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The Raptors In-Season Tournament player survey

Dennis Schroder Dennis Schroder - The Canadian Press

The Toronto Raptors finally make their In-Season Tournament debut this week, becoming the last of the NBA’s 30 teams to do so.

They’ll host the Boston Celtics on Friday in the first of four East Group C contests this month, with games against Orlando (Nov. 21), Chicago (Nov. 24) and Brooklyn (Nov. 28) to follow.

From there, the team with the best standing within that group will advance to the Knockout Rounds – single-elimination games to be played in early December – along with the top seed in each of the other five groups and one wild-card team from each conference.

It all culminates with the Championship Game, which will take place in Las Vegas on Dec. 9 to decide the first-ever winners of the NBA Cup.

Zion Williamson PelicansTeams that qualify for the Knockout Rounds will split a prize pool of roughly $18 million, with players and coaches from the championship club each receiving $500,000.

The inaugural event tipped off earlier this month – some teams have played three games, and the 0-3 Memphis Grizzlies are already mathematically eliminated – and, so far, the event is earning mixed reviews.

While viewership is up from this point last season, according to ESPN, the concept has been a polarizing one among fans and the media from the moment it was conceived. Is the format too convoluted and difficult to follow? Is there enough at stake to keep players engaged or pique the interest of fans? Are the signature jerseys and court designs too much?

Before getting their first taste of the In-Season Tournament, TSN surveyed Raptors players to get their thoughts on the NBA’s newest experiment.

(Interviews have been edited for length and clarity)

1. What was your initial reaction when you heard the NBA was thinking of doing an in-season tournament?

Dennis Schroder: I think it’s great. It’s like soccer, like the FA Cup, a second competition during the season. So, I think it’s great that they brought it to the NBA. Of course, it’s different or new for everybody, but it’s going to be great. Every game counts. Of course, you want to give everything you have in every game, but the In-Season Tournament, you gotta win to be able to go to Vegas. It’s going to be great for the fans as well.

Thaddeus Young: Money grab (laughs). No, I know they want to make sure our TV ratings are where they’re supposed to be, and I know this is a way to kind of get the teams and the guys going a little bit at the beginning part of the season going towards the middle part. I think it’s a really good opportunity for us to see, with the teams that make it to Vegas, what that market brings to the NBA, and how many people will be watching, how many eyes will be on something like this. This is a really good opportunity for us to spruce things up around the league, and for our fans and for us as players to go out there and be more competitive a little bit, as well.

Jakob Poeltl: I’ll just wait and see what it’s actually like. We can talk about it, but until we’ve done it for a season, and you get to experience the whole thing and see what actually changes, I think that’s the big thing. Initially, I was thinking we play a lot of games already, so I don’t want to add more games to our schedule. But so far it seems like they did a pretty good job of managing that in a way where we’re not adding a ton of extra games to our schedule. So, we’ll see.

Gradey Dick: I thought it was interesting. Obviously, I have nothing to really base it off of because this is my first year, but I think it just brings more competition, competitive spirit. You’re going to be competitive every night but then when you’ve got something on the line like that then it’s going to build it up and make it fun for everyone.

2. Is the prize money (and bragging rights) enough to incentivize players?

Pascal Siakam: I think as players you just want to play. I don’t know how much the money actually helps the guys on the teams, unless you’re not making any money or you’re on the vet minimum, or whatever. But I think just going out there competing, going to a different place like Vegas, that will get guys going. And if you have a chance to play for something like a trophy, why not?

Garrett Temple: It’s enough to incentivize most players to take things maybe a little more seriously than they would have. At the end of the day we’re all competitors in our own right but I guarantee you [during] the championship game it’s not like you’re going to have guys out there playing like it’s an all-star game. People are going to be playing. I think it does incentivize guys a good bit but a regular-season game in general is incentive enough, honestly.

Dick: Of course. It’s money at the end of the day and that’s what everyone’s kind of after. It’s one of those things where, yeah, you’re playing basketball but if you get a little reward for it then who’s not going to play harder?

Poeltl: It’s going to be different from player to player. For me personally, no, I don’t think it’s going to be very different for me because I think we take these games seriously no matter what.

3. Is there anything the league could do to make it more interesting for players and teams? Would, say, an extra draft pick or automatic playoff spot move the needle?

Young: That doesn’t incentivize us as players. That incentivizes the front office. We’re starting it off the way that it should be. This is a pilot year, so you beta test everything and see how it goes and then you take the good and throw out the bad as we continue to go, if we’re going to continue to do it.

Temple: An automatic playoff spot is pretty tough for me to say because the other 76 games you could go 7-69 and you get a playoff bid just because you won six games in a row? I don’t like that idea. I don’t know what they could do. I think that the cash is incentive for the actual players themselves. In terms of incentives for the teams, obviously an extra draft pick, maybe something like that.

Siakam: That would make it cool. I think that would make it dope. I think it’s already going to give [the season] a little bit of a boost but that would definitely make guys go for it, for sure.

Poeltl: No, I don’t think it’s a matter of that and I don’t think it should be either. I don’t think it should have anything to do with how the regular season or how the playoffs are played. I kind of look at it in a similar way as football or soccer in Europe, where you’ve got a league and a cup competition. Usually teams care more to win the league but it’s still nice, it’s still a trophy that you can win if you win a cup. So, I think it’s going to be similar, where it’s not really going to change the end goal of the season, which is to win the league, but you’re still going to want to win these games and then you’re going to want to put yourself in a position to win this tournament, and if you win it that’s obviously a success. It can still be part of your season goals, I guess.

4. Finish the sentence. The tournament court designs are…

Raptors court

Dick: Unique. I think it’s cool. It’s kind of like the playground. It just makes it fun. It’s weird to see but when you see them you know that it’s the tournament. So, I guess it’s a good look.

Young: Crazy. Some of the courts are crazy because of the colour, like how it shows up on TV. So I’m like, ‘Oh s--t, this is kinda hard to watch the games.’ But for the most part it’s another way to grasp attention and engage fans and I think it’s a cool idea.

Temple: Bright. Very bright.

Siakam: Weird. Some of them are weird.

Suns court
Phoenix Suns court. 

Schroder: Insane. It’s a lot of colour. But they had to do something to make it a little bit separate from normal. I like it a lot.

Poeltl: Different. Dark. I’ve seen a lot of dark courts. I’m not a big fan of dark courts. I don’t like when the main colour of the court is a darker shade. But we’ll play the game either way. It doesn’t make that big of a difference.

5. Do you think the in-season tournament can work in the NBA and is it here to stay?

Temple: Playing my one season in Italy [during the 2011-12 lockout season] and then just talking to a lot of guys from overseas and understanding how the fans overseas and the players overseas are so invested in the in-season tournament, I think it’s something that definitely has staying power. And I think it will provide a little more eyes on the TVs or on the phones or on the iPads, whatever you want to say. Obviously, we’ll find out in the next three weeks if it works, but I think it will have some staying power.

Young: I think it is [here to stay] just for the simple fact that it adds things to the league. It adds a little bit of spice to what we’ve been trying to do for the past couple years as far as building up for our new TV deals with the league and building up for the change that’s coming within in the league if we’re going to do expansion and stuff like that. So it helps out a lot.

Dick: I think it should be great. I’m not the viewership, so I don’t really understand that side of it. But it’s a long season and if one month the viewers are down, whatever month it is, you do something like this, and I feel like it’ll bring it all the way up. So, I think it’s a good thing. I think people will gravitate towards it.

Schroder: I think it’s going to engage a lot of people who don’t even watch basketball. The different courts, it’s just a completely different vibe. I think it’s great for the game.