Mark Warkentien's play-in tournament

October, 29, 2009
10/29/09
11:09
AM ET
By Henry Abbott

The spiral bound document says "Make Every Game Count: The NBA Play-In Tournament."

It's a proposal to take the eighth and last playoff spot in each conference and, instead of awarding it to the eighth team, making it the first and only prize in a single-elimination tournament between each conference's eight laggards.

If we have learned one thing from the NCAA tournament or the NFL playoffs, it's that single elimination tournaments are thrill-rides.

They're not as good at deciding who's better. But you'd have to be insane not to watch.

The NBA needs some of that "lose and go home" magic. They need cinderella teams, and underdogs sending favorites packing. They need multiple season-deciding buzzer beaters on the same day.

Meanwhile, they also need the tradition of the NBA championship.

So this is brilliant. It's the best of the many single elimination proposals that I have heard (many of which have been on this site through the years, including David Thorpe's idea of a tournament with NBA teams vs. internationals at All-Star Weekend). It's also very similar to one that Bill Simmons has written about.

This proposal calls for all the games to be played in four or five days after the season ends, which would mean four or five days of, effectively, Game 7s.The call is to have higher-seeded teams play at home, although I wonder if it might be better to skip the travel and have all the games at a neutral site.

The document was created by Nuggets vice president Mark Warkentien, and suggests that for last year's playoffs, the tournament bracket in the West would have looked like this:

8 Jazz
vs.
15 Kings

11 Timberwolves
vs.
12 Grizzlies

10 Warriors
vs.
13 Thunder

9 Suns
vs.
14 Clippers

Think about what you were doing last early April, Kings fans. Or Thunder fans. or Suns fans. Weren't you pretty much telling yourself that the NBA wasn't such a big part of your life anyway? Weren't you emotionally withdrawing, and forcing yourself to think about other things? Wouldn't you so much rather be thinking that there was still a chance?

The document says such a plan would eliminate tanking (there's always homecourt advantage in this tournament to worry about), give teams hope, keep fans coming to games, keep mid-season injuries from ruining a team's season, create a "March Madness" feel, keep players optimistic, and increase revenue opportunities for the league.

Honestly, to me the biggest worry of such a plan would really be that some years it might prove to be more popular than, say, Game 2 of the Finals.

Will it work? Who knows. But I do know this: Experimenting with stuff like this is what the D-League was made for. Give it a whirl.

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