NBA's In-Season tournament is much ado about nothing

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Admit it. You’ve heard about the NBA’s new In-Season tournament somewhere and, unless you’ve taken things a step further and listened to Scottie Barnes’ advice and Googled it, you have no idea what the big deal is.

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It’s OK, you’re not alone. We’re all playing catchup.

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The Raptors officially join the In-Season tournament participants tonight when they play host to the Boston Celtics. Toronto is the final of the 30 NBA teams to join the festivities and while most NBA players seem willing to play along and pump up an endeavour that amounts to little more than just another money-making scheme designed to look like an effort to jazz up a long regular season schedule, at least a few Raptors remain openly skeptical about the tournament.

Count Pascal Siakam among that group.

His morning-after-an-ugly loss availability had little to do with the beatdown his team suffered at the hands of an Antetokounmpo-less Bucks team. Instead, it was dominated by questions about the tournament, surprising the Raptors forward to the point that he asked after yet another question about the latest NBA gimmick if this was actually all anyone wanted to talk about.

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For those who don’t know, the latest brainchild of the NBA marketing wizards splits the 30 teams into six pods of five teams split between the Eastern and Western Conferences.

As mentioned, Toronto’s first game in the tournament goes tonight, the first of four in the round-robin portion of the tournament. Brooklyn has already played three of its round-robin games and Memphis has already been officially eliminated from the competition, so the next four games on Friday or Tuesday nights are all In-Season tournament games for the Raptors, that also happen to count towards the regular standings.

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The winner of each group — Toronto’s group includes Boston (tonight’s opponent), Brooklyn, Chicago and Orlando — and the best second place record from each conference grouping advance to the quarterfinals.

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Those four winners advance to Vegas for the weekend championship Dec 7-9 with the winning team roster, their coaches and even the two-way players all receiving a cool half million bucks should they come out on top.

Ties will be decided by point differential, meaning every single possession counts.

Siakam sounds like a guy having a hard time getting excited about it and we agree with him on just about everything he said other than the potential $500,000 prize money per winning team member not moving the needle for him. But that’s more about our very different tax brackets. On the whole, we are in lockstep on this one.

“I think it’s just playing basketball,” Siakam said when asked his thoughts on the first in-season game of the year for Toronto. “I like basketball. It’s my opportunity to play and compete. To me (that) is always exciting. I don’t think the money makes me like, ‘Oh my God, I have to kill myself.’ I have to kill myself every night because I want to be great. It’s not like those games don’t count. All those games are important.

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“To me, I don’t try to put extra pressure on that,” he said. “We’ve got to win every game that we try to play anyways. So, it’s like, why not try (the same) for those ones?”

All valid points. And don’t bother asking Siakam to sell this new idea on the league’s behalf. That conversation gets shut down quickly.

“One thing I always like to say is I do my job,” Siakam said. “I’m not out there like the NBA trying to find how interesting we can make it. That’s not my job. I’m here and when things happen I’m always excited for them. I’m there to do it. I think the league has millions of people working on these things so whatever is happening I’m just out there to play and compete.”

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Siakam dismissed the idea, again rightly so, that the tournament could grow to become something akin to soccer’s Champions’ League Cup. That in-season tournament pits teams from one league against another league, even another country.

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The NBA tournament is merely the same players playing against the same teams they always play against, the only difference being a final weekend tournament in Las Vegas with prize money on the line.

Well, there’s the specially designed courts for each of these games and the newly designed City Edition jerseys each team will wear for In-Season games, but the actual competition won’t change.

And the courts, well, not everyone is a fan of those either — a little too busy for some tastes — but don’t ask Precious Achiuwa about that. He’s not looking to get in any more trouble.

Even Siakam is willing to admit that perhaps over time, and maybe with some tweaking the In-Season tournament may become something more than the routine with some jazzed up surroundings, but for now, that’s about all it amounts to.

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