The NBA formally announced it’s new In-Season Tournament this past weekend in the midst of the Las Vegas Summer League. The details surrounding the long-rumored tourney have finally arrived and with that has come mixed reviews.
I could detail the format for it, but I don’t have the appetite to do that. However, Richard Jefferson, owner of one of the worst basketball tattoos ever, is more than happy to. Take it away R.J.!
NBA IN-SEASON TOURNAMENT EXPLAINED— NBA (@NBA) July 8, 2023
Starting Nov. 3, all 30 teams will compete for the NBA Cup with 8 teams advancing into the knockout rounds! The tournament semis and championship game will be held in Las Vegas, Dec. 7 and 9! pic.twitter.com/NZdURUa3XR
My first inclination is to hate on the In-Season Tournament because I’m just not as receptive to change as I get older, but this time I’m choosing to take an open-minded approach.
Now that you know the rules, let’s rattle off the good and the bad, as well as what can be improved upon.
Pro: The league is trying something new
Innovation is something to celebrate and while this isn’t a groundbreaking idea, it is an attempt to liven up a rather lethargic regular season.
Con: The players may still not care
This is still to be decided, but it’s very plausible that a lot of players, mainly the stars, don’t have a reason to get too invested in an early-season tournament that hasn’t established value as of this time. With the maximum earnings only amounting to $500,000 for the champions, there’s doubt to be had that it will move the more established players.
Pro: The incentives may benefit younger teams
On the other hand, the teams that feature more youthful rosters may have more motivation to advance in the tournament as the players on rookie scale and league-minimum contracts can increase their wages.
Pro: Competitive environment for younger teams
This is also an opportunity to get the Gen Z hoopers a taste of a playoff-like atmosphere. This would bode well for a team such as the Houston Rockets who have stocked up on lottery picks and have now shifted their attention to competing for a playoff spot. Some momentum early on in the season could pay dividends down the stretch.
Pro: Good gauge for contenders
My hope is that this early-season extravaganza also serves as a litmus test for NBA Finals hopefuls. Putting teams into high-pressure situations may allow GMs the opportunity to better evaluate their rosters early on, thus amplifying the trade deadline and buyout season.
Con: It’s the same teams
I won’t get my hopes up too high as these games may still feel like just another regular season game. The monotony of having the same matchups doesn’t necessarily stir up enthusiasm. After seeing the group drawings for both the East and West, I can't say there’s anything riveting about playing sixty percent of the same division that we’re already accustom to.
Pros: The format is open to change
With that being said, I’m glad the league acknowledged that the In-Season Tournament that we see in Year One may not be the same we see going forward.
Con: Stats are not counted in the championship game
I think this is simply dumb. They do this with the Play-In Tournament too and I think that is also dumb. The league doesn’t count these games towards regular season nor post-season stats. Dumb.
Not every team is playing just 82 games these days. Mikal Bridges registered 83 games last year due to being traded. If someone plays in 85 games because of the accrual of In-Season Tournament and Play-In games, I want that accounted for.
Con: The accolades discourse will be annoying
The league is narrative-driven and with that comes absurd ridicule and praise. The smart folk will tune it out in favor of objectivity so I guess I should take my own advice here. I’m not looking forward to what narratives will emerge from this experiment. However, the more I think about it, there are some immense opportunities for hilarity to ensue. So on second thought...
Pro: The accolades discourse
Potential headlines include:
“Chris Paul captures first title, claims tournament MVP”
“Joel Embiid demands trade as Philadelphia 76ers fail to reach semifinals, again...”
“Trae Young snubbed from All-Tournament Team?”
I could go on, but I’d love to hear your headlines in the comments below.
While this iteration of the tourney isn’t perfect, with time I could see it becoming a fixture that ultimately benefits the league. I have a few suggestions that I hope to see implemented over time.
Include teams from other leagues
This has to be what Adam Silver envisions going forward so I certainly understand giving it a dry run. The league already does this to some extent with global preseason exhibitions so it really is just a matter of timing. I’d love it if they include a G-League All-Star team down the road as well.
Incentivize teams to win this
If this does turn into something with legitimate staying power I think I’d prefer it to have some higher stakes. Obviously the main goal remains to win the actual NBA title, but if your team handles business in December, wouldn’t it be nice to get a little reward? I’m still not sure if that should come in the form of draft compensation, payroll relief, or something else, but why not explore it?
Okay...I’ll admit this last one is extreme and will never happen, but hear me out.
Mr. Silver, if you really want to capture the magic of fútbol AND also eliminate tanking, hit my line. I’m just saying.