How the NBA In-Season Tournament helps the Cleveland Cavaliers

Darius Garland, Cleveland Cavaliers. (Photo by Tim Nwachukwu/Getty Images)
Darius Garland, Cleveland Cavaliers. (Photo by Tim Nwachukwu/Getty Images) /

As of the coming 2023-24 NBA season, the inaugural In-Season Tournament will take place among all thirty teams with the new NBA Cup up for grabs. Taking place from November to early December, teams will be placed into six five-team groups in which each team will play their four group rivals. The best team from each group (and two wildcards) advances to the next round. Teams are randomly designated based on last season’s regular season standings. All games other than the grand final will count toward each team’s regular season record.

After the group rounds, the remaining eight teams compete in a single elimination bracket with the final game in Las Vegas. For a full rundown, former Cleveland Cavaliers fan favorite Richard Jefferson breaks down the main points of the tournament’s format.

Each team involved in the knockout bracket will receive a portion of the prize pool, and the further a team succeeds into the tournament increases their winnings.

Seemingly endless discussions have circulated around the tournament since it was first suggested, viewing it as a possible solution to increase the value and intensity of the NBA regular season. With all but one game affecting a team’s regular season record, the tournament matters beyond the prize pool.

In short, the NBA Cup In-Season Tournament is a shortened Playoff competition with legitimate consequences for the real postseason.

That might not matter for every team, but for teams aspiring for the Larry O’Brien trophy, it will be a catalyst in preparation for the Playoffs.

The NBA Cup will help the new-look Cavaliers in the postseason.

When last season concluded, the Cavaliers held the fourth-highest regular season record in the Eastern Conference, but they fell short in the first round against the New York Knicks in only five games. After Cleveland remained silent at the trade deadline, the postseason served as a test run to find out where the team truly stood amongst the best teams in the Association.

Although the Cavs faced an embarrassing exit from the Playoffs, it gave their young core invaluable experience together in the face of adversity. Their mental fortitude was tested, and next postseason will be the chance for Cleveland to prove they took that lesson seriously.

What the In-Season Tournament offers the Cavs is a glimpse into their status as a contender and their improvement from last year. In the offseason, Cleveland acquired four new players, including sharpshooters in Georges Niang and Max Strus. By drastically improving their floor spacing, the Cavaliers have all the tools necessary to take that next step. Conversely, a similar end to the season would leave Cleveland with no excuses.

This year is a statement year for the Cleveland Cavaliers.

The Cavaliers might not be in a championship or bust season, but falling short in the first round would raise a number of questions regarding their roster’s future together.

For the inaugural tournament, the Cavs are placed into East Group A, facing off against the Philadelphia 76ers, Atlanta Hawks, Indiana Pacers, and Detroit Pistons. Two of these teams reached the Playoffs, giving the Cavaliers a legitimate challenge if they hope to reach the knockout rounds.

Involving the newest members of the Land will take time, but waiting until the Playoffs is simply too long to wait to know how well every piece fits together. The In-Season Tournament will thrust Cleveland into a Playoff-lite experience, and just one loss could leave them in their rivals’ dust.

By playing against some of the conference’s best teams, the Cavaliers will be forced to elevate their play immediately, putting pressure on them for a quasi-second chance from their postseason loss.

Advancing deep into the tournament launches the Cavaliers into the Playoffs with a confidence and swagger that was entirely nonexistent last year. Losing quickly, though, may be an early indicator of necessary changes before another humiliating postseason loss.

The Cavaliers might recognize they are the best team in the East after finally adding shooting on the arc. It will also give Cleveland’s youngest players a chance at redemption. Specifically, Isaac Okoro will have another opportunity to prove his doubters wrong, performing at his best in a new role for the Cavaliers.

With the tournament taking place in November through December, Cleveland’s success in the tournament will shine a light on their ceiling before the trade deadline and buyout market come. Whatever final adjustments need to be made, even if the Cavaliers win, can be recognized and addressed in the following months.

Some of the Cleveland faithful are entering next season nervous about the fit of Jarrett Allen after his individual performance against the Knicks. Allen will need to play with a chip on his shoulder all year, and the In-Season Tournament will likely be his best opportunity to prove his impact, or possibly lack thereof, in high-stakes competition.

The only necessity is that the Cavaliers do not overreact to the results. Falling out of the tournament before the grand finals is not a complete failure. The roster might fit perfectly, and the tournament will simply set them up to continue preparing for the postseason with a better understanding of how the team needs to mesh.

While the advantage to recognize flaws and shortcomings will be there for every team, the Cavs are in a unique position thanks to their savvy financial flexibility in the offseason.

According to Spotrac, Cleveland will enter the regular season with roughly $3.9 million worth of space before breaching the $165.3 million NBA Luxury Tax threshold.

Additionally, The Cavs still hold a total of $9 million available to offer free agents with a remaining portion of their Mid-Level and Bi-Annual Exceptions. This means that the Cavaliers will have money to spend on buyout signings. For trades, Cleveland can absorb more salary than they send out, within reason, and will not enter the Luxury Tax.

Overall, the Cavs could be in the best spot of any contending roster to improve after the tournament.

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The In-Season Tournament, win or lose, will make it apparent the direction the Cavaliers are headed. That sort of knowledge is an exceptional help to an aspiring Cleveland squad.