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Tuesday, June 25, 2024

The NBA’s Final Four May Not Be Exactly What the League Envisioned

  • Top markets and the highest-paid stars are missing from the conference finals.
  • One team continues to deal with a messy ownership situation.
Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

The NBA’s conference finals begin Tuesday night as the Pacers visit the Celtics to tip off the action in the East, before the Mavericks and Timberwolves begin their series in Minnesota on Wednesday. But without some of the league’s top media markets, highest-paid players, and last year’s NBA Finals participants, this final four will need to lean on its own unique drama to draw big audiences as this year’s champion is eventually crowned.

What Could Have Been

On Sunday, a pair of dramatic Game 7s saw the Timberwolves knock out the defending champion Nuggets, and the Pacers eliminate the Knicks, denying New York—and its huge fan base—the franchise’s first conference final appearance since 2000.

Meanwhile, only one player with a top-15 salary in the NBA this season made it to the conference finals: Rudy Gobert. The Minnesota center ranked 13th this season, with a salary of $41 million, according to Spotrac. So, without high-priced MVP winners like Steph Curry, Joel Embiid, LeBron James, and Nikola Jokić, the NBA will instead rely on new stars like Luka Dončić, Jayson Tatum, and Anthony Edwards to create and sustain fan interest.

Don’t Look Now

Perhaps the most intriguing team off the court still alive this postseason is the Timberwolves. Having won their first playoff series in two decades, Minnesota is now the betting favorite to advance to the first NBA Finals in franchise history, all while a messy ownership transition plays out. Majority owner Glen Taylor continues to feud—and battle in court—with minority investors Alex Rodriguez and Marc Lore, who were supposed to have full control of the organization at this point as part of a $1.5 billion deal agreed to in 2021.

This postseason also marks the first under new ownership for the Mavericks, after Mark Cuban sold his majority stake in a deal that values the franchise at $3.5 billion. For the Pacers, even though they’re huge underdogs (at least +700 at most sportsbooks) to the Celtics while playing in their first conference final in a decade, the guarantee of at least two home games will add to the hype and revenue machine that their WNBA counterpart, the Fever, have turned into thanks to the addition of rookie Caitlin Clark.

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