Orlando Magic should be all-in on a strong mid-season tournament run

Paolo Banchero has turned in a stellar rookie year. But the Orlando Magic need him to break through a rookie wall to make a postseason push. Mandatory Credit: Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports
Paolo Banchero has turned in a stellar rookie year. But the Orlando Magic need him to break through a rookie wall to make a postseason push. Mandatory Credit: Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports /

A lot of NBA fans still roll their eyes at the notion of the NBA’s mid-season tournament.

This idea imported from European soccer is meant to create some early-season drama and interest in the league. But nobody knows exactly how it is going to work without much disruption to the season and whether anyone will take it with any level of seriousness.

The cynics among fans especially will ask: What would you rather win the Larry O’Brien Trophy at the end of the season or the “Adam Silver Cup” (trademark pending) in early December?

That answer should be obvious still. That does not mean a secondary trophy is not something worth pursuing.

It is an experiment from the NBA for sure. And any new thing needs the time to get established. The rules and the process will get tweaked after the first run-through.

Figuring out the buy-in from the players — the league is giving out big money prizes to teams that go deep into the tournament — is perhaps the biggest challenge. How serious are teams going to take this?

But, make no mistake, these are competitors. This is a competition. And that is something to chase after. For a team like the Orlando Magic, this could be an easy stepping stone and an easy way to get some real playoff-level experience early in the season.

The NBA is preparing to unveil its plans for the inaugural mid-season tournament this weekend. The Orlando Magic should see it as an opportunity to gain pressure-game experience. They should be all-in on this idea and trying to win it.

As everyone else is figuring out what this mid-season tournament is, the Magic should view it as an opportunity for real experience. They should be very much in on winning this tournament.

Paolo Banchero will at least be part of the opening festivities for the mid-season tournament.

The NBA announced Wednesday that immediately following the Magic’s Summer League opener against the Detroit Pistons on Saturday, the league will announce the format and group play pools for the league’s inaugural mid-season tournament in an ESPN special at 7:30 p.m. ET.

Some of the details have already leaked out with Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN reporting the mid-season tournament schedule will be baked into the team’s regular season schedule with the Final Four and championship games played on Dec. 7 and 9.

The teams that reach the championship game will play an 83rd game and the stats for the championship game will not count toward the regular season.

The important thing is that unlike games in the U.S. Open Cup, which Orlando City won last year, or games in European soccer continental cups like the FA Cup, there will be no interruption to the season. There are no asides, side games or mid-week disruptions to routine. All of the games in this tournament still have some importance to every team as part of the regular season.

Theoretically, that will ensure that teams and players take these games with some measure of seriousness. Whether these designated games for the mid-season tournament will feel any extra special will be another question.

Likely, this will feel very much like the U.S. Open Cup in American soccer works.

When MLS teams enter the competition, they typically reserve the early-round games for reserves. Some teams even hold early-round games in their training facilities or smaller venues when they host. But as the tournament gets deeper, teams start using their main roster players and lineups and the intensity ratchets up significantly.

Every team has a different approach to these games.

That creates an opportunity for different teams to win. It is not always the season-long champion that wins these tournaments — especially considering the randomness inherent to single-elimination tournaments. The single-elimination nature of the tournament after the end of the group stage certainly could add to the possibility of a new team getting some type of trophy.

And that is frankly an opportunity the Magic should not pass up.

If Orlando wants to see how far its team has come early in the season, the team should treat these games with the utmost seriousness. They should view this as an opportunity to get postseason experience and practice the feeling of a “must-win” game.

Those scenarios are not easy to manufacture. For a growing team, this is a chance to get the feeling of postseason preparation and pressure with the learning experience of being able to fail or succeed.

A deep run in this tournament or a surprising run in this tournament — getting to the point when their opponents may also be taking these games more seriously — would be an invaluable experience for a team starving for pressure situations to prove themselves.

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That is what should be fun about this tournament.

This is a chance for a lot of teams who may not be playoff-tested or championship contenders to compete and have a shot at winning a trophy. That is the magic of these single-elimination tournaments — remember, Orlando City defeated USL side Sacramento Republic in the U.S. Open Cup championship game last September.

Orlando certainly could be a team with the talent and the right mixture that could capture some of that magic and make a good tournament run.

But more than chasing a trophy, it is the experience that it would give a young team as they hope to make a playoff run. This is why the Magic should be very eagerly watching this draw and seeing what their path to Las Vegas in early December might be.

Again, nobody really knows how teams will treat this mid-season tournament. The fact it is all happening within the first two months of the season certainly creates a condensed timeline.

How quickly are players going to be ready to ramp up and prepare for these pressure games — is there an advantage of disadvantage to having so many players in the World Cup to continue playing high-intensity games? The Magic will have a lot of players in the World Cup — Paolo Banchero, Franz Wagner, Moe Wagner Joe Ingles and Goga Bitadze are all slated to play — maybe the Magic will not look to push their players hard early in the season.

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But there is a clear benefit for the Magic to play in these games and take this tournament seriously. And they should do so as an opportunity to feel what high-intensity games and preparation are like for their future playoff journeys.