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ESPN’s Cassidy Hubbarth on In-Season Tournament, change in the NBA, and the Celtics

The ESPN host and reporter revealed her insight into the new changes around the league.

2022 NBA Finals Practice and Media Availability Photo by Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images

Change is scary. And while that may sound overdramatic in the context of professional basketball, Boston Celtics fans are a group that respects history above all. They proudly root for one of the most famed franchises in the sport, and when that history is altered, it’s a problem.

With the new In-Season Tournament has come a new trophy to play for, new jerseys, and, for the first time in Celtics history, a new court on the floor of TD Garden (or any Garden, for that matter).

Not having the parquet on the floor, which the Celtics attempted to save, is a change most fans are upset with, but the tournament floor isn’t a knock at Boston’s history. Instead, it’s a change of pace meant to keep up with an ever-changing league.

“Every year, we have different rules changing,” ESPN’s Cassidy Hubbarth told CelticsBlog. “This game, as much as it’s enriched with history, is constantly changing because the fan of the game is constantly changing.”

The new court will only be used for In-Season Tournament games. It’s not replacing the parquet. After Boston’s first tournament win over the Brooklyn Nets on Friday night, the court was immediately replaced by the usual decor for the second night of a back-to-back against the Toronto Raptors in the same building.

Around the league, fans have been split as to their feelings on the new In-Season Tournament courts. Some are clean (see the Utah Jazz’s) while others have been referred to as a sight for sore eyes (i.e. the Indiana Pacers). But they’re serving their purpose.

As the game continues to change, the NBA is always trying to find ways of getting new eyes tuned in. Ways to get fans engaged. And for better or for worse, the courts have made headlines.

“Say what you want about the courts,” Hubbarth said. “Yes, they are loud. Some may be ugly. But they’re effective in my mind because people are talking about them, and it feels different. Immediately when you turn on the TV, [they give off] that ‘Whoa, something’s happening here.’ And I think that was the whole point.”

The In-Season Tournament as a whole has drawn a lot of skepticism, as is the case with most new experiments. For the entire existence of the NBA, teams’ only goal has been to win a championship. And now, there’s a new trophy being placed in front of them right in the middle of their title quest.

While the games also count as regular season contests, giving teams enough reason to put forth their best effort, excitement for the In-Season Tournament isn’t going to build overnight.

The first few games are going to feel the same as the other 81 (outside of the obvious new courts), but as the chance to compete in the tournament in Sin City inches closer, the vibes could switch.

“I think right now, people are just trying to understand what’s happening, and players are getting a lot of questions, like, ‘Are you excited?’” Hubbarth explained. “And some are like, ‘Well, not really, it’s just a regular game.’ But once we get to the knockout stages, once the teams have Vegas in their sight line, then I think it will be something that teams can really understand and kind of galvanize around.”

Hubbarth said that players around the league are taking a “let’s find out” mentality toward the tournament. And for fans, that should be the initial mindset, too.

Casting off something new simply because it’s new is pointless. Had the NBA done that throughout its history, the three-point line wouldn’t exist. The entire fabric of the game revolves around adaptation. And for the Celtics, they have a real chance to be a part of the history being made.

Boston started In-Season Tournament group play 1-0 with their win over Brooklyn on Friday, and their new-look core has all the talent to make noise in the tournament and throughout the season.

“I think that starting six, if you will, is one of the strongest in the league,” Hubbarth said. “[It’s] up against the Nuggets right now. Kristaps seems to be really finding his groove with this team.

“And in talking to Jrue Holiday, I asked him, ‘Where does the starting five stack up among all the starting fives you’ve been a part of?’ And he goes, ‘It’s up there.’ It’s a pick-your-poison group in terms of not just offensively but defensively.”

The NBA sees how fans have reacted to the In-Season Tournament. They know some of the courts haven’t been received well. But that’s the beauty of change in the NBA - it can also be changed.

“That’s the way you got to go about it when you’re trying something new, and you’re trying to get fans engaged,” Hubbarth said. “You listen to the feedback, and then you adjust from there. And I think Adam Silver has proven that’s something he’s not afraid of.”

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