The NBA is discussing a $1 million-per-player purse for the winners of the proposed 30-team in-season tournament, league sources told ESPN.
The league is hopeful that an additional financial incentive would motivate players to treat a new tournament with a competitive fervor.
The NBA wants an in-season tournament that would begin with pool play as part of the regular-season schedule before the teams with the best records advance to an eight-team, single-elimination tournament that would culminate in mid-December, league sources said.
Some team executives are skeptical about the plans. Among the concerns of top front-office officials discussing these ideas with the league office: Star players might prefer the five-day scheduling break that would come with not qualifying for the tournament rather than competing for the financial reward of a winner-take-all event that requires a quarterfinal, semifinal and title round to become champion.
Without the buy-in of star players, there are obvious questions about whether the tournament would be equipped to achieve its ambitions of increasing fan interest, revenue and television ratings.
The average NBA player makes about $9 million, but some superstars make four and five times that salary.
Especially among big-market owners with larger home-game financial gates, finances have been an overriding concern about the league’s in-season tournament idea: Can the NBA promise “revenue-neutral” financial returns to teams for shortening the schedule to 78 regular-season games?
Teams are reluctant to take short-term losses on losing two home dates to accommodate the tournament, especially when those games can be worth between $2.7 million and $4 million for the most profitable big-market teams, league sources said.
The league hopes that it eventually will be able to drive increased revenue in several ways — including through television rights and sponsorships. The NBA would need to negotiate the TV rights as part of the next media deal midway through the coming decade.
The NBA needs two-thirds of the teams and the National Basketball Players Association to agree to the calendar changes, which commissioner Adam Silver hopes would begin with the league’s 75th anniversary season in 2021-22.
The changes need to be passed at the league’s board of governors meeting in April to be implemented for 2021-22, sources said.
The NBA has been making the case to teams and the union for implementing a three-part change to the league calendar that includes the post-Thanksgiving tournament, a play-in for the seventh and eighth conference playoff seeds and a reseeding of teams in the semifinal round — currently the conference finals — based on regular-season records, sources said.
There appears to be less debate among teams on agreeing to the postseason play-in and reseeding ideas on the agenda.
In proposals that include the adoption of in-season tournaments and a postseason play-in, the traditional regular-season schedule would be reduced from 82 games — with most teams scheduled to play 78 or 79 games. There is a small possibility of a team playing a maximum of 83 games based on possible tournament and play-in scenarios, league sources said.
For the in-season tournament, the NBA is focused on 30-team participation that begins with a divisional group stage of scheduled regular-season games. Six divisional winners — based on home and road records in the group stage — and the two teams with the next-best records would advance to a single-elimination knockout round, league sources said.