For quite some time now, the NBA has been kicking around the idea of using an in-season tournament to inject a bit of excitement into what can be an admittedly monotonous season. And this summer we finally got a better look at what the league has planned.
According to The Athletic’s Shams Charania, the in-season tournament is going to be an all-league event, with all 30 teams competing for entry and eight more entering a single elimination competition, with a champion being crowned after a Final Four tournament-style event at a neutral site during the season.
Fan reaction to this news has been mixed. Most of the feedback has been negative - with many fans calling the in-season tournament unnecessary. In a similar vein, a lot have fans have expressed an understandable skepticism that title-contending teams will treat the tournament seriously.
Even though fans might be skeptical of the appeal and legitimacy that a mid-season tournament will have, an opportunity like this is still perfect for rebuilding teams like the San Antonio Spurs.
The in-season tournament is a great benchmark for the San Antonio Spurs
Unless you’ve been hiding under a rock, hiking the Appalachian trail for the last few months, or blatantly ignoring the news around the San Antonio Spurs, you’re undoubtedly aware that the Spurs are in full rebuild mode. As fans, we can debate the merits of the strategy, but there is no doubt that this is the path that the front office has chosen and they’re sticking to it.
Choosing this path isn’t a decision that the front office made lightly and this process surely isn’t going to be completed by the time the mid-season tournament could come into effect during the 2023-24 season.
If they’re still in rebuilding mode - and they almost certainly will be - the mid-season tournament could be the perfect opportunity for the young Spurs to test themselves.
By the time the 2023-24 season rolls around, the Spurs will ideally have added another young star like Scoot Henderson or Victor Wembanyama to their roster. And while a core of Keldon Johnson, Devin Vassell, Josh Primo, and someone like Henderson or Wembenyama is potentially capable of contending for a playoff spot early into their time together, a healthy in-season pulse check like the mid-season tournament certainly won’t hurt.
It takes time for a young group to meld, and playing in high in high-intensity games has a way of bringing them together in a way that the monotony of the regular season can’t replicate. That’s partially why we see teams like the Phoenix Suns and Memphis Grizzlies point to their time in the bubble and in the play-in tournament as catalysts for future successes.
It’s not an apples-to-apples comparison. After all, the Suns and Grizzlies were still on the road to the title during their time in the bubble and the play-in tournament, and participating in an in-season tournament is going to return financial compensation only.
That difference aside, I still believe that the more chances the young Spurs have at competing in playoff-style basketball the better they’ll be. Sure, the in-season tournament isn’t exactly going to be a playoff atmosphere, but it’ll still be a lot more intense than your average regular season game.
If San Antonio takes it seriously and treats it as an indicator of if they’re ready to truly contend for the playoffs again or not, a mid-season tournament could really help.