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NBA tries something new: Teams will compete in an in-season tournament

A MARTÍNEZ, HOST:

The NBA is trying something new this year. Teams will compete in an in-season tournament starting today. Knockout stages of the tournament will be played in December, where the last two teams standing will compete in Las Vegas for something called the NBA Cup. Now, the concept borrows from European soccer, and the NBA is hoping it'll inject some excitement into the early days of its schedule. Here to talk about it, we called up Mark Medina. He covers the NBA for The Messenger news site. And I started by asking him the question on the minds of a lot of NBA fans and players - how will this tournament affect the traditional NBA regular season?

MARK MEDINA: The key note here is that these aren't extra games they count as part of the regular season standings. The only extra game is if you're in the championship game. And so I know talking to players, you know, one player in particular, Clippers center Ivica Zubac - he was mentioning to me that a lot of players were mixed about the idea because they initially thought this meant extra games beyond the 82-game schedule. But once players learned that it wasn't part of that, he told me that there was more of an acceptance with the idea.

MARTÍNEZ: So, Mark, I know it's difficult for any sport to compete with the NFL while the NFL's in season. But why is the NBA even trying something like this?

MEDINA: NBA officials have said that they've been brainstorming this idea for the past 15 years. But the NBA's television rights deal expires after the '24-'25 season. So clearly, the NBA is trying to maximize the value of what a television contract would look like. So they thought that this would be a good bridge from the excitement with the opening week toward the excitement to Christmas Day.

MARTÍNEZ: So if I'm sitting around in front of the TV and I happen to catch one of these tournament games, will I know that I'm watching one of these games? What's the NBA doing to really point to it?

MEDINA: They've already released the schedule to indicate which teams are in-season tournament games. They've also unveiled specific courts that are going to be mentioning that's an in-season tournament game. And then once the semifinals and championship game happens, those games will take place in Las Vegas. So that is going to be on a neutral site. And it's their hope that that'll create an even bigger atmosphere for both the teams and the fans that are attending.

MARTÍNEZ: I mean, now that it's here, are players getting excited about it? Are fans getting excited?

MEDINA: Well, we'll wait and see. But when I polled players informally about it, there was some mixed reaction. There was some players that embraced it, thought that this would help with the attention with the league and the importance of the games. There were some other players that had some wait and see approach feelings about it. Gabe Vincent with the Los Angeles Lakers, for example, had some mixed feelings because he reported that the bonus player pool money was actually higher than it would be for teams that make the playoffs. This didn't sit well with them because it sends a message that the NBA holds the in-season tournament as more valuable than a team that makes the NBA finals. So the ultimate question is, once teams start losing in group play, what will be their level of effort and motivation after that? And the reality is no one knows fully the answer to that question because this is the inaugural event.

MARTÍNEZ: That's Mark Medina. His piece is on The Messenger. He's also appeared on Fox Sports Radio. Mark, thanks a lot.

MEDINA: Hey, thanks so much for having me.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BASKETBALL")

KURTIS BLOW: Oh, yeah. I like this basketball. D up now. Here I go. In your face. Swish. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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