An NBA Midseason tournament is a really bad idea

If you’ve ever had a boss, you’ve been in this situation. They get an idea in their heads, and even though nobody else thinks it’s a good idea, they keep bringing it up. You’re never sure if you should tell them the truth or try to score brownie points by talking it up in meetings. Most of the time, you keep hoping they forget about it, but they never do.

The NBA equivalent of that bad idea is Adam Silver’s midseason tournament. Everybody who is paying attention knows that teams are trying to find a way to ease the workload of their best players.

A midseason tournament simply doesn’t make any sense.

Steve Kerr, after a game in which he rested four starters on the second night of a back-to-back, said the schedule should be reduced to 72 games. In the midst of all this, we have the commissioner bringing up the idea of a midseason tournament.

As best we can tell, everyone would stop playing for a week or two in December and play for a trophy and a big check, then the regular season would resume as if the tournament had never happened. The schedule would probably be pared back somewhat in order to make it more palatable to the players, but the details still have to be negotiated.

The only question that comes to mind is, “Why?” What need does this tournament fulfill? Sure, when there’s a trophy involved, there will be huge hype, and the NBA will try to tell us that this matters as much as the trophy that gets hoisted in June, but let’s do a reality check:

  1. Would you watch this tournament if the NFL was on another channel?  How about a late-season college football game?
  2. Is Steve Kerr going to be more likely to play his starters in this tournament than in a mid-January game in Cleveland?
  3. When we consider, say, LeBron James or Steph Curry status as the greatest ever, will what they do in this tournament matter as much as what they do in the actual playoffs?

It’s hard to imagine answering yes to any of those questions. The NFL is probably one reason that this tournament has legs because the NBA gets mostly ignored until Christmas Day. But if you’re ignoring games that count, how likely are you to watch games that don’t count? And how juiced are coaches going to be about risking their stars in a tournament that probably won’t help their job security?

An NBA midseason tournament would have limited appeal.

The precedent that Silver is hoping for comes from European soccer, where leagues just pause multiple times during the season to participate in tournaments all over the continent and sometimes in the Americas. Those games draw as much attention as regular-season games, and the trophies have as much meaning as league titles.

But there’s some level of novelty when Barcelona plays Arsenal, because it doesn’t happen a lot, and there’s the whole national pride thing. None of that will happen in this tournament. Your favorite team will play a team that’s on the schedule four more times during the season.

Of course, like anything else in sports these days, this decision will be driven by TV and gambling, and if Silver feels this tournament will get the NBA a better TV deal and more attention from bettors, he will find a way to make it happen. They’ll hype this trophy like it means more than life itself; coaches will be “encouraged” to forget about load management, and players will be “encouraged” to say the right things.

Will it work? This is the league that gets us to watch a pick-up game with Kevin Hart as the main attraction during All-Star weekend, so never say never. But a midseason tournament seems like something that would appeal only to hoops junkies, and we’re already watching.