The second slate of NBA In-Season Tournament games tip off Friday night, bringing unconventional court designs, new uniforms and up to $500,000 in incentives for the winning players and coaches — a format designed to draw more viewership and interest to the early phase of the league’s regular season, months before anticipation starts to build for the playoffs.
All 30 NBA teams are participating in the 67-game tournament over the next few weeks: Each team will play four games in a group stage, and the top eight contenders will advance to a knockout round that leads up to semifinals and an early December championship in Las Vegas, the winner of which are awarded the new “NBA Cup.”
The tournament takes place in parallel with the standard NBA season: All tournament match-ups will also count as regular-season games except the championship, factoring into the standings used to determine which teams make the NBA Playoffs in the spring.
Teams’ schedules will still include non-tournament games over the next few weeks, with matches that count toward the tournament taking place on Tuesdays and Fridays.
Players and coaches on the team that wins the NBA Cup will get $500,000—a figure that will descend based on teams placement as runners-up ($200,000), semifinalists ($100,000) and quarterfinalists ($50,000), according to ESPN.
Assistant coaches will share a separate pool of money that will be worth 75% of the winning coach’s total, ESPN reported.
Colorful courts and new uniforms will be used in the tournament, with uniforms featuring alternative designs and unique fonts not seen in previous seasons.
What To Watch For
Friday night’s games will feature the tournament debuts for the Philadelphia 76ers, Detroit Pistons, Charlotte Hornets, Boston Celtics, New Orleans Pelicans, Houston Rockets, Utah Jazz, Minnesota Timberwolves, San Antonio Spurs, Los Angeles Clippers, Los Angeles Lakers, Phoenix Suns and Sacramento Kings. Fourteen other teams had already played in the opening slate of games last week, while the Orlando Magic, Toronto Raptors and Atlanta Hawks will play their first tournament games later this month.
A $500,000 championship prize wouldn’t be a massive deal for highly compensated players like Lebron James and Stephen Curry, who are both set to bring in at least $100 million each this season on-court and off-court, according to Forbes’ estimates. However, the prize money could be a boon for bench players bringing in around $1 million a year—the minimum NBA salary.
The Celtics, Milwaukee Bucks and Denver Nuggets are among the betting odd favorites to win the more than month-long tournament, according to DraftKings. The three teams are also favorites to reach the NBA Finals. The Bucks and Nuggets are among the seven teams off to a 1-0 start in group play, along with the Indiana Pacers, Miami Heat, Brooklyn Nets, Portland Trail Blazers and Golden State Warriors.
5.5 million. That’s how many viewers last year’s NBA Playoffs averaged across ESPN, ABC and TNT—a five-year high, according to the Hollywood Reporter.
The players’ tournament incentive was bargained with the National Basketball Players Association, according to ESPN, which said the league is looking for the tournament to drive viewership and generate revenue for the league in its next media rights deal. The last media deal for the NBA was announced in 2014, when the league secured a 9-year, $24 billion TV deal with ESPN and Turner Sports—now a unit of Warner Bros. Discovery. The 2024-2025 NBA season will mark the agreement’s final year, setting up the league for a blockbuster deal that could involve new bidders like NBCUniversal, YouTube TV, Amazon and Apple, according to CNBC. Today, NBA games span platforms like Disney-owned ESPN and ABC, Warner’s cable network TNT and the league’s NBA TV and NBA League Pass, as well as a slew of regional networks. The league receives $2.6 billion each year from Disney and Warner Bros. Discovery under its current deal, a sum of money it hopes to double, according to Bloomberg.
The NBA in-season tournament is similar to competitions played by Europe’s top soccer teams, which can qualify to play in several tournaments throughout their regular seasons. For example, the UEFA Champions League takes the best teams from leagues in countries like England, France and Spain and pits them against each other to determine Europe’s best team.
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