The NBA In-Season Tournament can’t fix what’s wrong with American basketball players

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Adam Silver, the commissioner of the NBA, imported the wrong idea from European soccer.

American professional basketball needs a form of “relegation” rather than an in-season tournament. American professional sports lack consequences, not additional carrots.

Look, I’m no expert on soccer or the English Premier League. But it’s my understanding that clubs can get demoted from the top-tier league for losing too often. Clubs get relegated to a lower league, then have to earn their way back up. Relegated clubs and players lose money and marketability.

The stakes for winning and losing in the EPL are much higher than what we have in the NBA, NFL, and MLB. The elevated consequence of losing is what makes the EPL superior to the American sports league (the NBA) seeking international dominance.

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This year, Silver and the NBA unveiled the in-season tournament, mimicking the mid-season tournaments commonplace in European soccer. The American sports media are hailing this new wrinkle as a moderate success.

Consequences motivate more effectively than carrots.

So far, in group play, television ratings are up. So are attendance and intensity. This weekend, the whole thing reaches a crescendo, as four teams will head to Las Vegas to decide the NBA’s early-season championship. The players on the championship team will receive $500,000 and the runners-up $200,000. The champion will raise some sort of trophy the league has designed.

The in-season tournament is a bribe to players. It’s another carrot being offered for players to compete at a high level in games in November and December.

The problem is, the players don’t need more carrots. American athletes receive more carrots than Bugs Bunny.

At this point, the proper motivation for our athletes in all sports is consequences. Losing, poor effort, and indifference should be punished.

Relegation would make the NBA very interesting. Here’s what I suggest.

Halfway through the league’s 82-game season, the teams with the worst records in the Western and Eastern Conferences would be eliminated. Season over after 41 games. No more paychecks until the next season.

At the 61-game mark, I’d eliminate the two worst teams in the Western and Eastern Conferences. Season over. At this point, there would be 24 teams left competing — 12 in each conference.

At the 72-game mark, I’d eliminate four more teams — two from each conference. The final 10 games of the NBA season would feature the league’s top 20 teams. The top 16 teams, regardless of conference, would qualify for the playoffs.

The players on the two best teams in each conference would receive $1 million bonuses for winning the regular season. The players on the second-best teams in each conference would receive $500,000. The third-place players would get $250,000.

That would fix the NBA’s regular-season problems. It might, in fact, make the NBA regular season the most compelling regular season in all of professional sports.

I don’t think it would lead to more superteams. I think it would elevate the importance of coaching, culture, and a professional organization. There are a lot of talented NBA players. There are a small handful of properly motivated NBA players.

Consequences motivate more effectively than carrots.

Next week, when the in-season tournament is over, the NBA will return to full-on load management for its top players. The players will return to being indifferent until late in the fourth quarter. The NBA will return to normal. And no one is going to remember the name of the trophy Adam Silver hands out in Las Vegas.

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