At Media Day, Cleveland Cavaliers president Koby Altman expressed the importance of a solid regular season and wished for the group to *build on the year they just had by continuing to mold winning habits every day. This is an important task from the top because, at the professional level, most of the team has not won anything. The trophy and $500,000 prize from the In-Season Tournament, which will make its NBA debut in 2023-24, are nice awards to play for during the year to prepare for the challenge ahead in April through June, when the Cavs have a difficult road ahead in the playoffs.
In November, the Cavaliers will play the four random opponents they merged with in East Group A, the Philadelphia 76ers, Atlanta Hawks, Detroit Pistons, and Indiana Pacers. To move on to single-match elimination rounds, Cleveland would need to be a wild card team (one from each conference) or the top of their group. The Knockout Rounds will feature a quarterfinal, semifinal and final round, but the latter are played on a neutral court.
In the Cavs’ group, the 76ers will likely be the toughest challenge because Joel Embiid, the latest MVP, is a matchup problem for most frontlines, including the Wine and Gold. The Pacers are a band on the rise, and the addition of Obi Toppin as a pick-and-roll/pop option next to Tyrese Haliburton will be difficult to defend while Myles Turner invades the dunker spot. The Hawks could catch lightning in a bottle behind their high-powered backcourt, and the Pistons are raw but promising.
Throughout 82 games, aside from primetime matches, there aren’t many significant dates teams can use as measuring sticks for progress. The Cavaliers getting exposed to high-leverage situations before April is ideal because a good showing in that tourney could work wonders for the confidence of some players. Learning from a poor performance, too, could also be the right inflection point in development.
Winning takes a serious load of talent, but mentality is equally important. An old coaching proverb that has lingered through the NBA goes “stay ready so you don’t have to get ready.” Reaching for the tourney trophy is a great way to abide by that wisdom.
The WNBA’s equivalent is the Commissioner’s Cup. This season, in what turned into a Finals preview, the New York Liberty, led by Jonquel Jones and Breanna Stewart, defeated the Las Vegas Aces for the trophy and cash. The Cup is now the first piece of hardware the Liberty owns. This was a goal of Jones, the MVP in 2021, and Stewie, the reigning titleholder, who is already a two-time champion with the Seattle Storm. Both demonstrated to their club an insatiable thirst for glory.
Most players could learn a lot from Jones and Stewie. Big Slim (Jones) played like it was a season-ending night. Stewart tore her Achilles tendon in April 2019 while playing for the Russian Euro league team Dynamo Kursk and has come back as strong as she ever was. Jones and Stewart, with all the talent their Liberty has, could have coasted and load managed, but leaders by example make sure peers witness commitment.
In the WNBA and NBA, the In-Season Tournament is a mock playoff. Being the NBA’s first tournament champs would give the young Cavaliers a taste of the intoxicating buzz of winning.
Who knows, it might turn some into fiends for it.