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NBA AM: A 1-16 NBA Playoff Format?

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A 1-16 Playofffs

Many people continue to talk about a 1 through 16 playoffs system, and while on paper it seems smart and something the NBA and its teams should explore, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver addressed this issue in Las Vegas last week and explained that there are too many issues no one talks about that is stopping a 1 through 16 playoff format from working.

Currently, NBA teams play an unbalanced schedule, where they play their own division more and their conference less and their opposing conference even fewer. Most of that is about travel and wear on the players. The imbalance also means some teams play lesser teams more frequently than others. The only way to make a 1 through 16 playoff format completely fair is to have a completely balanced schedule. The NBA looked at this and found that constructing a balanced schedule would require more travel and more wear on players than exists now.

The increase in travel and wear was deemed undesirable, even with the NBA increasing the contracted work year by about 10 days.

What gets lost in many of the hypothetical scenarios is that the NBA and the players agree to a certain number of work days in the regular season. Adding more work days would not come without a labor cost, not just to players, but to all the other staff that support the team.

Imagine for a minute that your boss all of sudden decided to expand the work week by an extra day, would you do that for the same pay structure? How about all of your co-workers that may not make anything close to your wage?

The length of the NBA season is part of the Collective Bargaining Agreement, and that’s something that is negotiated and not something the NBA can force on players without disrupting labor harmony.

As much as some may like the idea of a 1 through 16 playoffs, the practicality of it all is not a simple thing for the NBA, which is why it’s not currently on the horizon.

The Lottery Playoff?

HEAT president Pat Riley floated an idea recently that’s getting some traction in the press. The gist of the idea is that the bottom 14 teams play in a single elimination tournament to decide who gets the top overall draft pick.

The notion is it would remove the incentive to lose or to field uncompetitive teams.

There is no question that “tanking” or deliberately trying to lose to gain the best odds of landing the top talent in a given draft is a real thing and it’s growing in viability because of the dominance of teams like the Golden State Warriors.

There are all kind of practical problems with adding a “tournament” concept.

The biggest issue being where do the extra days in the schedule come from? Adding more days means adding more player compensation. Currently, NBA contracts cover just the 82-game regular season. Playoff games come with additional compensation by way of a fixed playoff pool (or bonus money) paid to players that make the postseason and advance.

Unless the NBA is going to create a comparable pool of revenue, why would any of the players on these teams play in this tournament? Additionally, landing a top pick may make a player expendable, especially a pending free agent. Why would you want to compete for the chance for your team to draft your replacement? Why would you, as a pending free agent, want to risk injury to help your team move on from you?

The motivations for the players are not the same as the teams. Who wants to lay it on the line for the lottery bracket, after a grueling 82-game schedule where you did not win?

There is something to be said about having a final showcase game, but would any of the networks that currently carry playoff games really want the “Lottery Bracket” game? Would anyone pay a premium ticket price to be there live?

There is no question that “tanking” is bad for the NBA and the league needs to find a way to disincentivize deliberate losing. However, as fans in Philadelphia have shown, if you can’t win, there is a business to be had about betting on the future.

They say there are two products to sell in the NBA, the hope of winning a championship or the hope of winning the draft lottery. Until fans stop supporting teams that “tank,” there may not be enough momentum to change the rules of the draft lottery, let alone scrap the only hope some teams have for a future.

The Podcast

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About Steve Kyler

Steve Kyler

Steve Kyler is the Editor and Publisher of Basketball Insiders and has covered the NBA and basketball for the last 17 seasons.