Among the ideas proposed to incentivize competitiveness in the NBA’s potential midseason tournament is gifting an additional draft pick to the winning team, according to The New York Times’ Marc Stein.
This is one suggestion of many in the early stages of development and would require ratification by the league’s board of governors, per Stein, but the idea is simple: The possibility of adding an asset, either as a building block or trade chip, could motivate franchises to play their best players in the tournament.
The question that looms over this idea: In the off chance that this extra rookie eventually takes a roster spot, would players be motivated in a midseason tournament if a win could ultimately cost them a job?
It is also quite possible that players might just be apathetic about the tournament for the simple fact that they consider it meaningless. The Houston Rockets recently embodied that stance publicly when James Harden asked inquiring reporters, “Are we in college?” and P.J. Tucker added, “You fight for an NBA championship. I don’t want to play for anything else. Like, what else is there? There’s nothing else. It’s like a consolation or something? I don’t know? You play in games to win a championship. Period.”
The financial incentive for players would have to be high enough to mitigate these issues. How much incentive is required will be up for debate. If teams treat the tournament as if it were the playoffs, it is unlikely anyone from an eight-man rotation loses his job to a rookie, especially anyone who would not already be in danger of walking at season’s end. And once they are thrust into competition, how likely are players to consider the odds that a future pick could take his job months or years down the line? A more immediate financial reward would serve as additional motivation beyond personal pride, and the NBA is banking on the midseason tournament becoming more and more meaningful with history.
The biggest obstacle may be convincing teams that taxing top players in a midseason tourney is worth the gamble that an injury or overexertion could come back to bite them in the playoffs. Is an extra draft pick enough of a payoff? Is it too much? The thought crossed my mind last week that guaranteeing pingpong balls to the winner of the midseason tournament could be a consideration. This would serve as motivation for organizations and further limit the unemployment risk, since it would only increase the odds of an existing first-round pick landing higher in the draft rather than adding another pick altogether.
NBA thought: Guarantee lottery Ping Pong balls to the winner of this midseason tournament. Teams would be motivated to play their top players. Then, it’s a matter of motivating those players, likely with a big payday.
— Ben Rohrbach (@brohrbach) November 25, 2019
The NBA could also offset player concerns in other ways. For example: What if the extra draft pick came with an added roster designation and/or salary cap exception, essentially removing the risk of lost jobs?
It has been less than two weeks since news broke that the league was seriously discussing a 30-team midseason tournament, among other scheduling changes, with the players’ association. The board of governors will not vote on potential alterations until April at the earliest, and they would not take effect until at least the 2021-22 season. There is still much discussion to be had and many details to iron out.
According to The Ringer’s Kevin O’Connor, another incentive that has been discussed is the possibility that midseason tournament victories could count double toward the regular-season win total. Just about anything and everything are on the table at this juncture. The only thing close to a consensus is that this tournament would likely take place right now, in the slow period between Thanksgiving and Christmas.
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