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Whether you think it’s a gimmick or a great idea, the NBA is thinking outside the box to find solutions to the waning emphasis on the regular season.
Enter the NBA’s inaugural In-Season Tournament. Corny name? Yes. But hopefully it leads to a little more regular season excitement.
“It’s an exciting opportunity,” Billy Donovan said. “I think for every team in the league to play in this. We’ll see how it goes. I know league’s invested a lot. We certainly have put a lot of importance on it and feel it’s important. And it’s a great opportunity in one of these games that you know to to advance and accumulate points to to get to Vegas.”
Here’s how it works.
Teams are broken up into six groups, three per conference, based on record from the previous year. The Chicago Bulls are in a group with the Orlando Magic, Boston Celtics, Toronto Raptors and Brooklyn Nets, against whom they kick things off tonight.
In this ‘Group Stage’, the Bulls will face each of these teams one on Tuesdays and Fridays in November.
At the end of the month, the team with the best record, along with the other group leaders and two wildcard teams, advance to the ‘Knockout’ round. The wildcard teams are the two teams in each conference with the next best record in their groups.
The ‘Knockout’ round is single-elimination, with winning teams advancing to the Semifinals and Finals. The latter two games will be played in Las Vegas in December.
As part of the Tournament, teams will wear their City Edition jerseys.
And of course, each team has a special court they will use in home games throughout the tournament.
“Has Chicago had a different court as a franchise? I don’t think it has so it’s gonna be really cool to go out there and see,” Zach LaVine said after Friday morning’s shoot around.
As the Play-In turned from theory into reality, there has been more buzz and excitement around the games. With the introduction of the jerseys and courts, there is a clear emphasis by the league to make these games feel as special as possible.
“I’m excited to see the court,” LaVine said. “All the guys were excited when they saw the pictures come out. It’s cool. It’s another opportunity for the NBA to create more fans, different type of buzz, and it’s the first of its kind. So, to go out there and figure out what it’s like for the first year is gonna be fun.”
Any Playoff team can get hot at the right time and win the World Series. Any given Sunday, a football team can knock off their division rival. The single-elimination nature of the NCAA tournament allows for extreme variance. But one of the unique things about the NBA is that the best teams typically win it all.
That’s what makes this In-Season Tournament just a bit more exciting. The one-game nature of these games offers a lot more room for the improbable.
“It’s a definitely a different type of bracketed tournament. Only thing I’m familiar with is probably the NCAA Tournament, where I bet they got a little piece of it from that too. It’s something different, you see how much people love the Play-In Tournament. Hopefully, it gives people the same type of buzz.”
And how about that monetary prize?
“I mean, no one, no one ever turns down money,” LaVine cracked.
The NBA announced that players of teams who advance to the Quarterfinals will each get $50,000. Players on the losing team in the Semifinals will each get $100,000. Players on the losing team of the Championship game will each get $200,000 and the players on the team who win it all will each make $500,000.
The NBA also announced that head coach of winning team will earn $500,000, and that the assistant coaches will earn an additional share. The coach of the runner-up will win $200,000, the coach of the the Semifinalist will earn $100,000 and the Quarterfinalist will land $50,000.
Ultimately, it comes down to buy in. The monetary incentive is great, but for players like LaVine who are less concerned about a few extra hundred thousand, and much more concerned about the Playoffs.
“I don’t know if it will have the same type of effect, like a playoff game will but it should be something different and fun and exciting,” LaVine said. “And we’ll see that tonight. I know guys will play hard, like usual. But, you know, with added things to it. I think it would give a different type of excitement.”
To do that, there is a shift in approach, understanding that there is added value in showing up for these games, even if it doesn’t count any more towards your potential Playoff berth than any of the other games.
“The game still count part of the 82, so it’s not an added like extra games,” LaVine said. “But you know it’s a different mindset and I think guys gonna be playing really hard like you said you almost have to get into a different type of mindset where it’s just like this isn’t just another game on a Tuesday.”
“This means something down the road so you got to get your mind for that.”
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