If the National Basketball Association and its affiliates really wanted us to wish the playoffs tonight and tomorrow, it would have found a way to either make the Los Angeles Lakers two games better or the Brooklyn Net’s eight games worse. And if that seems too scary, to make either the Charlotte Hornets or the Atlanta Hawks seven games worse.
After all, the play-in game is designed either intentionally or unintentionally to offer new lifelines to supposedly popular teams that they think will attract more attention. You know, like the Lakers, Nets, or New York Knicks. Teams you know are actively instilling cataracts but will still inspire more prose than the Hornets, Hawks or New Orleans Pelicans.
Marketers will recognize this particular tactic from their college studies as “shame-deficient pandering,” but that’s what suits thinking in the basketball world. Big names without games are always considered more desirable. This is often backwards thinking, but no one was ever fired by repeating the same old tired troops to their superiors, which got to the point where they are repeating the same old tired troops to their superiors.
It’s true that the Lakers have created more entertainment by being a smelly pile of oily cloths lit near a paint factory, but the need for LeBron content could also have been met by getting them to finish 10th and then be humiliated one last time by either New Orleans or San Antonio. And true, the Nets have managed to undermine Kevin Durant through a series of me-first-moves from me-first-mates who somehow left them out of the top six, while STILL being considered the Eastern Conference betting favorite by Some books. And true, the Knicks have the same chemistry issues with very few chemicals.
But the play-in games do not really work as an Adam Silver-approved concept unless they are all in or all out, and the Nets are the only ones who showed enough courage not to lose sixty percent of their games. They could officially be a more recent phenomenon historically, but Durant, Kyrie Irving and the now-deceased James Harden made them a boring national talk, which frankly is exactly the redundancy it sounds like. This speaks volumes about Durant and Irving’s erratic talents, but it also makes them a significantly more abominable watch than they were a year ago. They certainly promised a lot and delivered meh and kept the distance in New York’s devotion between them and the rebellious Knicks at abyss level. The Nets are the real rarity, a daily national commodity whose locals would rather see the New York Rangers. It is suspected that this speaks volumes about the intellectual bankruptcy of the national media, that the draggy monochrome Nets are still considered an important narrative, but it is not the case that it would have covered the league differently. There are concerns and care-nots and they are largely determined by the market size.
The play-in tournament is thus designed as a lifeline for teams like the Lakers that are so repulsive that they may not be able to use it for the next five years, and for the Knicks who have been this thing for almost the entire century. It will probably instead serve as a short-lived showcase for young but healing sites like Minnesota, Atlanta, Charlotte, New Orleans and yes, even San Antonio, so if you like new people doing new things on a new stage, this be a nice little diversion. It can even service teams of injured stars who escaped play-in and have more time to heal them (yes, it’s you, Golden State).
It’s just that this is another example of the law of unintended consequences. The league has over the years married a strategy that is heavy on a few old favorites and rejects exciting newcomers until they are forced to be different. It is known as the Warriors Conundrum, after the long irrelevant team (one playoff appearance over 18 years between 1994 and 2012), which became the most entertaining team in the last decade and helped trigger a rating and attention renaissance that has since disappeared. No one wants to bet on who can become the next Warriors because the odds are too long, so the need for old favorites remains high in the league’s office. The league hates news until it is proven that it generates consistent attention and only got the Nets, a triumph of hot-take-hype without substance, whose greatest moment in the post-Julius Erving era was Durants for long toes.
It’s not so much that play-in in itself is a bad idea, as it meets the league’s need for more fixtures at a time when everything around it is screaming at less. It also gave you your first extended look at Memphis and Ja Morant, if that’s your idea for fun (and it should be). Based on what it was really designed to do, which was to help old widows, either fall in hard times (LA) or define them by their very existence (New York), it failed as a lifeline because it provided that lifeline to two teams locked. into their own cultural failure and unable to use it. And the one who used it is a team that far too many people outside the raving-maniac-for-effect talk show diaspora would prefer not to see because it’s a ziggurat of malformations trying to overcome Kevin Durant’s indisputable virtues.
It sounds funny if you are then some kind of person that everyone else in the bar moves away from when you sit down.