NBA Mid-Season Tournament Incentives

Updated: October 19, 2021

Since commissioner Adam Silver introduced the idea of a mid-season tournament to spice up the NBA regular season, there have been countless podcasts dedicated to the speculation of what incentives would be used to entice superstars into taking such an event seriously. An assumption built into most of the proposals is that there must be some sort of economic element, and yet what type of cash prize is going to get a 36-year-old Lebron James, load managing Kawhi Leonard, and an injury-prone Joel Embiid willing to put their bodies on the line and compromise their chances at a title? The answer is simple, there isn’t any. No reasonable amount of cash is going to alter their process, especially since such a vast majority of top-tier talent in the league is currently either over 30 or injury-prone. If it isn’t a cash prize that will incentivize the top 20 players in the league to fully commit to a mid-season tournament, what will? Below I will outline what I am referring to as The NBA Final Four Tournament.

NBA Final Four Incentive System

Just as the name implies, only the final 4 teams will receive the prizes attached to this midseason tournament. All other participants will be left empty-handed.

Tax Except Buyout Incentive

Instead of trying to figure out how to allocate cash prizes amongst large-rostered teams, the Final Four franchises will be given a sum of money to spend in the buyout market, free from luxury tax penalties, essentially creating an additional paid mid-level exception. Teams who make it to the semi-Finals (3rd & 4th) will receive a 3.5 million salary voucher to spend on the buyout market. Usually, players who are bought take the vet minimum which is currently at 2.6 million. This means that not only can these two teams offer nearly an additional million, if they are already over the luxury tax, but this amount also does not result in costing them the salary plus the tax penalties.

The 2nd place team, for their Finals’ appearance, will receive a 5.5 million dollar salary voucher. This would mean that a player currently on a 10 million dollar contract could take a 50% pay cut, go to a contender, and still make their entire 10 million. The amount of movement this could stimulate would be incredible and would be an advantage that could swing a series in the playoffs.

The champions of the NBA Final Four Tournament would receive a 10-million-dollar salary voucher, tax-free, to be used in the buyout market. With these four salaries being given to franchises from the additional earnings from sponsors of the tournament, it would guarantee that four players who would have not have chosen to take a buyout to migrate to current contenders for a playoff push. Also, it would add an additional contract to the roster to use in sign and trade situations in the offseason. It is likely if this was implemented, that history would be shaped by the mid-season tournament and might even be the reference point for the NBA Finals. {The voucher can only be used on a single player to avoid a team like the Lakers or Brooklyn signing 4 players with the 10 million, and these players cannot be traded until the offseason.}

  1. 16th Roster Spot

In order not to cause any interpersonal problems with the addition of their buyout player, all of the Final Four teams will be given an additional roster spot to easily slot in their buyout signing.

  1. 31st, 32nd, 33rd, & 34th picks in the Draft

An additional 4 picks will be added into the upcoming draft, slotted in between the 1st and 2nd round. The Semi-Finalists in the Final Four Tournament will flip a coin for the 33rd pick, the 32nd will go to 2nd place, and the champions will take the 31st pick in the draft. These picks may also be used in a trade package this same year at the deadline.

  1. Wins & Losses Count Double 

In order to penalize any team that decides to load manage its way through the tournament, they will significantly slide in the standing of their conference. Wins and Losses will count double throughout the tournament towards a team’s regular-season record. It is not hard to imagine that team goes into the tournament as the current 6th seed in the West and comes out as the 1st seed if they go undefeated.

  1. No Additional Games Added to the Schedule

One big concern has been the addition of games to an already too long 82-game season. Instead, the tournament will simply be a highlighted portion of the regular season that is given more significance by these incentives. Teams that fall into the Loser’s bracket and no longer can get to the Final Four are still incentivized by the fact that their losses count as double for their regular-season records. I would argue that this tournament should replace the All-Star Game which has had all-time low viewership these last few years. Instead, players and teams should be given 7 days off to rest and a few days to prepare for the tournament. The structure of its brackets can be left to those who love maneuvering pieces of this nature and is extremely subjective of which way would be most beneficial. Ideally, though the tournament would last at least a few weeks. If the league would be willing to cut a few games from the schedule, they could avoid back-to-backs and give time to hype up the matchups.


Whatever is decided by the league, something has to happen, because this 82 game season is a dinosaur that is going extinct right in front of our eyes. The All-Star Game is a joke even to those directly participating in the process and is of no interest to its viewers since it carries literally not an ounce of weight in the outcome of the playoffs or the player’s legacies. These incentives not only create a meaningful set of games in a time where many fans usually choose to spend their TV hours elsewhere but also stimulate the GM machine that arguably is now the most popular variable of the NBA.

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