In-Season Tournament success paves the way for long-overdue expansion of NBA to magic number


The success of the NBA’s inaugural In-Season Tournament should help accelerate the race to expand the competition to 32 franchises. 

Having two more teams not only makes sense in growing the NBA but it would remove the most complicated part of the new in-season competition. 

It was close to impossible to figure out who needed to beat who and by how much heading into the final group matches of the IST with two teams advancing due to the wildcard qualifier in each conference. 

The rule makers did the best they could with a 30-team pool of teams to divide them into three groups of five in each conference. 

The Suns are through to the In-Season Tournament Knockout Rounds ????

Watch their best moments from Group Play ahead of the Quarterfinals next week ????

PHX-LAL | Tuesday (12/5) | 10pm/et on TNT

— NBA (@NBA) December 1, 2023

But it would be exponentially easier for fans to follow if there were eight pools of four with the winner of each group advancing to the quarterfinals. 

That on its own is not going to be enough to convince the NBA board of governors to give the green light for two expansion teams. 

It needs to make economical sense and the franchise owners don’t want to split the revenue pie into two more slices if it means they’ll get less. 

Seriously, how much money do these billionaires need? 

The main case for expansion is the talent level in the NBA which has never been higher. 

Across the board there are accomplished players, plural, at pretty much every team. 

Kevin Durant as a rookie with Seattle SuperSonics in 2007. (Photo by Jay Drowns/Sporting News via Getty Images via Getty Images)

Even the struggling sides have decent role players of prospects who could blossom in the future. 

This rule may or may not apply to Washington – Kyle Kuzma is a fine player but there’s not much else on that roster that you would be will still be in the league in a few years. 

Anyway, the time to expand should be now. The influx of international players has widened the NBA’s talent base. 

Seattle should be the first cab off the expansion rank and Las Vegas, Mexico City or perhaps a second Canadian team are among the other options that have been floated. 

Venturing south of the border would be a way for the NBA to tap into a new market but all signs point to the bright lights of Vegas being a preferred expansion site. 

The first instalment of the In-Season Tournament will be remembered as a success irrespective of how the quarters, semis and final play out over the course of the next week. 

All the lurid IST court designs have been polarising but they have given the tournament a point of difference to regular season play. 

It’s like the NBA has launched an ambush marketing scheme on itself but whether you like the courts or not, they’ve been a conversation starter which has drawn in casual fans. 

The true measure of success has been the care factor that the players and coaches have displayed when the results, and even the point differentials, have been on the line. 

Compared to the drudgery of early-season basketball in previous seasons, it has kick-started the NBA interest levels early, the importance of which cannot be overstated in the midst of the NFL season Goliath which towers over all rivals. 

The IST hasn’t been all smooth sailing though. Next year the first thing the NBA execs need to change is the name. 

You can just imagine the marketing meeting going down … It’s a tournament. It’s in the middle of the season. Let’s call it the in-season tournament. That’s a wrap. Lunch break. 

There have been suggestions the NBA wants to sell the naming rights to the tournament so it ends up being known as the (Sponsor’s Name) Cup. 


The NBA In-Season Tournament Knockout Rounds tip off with the Quarterfinals on Monday, 12/4 and Tuesday, 12/5 on TNT.

— NBA (@NBA) December 1, 2023

If that is the case, they need to get a long-term commitment – 20 years minimum from a multinational so it’s not changing names every few years, which can be extremely confusing.  

The Lakers progressing to the final eight is a dream scenario for the NBA execs and the fact that LeBron James and co will be going up against Kevin Durant, Devin Booker and the Phoenix Suns gives that clash plenty of star power. 

You’ve got to have a Cinderella story in a knockout so New Orleans could be that team in the West if they get past Sacramento or perhaps it’ll be Indiana in the Eastern Conference taking on Boston. 

The Knicks will also draw plenty of eyeballs to the IST quarters when they match up against Milwaukee’s one-two punch of Giannis Antetokounmpo and Damian Lillard. 

Since the NBA-ABA merger in 1976, the competition rapidly expanded from 18 to 29 teams over the next two decades. 

In the 20 seasons since then, there has only been one team added with Charlotte reinstated – expanding to 32 teams makes a lot of sense on a number of levels and taking that leap is long overdue. 

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