By all accounts, the NBA’s in-season tournament (IST) was a resounding success. It was the most-watched game outside of Christmas games and the Playoffs since 2018 with 4.58 million viewers. With the NBA’s TV rights coming up for negotiation soon, things couldn’t have gone much better, to be honest.
The final featured the Los Angeles Lakers, one of the two teams alongside the Boston Celtics to lead the league in titles won (17), who were led by LeBron James – the greatest player of his generation and probably the only guy who could make a case against the Ghost who played in Chicago.
Hell, James is also the league’s regular season scoring leader and owns the record for most points scored across both the season and playoffs. The man coincidentally won the tournament’s MVP award to add another feather to his crowded cap. Yes, Anthony Davis led the Lakers in scoring with 41 points in the final, but let’s not kid ourselves, people will only remember that LeBron won the MVP.
The Lakers got to strut their stuff against an up and coming team in the Indiana Pacers, who were led by Tyrese Haliburton, one of the NBA’s brightest young stars. Outside of the cash prize, the players did seem to actually embrace the spirit of competition, which you saw through the wild group stage games, which included the Golden State Warriors being eliminated in the final day of group play by the Sacramento Kings. That game was a doozy in itself, which the Kings won by one point after trailing by 24 in the first half.
Haliburton was incensed after the loss, which was a good sign for the NBA brass. If young stars are taking it seriously, then it means that they do care about the bragging rights that come with winning the mid-season trophy.
Now that it’s been a few days since things wrapped up, here are some thoughts on some improvements that could be made for the 2024 editions.
A larger cash prize for the players and coaches
$500,000 apiece seemed to be a small pittance compared to how much the average NBA player makes in a season, but it became very clear that the cash prize mattered a lot to the lower-tier players who weren’t earning $20 million or more annually. Increasing that cash prize to $1 or $2 million per player for the winning team would certainly spice things up even more and if the league does get a massive new media deal they’d have the increased revenue to bankroll it.
That would mean that the coaches would get a bump too, which would drive some of the less well-paid coaches to really take the tournament seriously. The assistant coaches split a separate pool of money this year that was worth 75% of what the Head Coach won, which would be a pretty big motivator too. Seeing money trickle down to other members of the coaching staff was a great thing to see.
I would also like the NBA to reconsider their stance on two-way players only getting half of the prize money. Two-way players from the G-League who were on the winning team got a 45% raise on their annual salary this season and they only got 50% of the winnings compared to players on guaranteed contracts.
Streamline the group stage experience
The group stage was a little confusing for fans and even analysts. The tiebreaker rules were a bit of a nightmare, because if two or more teams had the same record in a group at the end of the stage, the tiebreakers were:
- Head-to-head record in the group stage
- Point differential in the group stage
- Total points scored in the group stage
- Regular season record from the previous season
- Random drawing
Six teams from the groups would go through with the best record, along with two wildcards, one from each conference that had the best group stage record and came second.
There were so many weird permutations of this. Let’s just take Group C in the Western Conference. There was a scenario where the Minnesota Timberwolves, Sacramento Kings and Golden State Warriors all had a chance to advance on the final day and it was all sorts of weird. Let’s just look at the official NBA tweet about it, because it gives me a headache to try to put it together myself.
While yes, there was excitement, it would probably be better to have a little more clarity. I’m not entirely sure how to fix the group stages but I’m sure the NBA would figure it out.
Hype up the tournament more
For its maiden voyage, the IST went with a funny and corny commercial starring players and former Sopranos star Michael Imperioli.
I think now that the first edition was a success, there’s a lot more that can be done to drive excitement for average fans. Hell, the Lakers even hung a new banner to celebrate winning the first IST and said that if they were to win again, they’d continue adding the years one to the single banner to differentiate it from the proper championship banners hanging in the rafters.
I feel like the IST is something the players will grow to care more and more about over time. Beyond just the money, other sports like football (soccer for the Americans) have shown that Cup competitions that feature knockout rounds are held in high esteem. Winning a combination of the domestic league, the domestic cup, and then the Champion’s league is always a priority on the list of Europe’s top football managers.
Maybe tone it down on some of the court designs
This is definitely just a personal preference things, but some of those goddamn courts were an eyesore in my opinion. It was definitely cool that IST courts had a different look to them to make sure viewers knew when a group stage game was on, but dear god let’s tone it down on some of the colors.
I mean, good lord, did you SEE the Houston Rockets’ court?