3 Major Changes Coming to the NBA This Season

The NBA and its players reached an agreement on a new collective bargaining agreement on April 1 of this year, which will last through the 2029–30 season. The CBA is a lengthy agreement with hundreds of pages that mostly consists of contract terminology, new financial arrangements, and incentives that NBA fans couldn’t care less about. However, the CBA this year makes several intriguing revisions to long-standing rules, scheduling, and awards that will alter how the NBA functions.

Major Changes Coming to the NBA

1. Awards Threshold

The league has a new CBA that will go into effect this upcoming season, and with it, there are three significant changes. The minimum number of games a player must participate in to be eligible for individual honors and/or to be selected for an All-NBA team is the first significant adjustment.

Previously, 58 games — roughly 70% of the season — were the absolute minimum number of games required. However, a player must now play at least 65 games in a season to be eligible for all accolades and honors under the current CBA. This new rule’s main objective is to lessen load management throughout the course of a season.

Players are now required to play roughly 80% of the season under this new rule. This raises the issue, “Is it worthwhile to risk rewarding less recognized candidates in exchange for a few more games from these stars?” Absolutely! Individual accolades like the MVP, Defensive Player of the Year, Rookie of the Year, and so forth will also be subject to the 65-game requirement. Because individual accolades are voted on by a panel of sportswriters and broadcasters, they understand the importance of how many games a player plays and take that into account in their decision-making process.

With the exception of seasons that were shortened in 1999, 2012, and 2020, only Bill Walton in 1978 and Joel Embiid this season have won MVP awards without playing at least 70 games in a season since the NBA switched to an 82-game schedule.

The new 65-game requirement is also huge when it comes to bonuses for players. Oftentimes times, players will earn bonuses if they win a particular award or get selected to an All-NBA team. So, under the new rule, it will behoove stars to play more games to earn those lucrative bonuses and incentives that are written into their contracts.

There have been a few award winners in recent years who wouldn’t have been qualified under the current CBA regulations. For example, Jaren Jackson Jr. won the Defensive Player of the Year this past season, but he played just 63 games, so Robin Lopez would have taken home the award instead. Or LaMelo Ball, the 2021 Rookie of the Year winner who only appeared in 51 games; Anthony Edwards would have received that award under these new rules.

There will be exceptions to this rule in some situations. For instance, the minimum game requirement will drop from 65 to 62 games if a player sustains a season-ending injury. Furthermore, each game that a player engages in for at least 20 minutes will be considered a game played. Players can take advantage of this by simply checking out of the game once they hit 21 minutes. It doesn’t matter if players will take advantage of this; what matters is how many stars will do this and how frequently. Regardless, the rule adjustment is unquestionably a positive step in fighting load management.

2. All-NBA Team Selections

The NBA is now acknowledging that the modern NBA has become a position-less league. All-NBA teams will no longer be limited to two guards, two forwards, and a center starting with the following season. Instead, the five players who garner the most first-place votes will simply be named to the First Team All-NBA. Sixth through tenth-place finishers will be named to the Second Team All-NBA, while eleventh through fifteenth-place finishers will be recognized to the Third Team All-NBA.

The All-NBA teams’ selection process will be modified, which will alter the legacy that players in this league leave behind. Because a center had to be chosen to make an All-NBA team in the past, Rudy Gobert has four All-NBA selections in his career. Gobert’s four is more than generational superstars like James Worthy, Vince Carter, Ray Allen, Dikembe Mutombo, and Kyrie Irving, to mention a few. The old All-NBA voting process was clearly flawed, and it had been for a long time.

If the new minimum game threshold and position-less voting were to have been implemented, even just having a look at the All-NBA Teams from the previous season would have had serious effects. LeBron James, Steph Curry, Jimmy Butler, Giannis Antetokounmpo, and Damian Lillard all missed too many games to be selected to the All-NBA team. And in turn, four players—Lauri Markkanen, Jalen Brunson, Anthony Edwards, and Jrue Holiday—would have been named to their first-ever All-NBA team.

3. In-Season Tournament

The new in-season tournament, which will take place this season, will be the final major change. It is going to look like this. Six pools of five teams, each made up of teams from the same conference, will be used to divide the league. Teams will play on specific days throughout the first six weeks of the season within their own pools of existing teams. Each pool’s winner advances along with two wild card teams to a winner-take-all single-elimination game. The players on the winning tournament team will receive $500,000 apiece, and the semifinals and championship game will take place at a neutral venue.

For bench players earning minimum contracts and rookies, the $500,000 could motivate them to want to win this new tournament, but for stars in this league who are already established and have multimillion-dollar contacts, I’m not sure $500,000 is enough to motivate them.

From there, it starts making less sense. There will only be 80 regular season games scheduled for each NBA franchise. The teams that make it to the tournament’s championship round will play 83 games during the regular season, while the teams that do not advance to the single elimination stage will have two games added to their schedule. So, this new tournament will impact the regular season’s schedule and it will also force certain teams to play more games than others. And most importantly, does anyone care who wins?

The only people who benefit from this new tournament is the winning team. The best teams in the league will likely dominate their pools and make it to the single elimination round, but they might not care about winning the tournament if they have playoff aspirations. Meanwhile, the teams who are in a rebuilding stage or the middle of the pack teams would probably be interested in making a run in the in-season tournament to prove their skill, but they likely will not have a possibility of winning the tournament due to the skill of the better teams in the league.

The NBA’s commissioner, Adam Silver looked toward Europe for inspiration and modeled the new in-season tournament after European soccer leagues. For example, the FA Cup or the Champions League are in-season tournaments in European soccer that are highly regarded and make for some of the most fun soccer matches to watch. However, in their excitement to make their own in-season tournament, the NBA missed the mark.

In Europe, fans love in-season tournaments as its three action-packed days featuring some of the best teams in the league battling it out for the title. But an in-season tournament is something that American fans aren’t too familiar with, especially when it comes to the NBA. They haven’t existed before so at the start building the respect and excitement around the in-season tournament will be a challenge for the NBA.

Give it a few years and the NBA in-season tournament could get more fans engaged and in turn, make players care even more about winning the tournament. But right now, all this addition does it offer an interesting diversion from the regular season that fans might want to keep an eye on. But I’m not sure how much worth or even significance it will have given that it will completely alter the regular season’s format. It’s nice to see the NBA try something different, even if it ends up needing to be reworked or removed, but until fans can witness the in-season tournament, there is no telling how this addition will go.

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