When the 2023-24 NBA season tips off, one big event on the calendar will be the first edition of the in-season tournament. It's a years-in-the-making idea, one that the league has thrown a lot of resources at to try and drum up interest and add more excitement to the regular season.
The tournament games begin on Nov. 3, and while it seems like an idea that could catch on in the league amongst fans, some players are already shrugging at the newest addition to the NBA calendar. During media day on Monday, Memphis Grizzlies guard Marcus Smart was blatantly honest when asked what players think about the new in-season tournament and the thought of winning a different trophy.
"Being completely honest, nobody cares about [winning in-season tournament], it's the big one that we care about," Smart said. "I have mixed feelings on it, but it's great to be able to play more basketball, and I think that's more of it, just those more games for the fans."
The idea of the in-season tournament mirrors similar ones you see in European soccer, or the WNBA's Commissioner Cup, where some games on the calendar will count toward the tournament standings. After the group stage, in which each team will play the other teams in their groups once, there will be a knockout round. The winner from each group plus two "wild card" teams will advance to the knockout stage, which will be single elimination. It all culminates in the semifinals and final, both of which will take place in Las Vegas. The winning team will split $500,000 amongst all of the players, while the teams that advance to the knockout stage will all receive varying pots of money to split.
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In theory, it sounds like an interesting concept, but it only works if the players get behind it. If other players in the league have similar opinions to Smart on the tournament, then it could zap some of the excitement out of the games. The reason tournaments like the Champions League in European soccer work so well is because the players give so much credence to it. There's obviously been far more history attached to the Champions League, but if the NBA wants to mirror its tournament after something like that, then it will need players to get on board with the idea.
If the players aren't placing importance on it, then fans won't care as much, and you need fans to tune in and show up to the games in order for this to be a success, especially from a financial standpoint. With a new media rights deal on the horizon for the NBA after the 2024-25 season, it would be beneficial to have something like the in-season tournament to pitch to networks as they try to get the estimated $75 billion they want on their new contract.
We'll have to see how the in-season tournament pans out, and perhaps there will be more excitement around it once the semifinals and championship take place in Vegas this year. But for right now it seems like some players aren't super thrilled about the idea.