With the NBA’s Summer League now in full swing, and a certain member of the Phoenix Suns turning heads out in Las Vegas, the league has finally announced the much talked about addition of an in-season tournament, beginning in 2023-24.
The execution of the idea itself is well thought out, with former player Richard Jefferson doing a stellar job of breaking it all down in a video you have likely seen on social media. For fans of the league in Europe, this cup style competition will be familiar to them, although fans in the United States may have a harder time buying in to what the league is trying to sell here.
For the Suns though, the introduction of this tournament could not have come at a worse time for them as one of the true contenders in the league.
We can tackle the merits of it in a moment, but winning this trophy would present a whole lot more problems then it would be solve. For the organization, can you imagine if they were the inaugural winners of this thing, hoisting that trophy in Vegas as the silverware that the league is going to heavily promote as having meaning.
The Suns have appeared in three NBA Finals, most recently 2021 with that memorable run, losing on every occasion. To then win this sort of “ugly duckling” knockoff, when it has not yet been fully accepted by fans, would be rubbing in the fact the franchise have never hoisted the Larry O’Brien trophy. Fans of rival teams would mock them relentlessly because of this.
Would it be nice to see the Suns play in Vegas during the regular season, and to beat some rivals like the Los Angeles Lakers in the process? Sure, but that’s not what this season is about. The organization didn’t trade for Bradley Beal, bring in a ton of minimum salary help and keep Deandre Ayton to have this trophy to show for it at the end of the year.
If the in-season tournament is the opposite of what the Suns should be striving for, can you imagine what it would do to the reputations of Beal, Ayton, Devin Booker and most importantly Kevin Durant? Winning this tournament in five years under different circumstances would be noteworthy.
Or if the Suns could win a championship first, then pick up this trophy, that would be cool. Should Nikola Jokic and the Denver Nuggets, or Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Milwaukee Bucks win the inaugural tournament, it would add to their legacies as superstars and teams who got over the hump before adding this bonus hardware.
But can you imagine the stick Durant would get if he were to win this title, but never the real thing, with the Suns? His two championships with the Golden State Warriors have been picked apart enough, but his detractors would have a field day holding this over his head. Another super team assembled, all to lift the altogether European sounding “NBA Cup“.
Booker would fall into a similar category, albeit for different reasons. While Jayson Tatum was off trying to win it all, and Jamal Murray actually was doing the damn thing, another disciple of the great Kobe Bryant was off in Vegas picking up toy trophies. For the European readers out there, right now there’s very much a Europa Conference League vibe going on here.
There’s no way Beal came from the Washington Wizards to take this seriously, while the ridicule for Ayton may be the strongest of all. Underrated throughout the league and not even entirely beloved by his own fanbase, to be winning this cup while Jokic and Giannis got rings and Joel Embiid won an MVP award… well it would all be very Ayton like wouldn’t it?
So this tournament really is something the Suns can not only do without, but which they would be better off not even attempting to win this season. The catch here is that four actual regular season games, against the Lakers, Portland Trail Blazers, Memphis Grizzlies and Utah Jazz, count towards final standing in the tournament.
The Suns could easily go 4-0 through that stretch, and if they manage that then they’re practically in Vegas already. With two of these “group games” at home and two away, the Suns will likely play one of the Grizzlies and Lakers in Arizona, giving them an even greater chance of advancing.
But if any of their star players went down with a season-ending injury at the final four stage in Sin City, it would be a devastating blow in a game the organization likely had no interest in being a part of in the first place. That may be a negative way to look at this, but the NBA is littered with what if moments as a result of injuries at the wrong times.
So while the idea and execution of this tournament is a welcome shake up to the league itself, the Suns should have no interest in it. It is strange that winning the thing would do more harm than losing, and yet the legacies and potentially bodies of the team’s best players could suffer if that were to be the case. A no-brainer then to avoid as actual title favorites heading into 2023-24.