The NBA's various summer leagues are entertaining events with no clear importance. While they function well as chances for coaching staffs to get new players up to speed on offensive and defensive sets, there's only so much that these teams can do in a few short weeks with rosters made up of draft picks and random invitees. These are events with limited utility and interest, almost by definition.
Nevertheless, the NBA has decided to change up the format of the Las Vegas Summer League, the biggest and most high-profile of all (a relative designation, obviously). From Ric Bucher for CSNBayArea.com (via SLAM):
NBA teams have been notified that the Las Vegas Summer League is incorporating an NCAA-tournament style bracket that will crown a definitive champion, sources say, with an incentive beyond bragging rights to win it all: the winner has their additional expenses for playing longer covered by the league.
The recompense is an important component because teams are looking at their line-item expenses more than ever these days and the costs of having a Summer League team is one of the biggest. One general manager, speaking on condition of anonymity, said it is the second-biggest item on his budget, topped only by the cost of preseason training camp. Teams, on average, bring with them a 40- to 50-person contingent that includes players, coaches and support staff. The league schedule is held over 10 days but teams often come in several days early for a pre-league mini-training camp.
Referring to "bragging rights" for becoming Vegas Summer League champion is hopefully a joke, because it's hard to imagine any team getting that excited about winning a league with lightly attended games that air exclusively on NBA TV. (Although I could see the Golden State Warriors getting into it, since they seem to have the league's best team every summer.) It's hard to imagine a single-elimination tournament doing that much to increase fan interest, because these are still games with bizarre rules (10 fouls per player!) played by teammates just getting to know each other.
It's simply not very good basketball. While there are plenty of reasons for NBA diehards to watch Summer League — it's cool to see recent draftees in an NBA context for the first time — it's unlikely that anyone else will flock to these games with regularity. The new format will make things more fun, simply because single-elimination can make competition pretty intense. But that doesn't mean it's any more meaningful.
And that's perfectly fine! It's easy to get caught up in the idea that every decision the NBA makes needs to boost fan involvement or reach new markets, but sometimes it's enough to embrace a goofy idea and make things a little more fun for the small group of people who care. The Vegas Summer League appeals to NBA employees, writers, diehard fans. If they enjoy the experience more, then a single-elimination tournament will have done its job. Why does it need an ultimate objective beyond fun?
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