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James Harden scoffs at idea of regular-season NBA tournament: 'Are we in college?'

James Harden is not here for radical change in the NBA.

Last week, news broke that the NBA is considering significant changes to its regular season and postseason, with an in-season tournament reported as part of those plans.

ESPN reported that the league is in discussion with the National Basketball Players Association about an in-season tournament that would consist of a group stage before six division winners and two wild cards would advance to a bracket-style tournament.

Harden scoffs at idea

Harden was asked about the idea Tuesday at Houston Rockets practice. It’s safe to say he’s not on board.

“Are we in college?” Harden asked before turning away from reporters.

The proposed tournament is being floated for November into December, which would coincide with the multitude of Thanksgiving week tournaments played in college basketball.

Rockets forward P.J. Tucker shared Harden’s sentiments.

“You fight for an NBA championship,” Tucker said. “I don’t want to play for anything else. What else is there? There’s nothing else.

“It’s like a consolation or something? I don’t know. You play for an NBA championship. Period.”

Will money motivate players?

While Harden’s response was curt and dismissive, Tucker’s gave voice to the challenge Adam Silver will face from players and fans.

While Silver is seeking avenues to combat declining ratings, the idea of a tournament that doesn’t doesn’t have legitimate stakes attached is a tough sell to American athletes.

While it it’s an established idea in European soccer circles, U.S. athletes are motivated by the legacy that comes with winning an actual championship.

But they’re also motivated by money, which appears to be the incentive being floated, with financial compensation reportedly being considered for advancement in the tournament.

That appears to be the selling point the league will have to hammer home in its negotiations with the NBPA. Without the NBPA’s support, Silver’s idea doesn’t fly.

James Harden and P.J. Tucker gave voice to the challenge the NBA faces in selling its in-season tournament to players and fans. (Erik Williams/USA Today)

How does the NBA sell the idea to fans?

If the league does motivate the NBPA to the point of implementing the tournament, its next sales pitch will be with fans. Presuming the NBA doesn’t plan to motivate fans with financial incentives, the league will face a tough sell on that front as well.

While money may eventually get players on board, convincing fans that a tournament of multimillionaire athletes playing for more money doesn’t make for the most compelling pitch.

The league would have to convince fans that the tournament actually means something. Without that, it would amount to a novelty at best.

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