There’s nothing for Sacramento Kings fans to cheer for this season. Nothing. Well, maybe, the true, crazy of the craziest kind of fan, might be thinking about future draft picks, but as far as the product on the court goes, there’s not a thing to get excited about.
And it’s only February.
This happens every season in every sport. Teams are effectively eliminated early on and then they just play out the season in a death march that’s no fun to watch and a punishment for the fans who spend their money to support their team.
It should be different and the NBA has the ability to fix it. For example, send the teams at the bottom of the league standings at the end of the season to play in the G-League the next season. That would keep teams from tanking and it would also create a league-wide interest among the fans to pay attention to more than just the playoffs and the title race.
But that idea isn’t realistic. You’re not going to get Sacramento to agree that if it loses, it has to play in a league with Bakersfield and Idaho Falls. So, instead of creating a punishment, the NBA should create some incentive.
Can’t win the league? That’s fine, but you can still win a trophy. The NBA needs an in-season tournament to be held concurrently with the regular season. It’s easy, would be great fun for fans, but more importantly, keep the attention of league teams that have no realistic chance of winning the championship.
Call it The Cup, and here’s how it works:
All 30 teams are in and it would start in October and finish by All-Star weekend.
Two teams, for the purposes of a first-year tournament, let’s say Cleveland and Golden State, because they made the finals last season, are given a bye. The other 28 teams are in a random draw. Each year, the teams who won the Finals and the team who won the Cup will be given first-round byes.
So, in the first round, the first team drawn out is the home team. The second team drawn out is the road team in the first game. The teams will play a home-and-home. The winner is the team that scores the most total points. If you lose by 10 in the first game, you need to win by 11 in the second to advance. If there’s a tie after regulation time ends of the second game, play a 5-minute overtime.
For example, sticking with Sacramento, let’s say the Kings are the first name out of the hopper and then the Pacers are the second name drawn. The teams would play each other in a home and home (Sacramento being the home team in the first game).
This concurrent tournament would be great for teams like the Kings because even if a team is on a losing streak or trending downward, there’s always another chance for glory.
OK, so moving on. Now there are 16 teams left – the 14 first-round winners, plus Golden State and Cleveland, the teams who got byes. Put all 16 back in the hopper and proceed just like the first round. Draw two names and play a home-and-home. Most points after two games moves on. There’s no bracket, so that means no planning ahead. Blind draw before each round.
Put the eight winners back in a hopper for the quarterfinals and repeat the process through the semifinals. The two finalists would play a one game, winner-take-all contest on Saturday before the All-Star Game.
There’s little doubt the Warriors are the best team in the league. In the NBA, the best team always wins the championship. It’s too hard to get lucky and beat a team in a series four times over two weeks. The NBA rewards the best team, and that’s fine, but one of the things that makes the NCAA Tournament so fun is the unexpected element. The best team doesn’t always win. A weaker team might find itself advancing in a bracket that has lost some of the better teams.
That’s what this Cup would provide. Perhaps Golden State and Houston draw each other in the second round. Maybe Oklahoma City never has to play a team that is good enough to make the playoffs. The uncertainty could allow a team like Pelicans to make the final against the Clippers. Who knows.
The NBA needs a shot of mystery, because there’s none now.