Last season, the San Antonio Spurs narrowly missed a chance to secure a play-in spot in the second-to-last game of the season. The new format was introduced as a way to create a fair ending to a season in which teams would have an uneven number of games completed.
The format had its pros, such as the added drama and significance of later games that usually feel pointless to teams out of the picture. It also had its cons, like how the Phoenix Suns still missed out on the tournament despite going 8-0 in the NBA bubble.
This season, the play-in tournament made a return, complete with a makeover. Now, the top 10 teams in both conferences have a chance to play their way into a playoff seed at the end of the season.
Personally, I fall on the side of being in favor of the play-in tournament due to the added significance it gives late-season games and how it further discourages teams from tanking. This isn’t about whether the tournament is a good or bad idea, though. For now, it’s here to stay.
The crux of the issue I have with the recent controversy of the play-in as an idea was perfectly encapsulated by former ESPN columnist J.A. Adande.
If the play-in ends up costing the NBA the Lakers and Celtics for the playoffs you’ve gotta figure there will be consequences. Maybe not lost jobs, but that format would change. https://t.co/FI2n730jue
— J.A. Adande (@jadande) May 3, 2021
Talk about “saying the quiet part out loud.” I had to do a double-take to see if I read the blatant bias correctly the first time. If you’re not caught up, the play-in tournament is suddenly the center of attention for the national media after LeBron James expressed frustration at the system following the Lakers’ third straight loss.
LeBron on the NBA Play-In Tournament: "Whatever the case may be or we end up in the Playoff whatever that things is. Whoever came up with that s**t needs to be fired. But whatever." pic.twitter.com/lwRReGAQQ8
— Ballislife.com (@Ballislife) May 3, 2021
One year ago, James advocated for the play-in tournament, saying, “Why not let those guys battle it out? Make them play each other all five games?” Of course, the situation was different then. As mentioned, the uneven games for different teams called for drastic measures to even the playing field.
Still, we didn’t hear a peep from James about the tournament this season until the Lakers suddenly started to approach the seventh spot. This is a soft take from LeBron. Obviously, people will look out for themselves and their teammates first. I get that. Still, it’s not like LeBron is the only one affected by the new format.
LeBron will have to deal with the unconventional season just like everyone else, and in the end, I’m sure he and his Lakers will still be right there deep in the playoffs, potentially raising another trophy. The bigger gripe here is the big-market attitude expressed by Adande and the like.
Why did the play-in tournament become such an issue only when teams like Boston or Los Angeles became in danger of succumbing to them? In what world should you face consequences only because a specific handful of teams out of 30 were subjected to your ideas?
Seeing favoritism to markets like L.A., Boston, and New York likely won’t change any time soon. Even throughout San Antonio’s dominant runs over the last two decades, ESPN and the like knew where their big numbers came from and acted accordingly. Is it right? Nope, but that’s just how it goes.
Until Adam Silver decides to alter or remove the play-in tournament, its existence shouldn’t be an issue of contention only when convenient. It’s a terrible look.