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Marc Daniels: One-And-Done Format For The NBA Playoffs? Sure. Why Not?

Oklahoma City Thunder v Utah Jazz

Photo: Getty Images

February 18, 2022 8:30 a.m.

The following will never happen but at least play along and have an open mind.

First, the NFL is coming off a playoff season where the last seven games played had margins of victory that were 7, 3, 3, 3, 3, 3, 3. Ratings for the NFL Playoff games were incredible and the NFL is king.

But another reason the NFL playoffs are so special is one game and one game only to advance. There is no margin for error. There is no series where you can drop a game or two and rally.

Change is hard for people. We get comfortable and develop habits and whenever someone comes along and says there may be a better way of doing something, we usually get defensive.

Follow me here for a bit. The Final Four this year is in New Orleans. Fans of those teams have no idea that their team will be playing that weekend and yet thousands will make plans in less than one week to attend the sports biggest event. We really don't know if NBA fans are as passionate when it comes to traveling. I don't mean a few hundred fans who invade the home team's arena. I am talking about thousands of fans who would be willing to pack up and head to a predetermined site and root on their team. 

What if the NBA Playoffs copied the model of the NCAA Basketball Tournament. What if there was a Final Four weekend and what if the format was also like college basketball and it was a one-and-done tournament?

Daryl Morey is the president of the Philadelphia 76ers. He is as radical as they come when it comes to using analytics and as bold as they come in making deals. Morey doesn't believe in tanking and he waited and waited before pulling the trigger on the Ben Simmons-James Harden trade.

Morey was a guest on Colin Cowherd's podcast that appears at Volume Sports. The interview touched on many NBA topics, including the recent trade of Simmons and Harden. But Colin talked about shortening the NBA season from 82 games to 74 and making the first round of the playoffs a best-of-5, as it once was. It's what Morey said that got some attention.

He agreed on shortening the NBA season but went further and said 58 was a better number and that each team would play every other team two times. The two agreed that shortening the season would make the product better and the revenue lost by owners on fewer games in their arenas could be made up with a bigger TV deal. The current NBA deal runs through the 2024-25 season. But Morey offered the radical idea of a one-and-done format for the playoffs. He pointed out that the NFL draws a different atmosphere than anything else because it's one game and move on. Wow!

I know, the idea of such a change is crazy. The current model fills arenas over the course of two months and culminates with the NBA Finals and a celebration of the game. But does it really do that? Early rounds take two weeks sometimes to play and allows a team a chance to rally down 0-2 or even 1-3 in a series. But if there was no margin for error. You had one game to win or your season ended?

Morey went on to say the NCAA Tournament makes more than the NBA does in TV money for the entire season. He's not right on this one. The current contract has CBS/Turner paying $770M per year and that will increase to $1B in 2025. The NBA media deal sees ESPN/ABC and Turner paying $2.6B a year. But Morey's point is to see how much money the NCAA Tournament is for 67 games versus the NBA and all its regular season and playoff games.

The NBA is seeking to increase its media deal to about $8B a season in their new deal.

But could the NBA make a 16-team, one-and-done format generate more fan interest than the current model where it's possible a team could play 28 playoff games to win a title? I don't know but the league could promote an incredible month of pressure filled games where there is no margin for error. 

The NBA regular season ends April 10th. Game seven of the NBA Finals would be played on June 19th. But how about we play this new 16-team one-and-done tournament in just one month.

If you used Morey's plan to play 58 games and each team played everyone else two times, do we still need conferences? If you want to keep conferences, that's fine. Heck, I'd even be for 18 teams and having two play-in games over Wednesday and Thursday before the big opening round weekend. Let the 15th seed play the 18th seed and the 16th seed play the 17th seed. 

The open round of 16 would take place over a weekend with four games on Saturday and Sunday. Play games at 1, 4, 7 and 10p each day. The games would draw a huge betting audience and fan interest would be big.

Use the week after those games to get a ton of media attention talking about games and matchups ahead. Then have another big weekend with your quarterfinal games playing two games on Saturday and two on Sunday.

Then have your own version of a Final Four. Imagine a predetermined site to host the NBA Final Four(likely needs a name of its own...How about "The Quad"?). Allow cities to bid for the semifinals and finals just like college basketball and the Super Bowl. You could play in stadiums in New Orleans, Las Vegas, LA, Atlanta and many others. Just like college basketball, play your two semifinal games on Saturday and a one game final on Monday night.

Instead of dragging the playoffs out for two-plus months, it's a one month event. And just like the NCAA Tournament, get your tournament brackets rolling. We love brackets.

Would TV partners pay the same 17 games instead of the current format? Not sure, but I think there is tremendous value to the one game format instead of a best-of-seven.

Morey's idea is extreme and likely would get no support. But I love the out-of-the-box idea and love when the league thinks of trying new things. The NBA added the play-in round and we all adapted to accept the concept and it works.

If we took the current records in the NBA and looked at our tournament, here's what matchups would look like if we didn't have conferences:

Play in:

(18) Atlanta at (15) Minnesota

(17) Charlotte at (16) LA Clippers

First round:

Charlotte/LA Clippers winner at (1) Phoenix

(9) Milwaukee at (8) Cleveland

(12) Boston at (5) Chicago

(13) Toronto at (4) Miami

Atlanta/Minnesota winner at (2) Golden State

(10) Dallas at (7) Philadelphia

(11) Denver at (6) Utah

(14) Brooklyn at (3) Memphis

One game and win and advance. 

Could it happen? No. No chance but fun to think about.

I do think the NBA season will shrink to 78. Commissioner Adam Silver is pushing forward with plans for the in-season tournament. I don't know if that really has any support. Maybe it will catch on. But a one and done format for the NBA Playoffs? Now that is a radical idea I think I like.

Final thought: The average mattress should last about 8.5 years.

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