The NBA is formally exploring how it might use its 75th anniversary season as an opportunity to test some of its bolder initiatives -- not only a midseason cup and postseason play-in tournament, but also a reduction in the 82-game regular-season schedule.
On a June 17 conference call, a committee that consists of approximately a dozen top team executives from both basketball and business operations discussed with the league office ideas for alternatives to the traditional NBA schedule for the 2021-22 season. In what sources characterize as a wide-ranging brainstorming session with accompanying documents, participants contemplated how the NBA could introduce the aforementioned tournaments, as well as an abbreviated slate of regular-season games to accommodate the additional events.
According to those with knowledge of the conversation, which sources regard as very exploratory, the proposed reforms would be adopted initially as a pilot program. The NBA would have the chance to observe the trial run and evaluate the long-term viability of such a schedule design.
Supporters of a new midseason cup-style tournament acknowledge the difficulty of its implementation without a corresponding reduction in the number of regular-season games. For instance, trimming games off the current 82-game schedule would have vast revenue implications for teams that have commitments to local broadcast partners and rely on revenue from attendance at live games.
The length and density of the current 82-game NBA schedule has come under some scrutiny in recent years. Superstars such as Toronto Raptors forward Kawhi Leonard routinely sit out regular-season games to preserve their bodies for the NBA's intense nine-week playoff run. But apart from issues surrounding load management, voices at both the team and league levels have made an economic case for making the NBA's regular-season games more scarce and meaningful in an increasingly competitive entertainment marketplace.
These more substantive conversations contemplating new ways to construct the NBA's seasonal schedule demonstrate momentum for reformers inside the league. Advocates for change believe that robust revenue generated from new products such as the play-in tournament and midseason cup posed recently by commissioner Adam Silver could, over time, recoup losses that would result from a reduction in traditional regular-season games.
The number of games in a reduced regular season discussed on the conference call ranged from 58 -- ensuring every team would host each of the 29 other teams in their arena over the course of a season -- to a marginal cut of only a handful of games. According to sources on the call, the appetite among team officials for a major reduction in the number of games was limited.
Making wholesale changes to the schedule in a little more than two years' time would come with major complications. The NBA would need the cooperation of numerous stakeholders, from the players' union to ownership groups to national and local broadcast partners to sponsors, among others.
For example, the NBA's collective bargaining agreement requires the league and its teams to "act and use their commercially reasonable efforts to increase [Basketball Related Income] for each Salary Cap Year." If players interpreted a deliberate drop in the number of games as an abdication of that effort, they could potentially have grounds to object to such reforms.
The committee was formed as an advisory group to grapple with structural issues that touch on both basketball and business operations -- matters like playoff format and the contour of the NBA schedule. The committee has no official governing authority but can make recommendations to the NBA's Board of Governors.