In-Season Tournament Notes: Reaction, Playoffs, Potential Changes, Media Deal

The NBA’s first in-season tournament is being celebrated as a success on every level, and the league will consider changes to make it even better, writes Khobi Price of The Orange County Register. Television ratings have been sharply higher than what NBA games typically get in November and early December, as players and coaches have embraced the idea of having another prize to compete for.

“It’s been incredibly positive,” said Evan Wasch, the NBA’s executive vice president of basketball strategy and analytics. “It’s gone better than we possibly could have hoped or expected, in large part because of the player and team buy-in. We’ve always known that the success of this would ultimately be driven by how much players and teams care about this, and I think the verdict is in and they care about it.

“Between the quality of the competition on the court, the way they’ve talked about it on social media and in their post-game press conferences, it’s clear that there was just a lot of energy and excitement across the board. Even from players who admitted that they were skeptics before the tournament are now bought in. And so that was just really exciting to see and couldn’t have been known until it happened.”

While the NBA will conduct a review of the tournament to see how it could be improved, Wasch said any changes are unlikely to be related to the playoffs. There have been suggestions that the winner should get some benefit involving postseason positioning or the play-in tournament, but Wasch indicated that the league wants to keep those things separate.

“We felt pretty strongly about as we were designing this tournament:  if you’re trying to create this new championship, this new tentpole, that the way to build it with the most potential is to make sure that it sits separate and stands on its own in terms of the value,” he said. “We already have a play-in tournament that takes place in April. If you gave the winner of this tournament a guaranteed playoff seat or a guaranteed spot or some sort of benefit, you’ve essentially created another play-in tournament that just happens to take place in November and December.

“We thought that puts an artificial ceiling on what this tournament could become in terms of the value to players. We won’t rule out tying it into the season in some way, but we think that we’ve created enough meaning behind it in this first iteration without any of those tie-ins. We don’t necessarily think that’s necessary, but absolutely open to the feedback and we’ll have that discussion with our players.”

There’s more on the tournament:

  • The event could wind up being longer in the future, sources tell Jake Fischer of Yahoo Sports. It’s possible the knockout round may be expanded to include more than eight teams, Fischer adds, because that’s the feature that most differentiates it from normal regular season play.
  • The tournament’s ratings success puts the NBA in an even better position as it prepares to negotiate its next media rights deal, observes Bryan Toporek of Forbes. According to the league, viewership increased by 26% during the group play stage and even more once the knockout round began.
  • ESPN’s Brian Windhorst sees the Lakers‘ run to the tournament title as proof that having star players is as important as ever, which is why teams go to such great lengths to get them. Tournament MVP LeBron James was brilliant through the competition, and Anthony Davis dominated the title game with 41 points and 20 rebounds.
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