The NBA has been considering the addition of an in-season tournament for some time now, but one of the biggest obstacles has been finding a way to incentivize players to take it seriously. Given the emphasis players tend to place on winning championships, the consensus has been that few would treat an in-season tournament as they would the actual postseason. Their solution, for the moment, seems to be financial. The league is considering a purse of $1 million per player for the winning team in a potential in-season tournament, according to Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.
The structure of such a tournament would involve all 30 teams, from late November to mid-December. It would begin with pool-play based on divisions that would be treated as regular-season games, with four home and four away games for each team. From there, eight teams would advance into the quarterfinals, with six division winners plus two wild card spots. The quarterfinals would take place at the home team's venue, while the semifinals and finals would be held at neutral sites.
The league would like to institute this tournament in time for the 2021-22 season—the league's 75th anniversary—but is reportedly facing pushback from owners who do not want to give up the guaranteed revenue of two home games to accommodate a tournament. Despite the pushback, the league has reportedly sent the proposed schedule changes for the 2021-22 season to each team in the league, per Shams Charania of The Athletic.
Even if the owners do agree to this tournament, there is no guarantee that the cash prize would mean much to players. While rookies and lower-salaried veterans could certainly use an extra $1 million, superstars make so much money that it might not mean much to them. As Bobby Marks of ESPN notes, half of NBA players make $4 million or less, while only 50 make $20 million or more. However, it should be noted that six of the nine members of the NBPA's executive committee make at least $15 million, and a seventh, Pau Gasol, once did.
Similarly, this structure could have the unintended consequence of reducing league-wide parity. Undrafted rookies and veterans who might not be able to make much more than the minimum or even the Mid-Level Exception would likely flock to contenders in the hopes of supplementing their salary through the tournament.
The structure of the tournament as outlined above might also even incentivize some degree of tanking. Teams actively pursuing a championship might prefer the extra time off missing the quarterfinals would provide to the money winning would earn. If nothing else, there could at least be some dissension within locker rooms between players who make enough not to care about the tournament and those who need the extra money.
Money is certainly an element of inducing interest on the part of players, but it is unlikely to be enough to convince the league's superstars to give the tournament their all. At this point, a solution to that problem remains elusive.