
Recent comments from NBA commissioner Adam Silver about tweaking the league's playoff format drew intense media coverage, but sources say there is also some behind-the-scenes momentum for the idea of a play-in tournament determining the last two seeds in each conference -- to the point that two specific proposals are circulating at the highest levels within teams and the league office.
The play-in proposal that has generated the most discussion, according to several sources: two four-team tournaments featuring the seventh, eighth, ninth, and 10th seeds in each conference. The seventh seed would host the eighth seed, with the winner of that single game nabbing the seventh spot, sources say. Meanwhile, the ninth seed would host the 10th seed, with the winner of that game facing the loser of the 7-versus-8 matchup for the final playoff spot.
A play-in would require collective bargaining with the players' union. There is also debate within the league about whether a play-in would inspire as much fan interest and hype as supporters hope. After all, we are talking mostly about .500-ish teams battling for the right to get destroyed by top seeds. In theory, revenue from a play-in tournament -- or a midseason tournament -- could ease the league toward slashing a few games from the 82-game schedule, but it is unclear any such tournament would rake in sufficient cash. But the fact the discussion around the league has crystallized around one or two proposals indicates that a play-in tournament is no longer some pie-in-the-sky idea. It fits within the NBA's broader goals of reducing the incentive for teams to tank, and maintaining peak fan interest across the full NBA calendar.
The conversation about playoff reseeding has been going on for quite some time. But it gained a bit more momentum during NBA All-Star Weekend in Los Angeles, as NBA Commissioner Adam Silver discussed the topic at length, even raising the possibility about a future tweak. Count LeBron James as one player who wouldn't be on board. "I would disagree with that," James said Wednesday afternoon following the Cleveland Cavaliers' first practice since the break. "I think our league has been built the right way as far as when it comes to the postseason."
"There's been dominant conferences throughout time," LeBron James said. "In the '80s you had the Lakers who dominated the league at one point, then you had Boston that dominated the league. In the '90s you had Chicago that dominated the league. San Antonio also had its run. We had our run in the East with Miami, Golden State is having their run. "It just changes the landscape of the history of the game. If you start messing with seedings and playoffs and then you start talking about, 'Well, if this team would have played this Western Conference team, what....' It's cool to mess around with the All-Star Game, we proved you can do that, but let's not get too crazy about the playoffs. You have Eastern Conference and you have Western Conference. You have Eastern Conference champions, you have guys from the Eastern Conference that win the big dance and sometimes you have it from the West as well."
Nick Friedell: Adam Silver says the league will continue "examining" the schedule, including the possibility of re-seeding teams 1-16 in the postseason, regardless of conference.
Mark Medina: Silver sounded open about changing playoffs w/out conference affiliation. But he said that requires more changes to reg. season schedule
There are plenty of cracks in the NBA’s economic model, and they will likely get deeper in the years to come. As Mark Cuban pointed out when talking about why the conference system should be changed, there’s less incentive for teams in the East to get better because the bar for making the playoffs and winning a series or two is much lower. Stern always said the balance of power between the conferences was cyclical, but the last two generations of players have not been able to change the underlying dynamic, and there’s no guarantee the next one does either. As long as the owners in the East keep making money off their teams, they have no reason to change the way they are run.
Silver, though, did leave the door open for the possibility of one day rebalancing the two conferences or having a 16-seed tournament. "Ultimately [two years ago] we concluded that given all the focus on sports science, health of our players and impact of travel, it didn't make sense, at least at this time, to move to a rebalanced schedule because we played an imbalanced schedule," Silver said at the board of governors news conference Wednesday.
There are some who believe the NBA should eliminate conference affiliation in the postseason and seed playoff teams based on record. Silver believes there are challenges to that concept. “I know that from a fan standpoint, there is real appeal to this notion of seed your teams 1 through 16 going into the playoffs and possibly two Western Conference teams could meet in the Finals or two Eastern Conference teams, and where we ended up was that — again, it relates directly to the resting issue and injury data, is that we would be dramatically increasing travel because if we’re going to seed 1 through 16 we would need to have more of a balanced schedule throughout the year,” Silver said. “That would result in more travel. You could have a Boston-Golden State first-round matchup in the playoffs. It’s something we continue to look at.
The NBA made it official: division winners will no longer be guaranteed a top-four seed in the playoffs. In fact, they won't be guaranteed playoff spots at all, opening the very real possibility of the Atlantic Division winner missing the postseason. (They should hang a banner anyway). The next obvious move is to eliminate divisions entirely, which could happen as soon as next year.
The next step is to remove conference and/or seed the playoffs 1-16. That's a tougher nut to crack because it requires a three-fourths majority and those East teams aren't about to vote away their cakewalk paths to postseason play, but we can now have a real conversation about it. When brainstorming ideas, the league would be smart to consider Tom's five regions approach.
Bobby Marks: Good first step by NBA, next line of business is to do away with divisions, would not be surprised if that happens for 16-17. Can't get rid of divisions yet because of how the schedule works, ex: East 16 games vs Div., 24 for Central/Southeast, unbalance schedule. Don't ever seeing conferences going away until the earliest 2022, Huge consequences on teams that traded away future picks.
January 26, 2021 | 8:02 pm EST Update
Andrew Greif: Whole Clippers staff is wearing these “Kobe” masks tonight. pic.twitter.com/W9QSqJTEZz
Eric Walden: Quin Snyder, on the Knicks’ defensive strength: “Their size, first of all, starting with the rim protection. … And then their size across the rest of the frontcourt and their backcourt. When you do drive the ball and you get in the lane, they make it hard for you.”