For Christmas, my wife got me Bill Simmons’ Book of Basketball, which is a fascinating read I would highly recommend, despite the fact (or possibly because of the fact) that it’s over 700 pages. Honestly, I haven’t finished it and the first two chapters are far better than anything that has followed (so far), but it’s still a great read.
So reading the book made think about how to build a Championship team. Well, that and a recent discussion I had with a couple of people online who questioned what I would do to build a Championship team in Toronto.
So, the first chapter in Simmons’ book is called “The Secret” which I won’t get into here, as I think you should read the book yourself. If you’re a basketball fan, it’s a must. And make sure you get the newly updated paperback addition, which is the one I’ve got and has added something like 1400 pages, or something.
Suffice is to say, the “Secret” is the secret to winning an NBA Championship. And it’s something I find infinitely fascinating.
To me, the only goal of any NBA GM should be to build a Championship team. And any fan’s ultimate dream should be for his team to win the NBA Championship. If it’s not, and you would honestly be content with a team that simply competes and possibly make it to the second round of the playoffs, then I have very little in common with you even if we happen to cheer for the same team.
I couldn’t find the quote, but Charles Barkley once said that most of the NBA’s GMs don’t care about winning a Championship. He said there are only a handful of teams that are actually committed to winning a Championship, and the rest are just trying to save their jobs. To them, success is simply building a competitive team, even if it’s at the cost of a Championship.
Let me explain that last sentence.
When Bryan Colangelo took over the Toronto Raptors, the best player on the team was Chris Bosh. Now, Bosh is/was a very good player. A perennial All-Star and a 20-10 big man in a league where that is rare. Colangelo decided to build the team around this All-Star and he went out and surrounded him with a bunch of very good role players, including a couple from Europe, and they went out and won a franchise best 47 games and won the Atlantic Division and home court advantage in the first round of the playoffs.
That 2007 team was a team that was build to compete, but it would never win a Championship. There were several reasons why.
The first is that the team simply didn’t have a lot of “upside”. Upside is a rather vague term and can be a scary thing when referring to player are can’t actually play very well, but exhibits a few skills that make everyone hopeful he might one day be able to. In this respect, though, it simply means that the majority of the players were at or past their prime. Anthony Parker, Jorge Garbajosa, Morris Peterson and Rasho Nesterovic were all, at least, 29 years old. The average age of the all the players who played at least 20 mpg was 26.5 years.
You see, if you want to be competitive, the easiest way to do it is to get a roster full of veterans. Obviously these guys need to know how to play, but you don’t need a superstar if you have a team full of veterans. Philadelphia started the year as one of the worst teams, but the minute they started playing their veterans more over their young players, lo and behold, they started winning.
The other big problem with the Raptors was, unfortunately, Chris Bosh. Now, I’ve often felt that he was unfairly criticized and his accomplishments in Toronto have been minimized since he left, but the fact of the matter is that Bosh is simply not the type of big man who is going to be able to lead your team to a title.
Bosh made the All-NBA 2nd team the year they won 47 games and has done the best he could do. But he’s not a great defensive player, something you pretty much need to be to lead your team to a title, if you’re a big man. You want to know why a team like San Antonio never made a run for Chris Bosh even though many thought he would be perfect to play beside Duncan and eventually replace him? Because they know the secret to winning. And it involves having your best big man also being your defensive anchor.
Colangelo tried for four years to build a team around Bosh, but in the end, failed, partly because he couldn’t get the right parts, but mostly because Bosh was simply not the type of player that you can build around.
Colangelo had a problem immediately after he took over, but Bosh was simply too good and too young, so trading him away would have been ludicrous.
In many ways, Bosh leaving was the best for the Toronto Raptors.
It hurt because players that good simply don’t come around very often. In 15 years, Bosh was one of the two best players in franchise history. In the NBA talent wins and Bosh had loads of talent.
Bosh leaving, however, allowed the team to do something they really needed to do. And that’s rebuild.
Rebuild the team the right way. Build a team that not just competes, but contends.
Fast forward to today. The Raptors get blown out in Orlando and go winless on their recent road trip. And I’m fine with it. Because I know the team is rebuilding and that wins don’t matter. In fact, wins might actually HURT rebuilding. Every win takes the Raptors farther away from a top 3 pick in the draft. And while the draft isn’t a guarantee of anything, it’s always been the safest and surest way to rebuild.
Now watching a team that is basically on the first step to rebuilding is difficult. They lose. A lot. But the losses don’t hurt as much if you see glimpses of the future. To me, the emergence of Ed Davis is probably the best thing of the season. You see, Davis has the type of game that wins. He won in high school and he won in college. Some players are great players, but they don’t know how to win. They don’t understand what it takes to win. Ed Davis does.
This relates to Bill Simmons’ book and his chapter about why Bill Russell is a better player than Wilt Chamberlain. Read it and you’ll understand what I mean.
Not to say that Davis is anything close to a finished product. He is woefully underweight and any shot he takes beyond five feet is an adventure, but he does the little things, he’s got good instincts and he’s not afraid of hard work. Right now, he’s the most promising Raptor and possibly the only untouchable player on the roster.
DeMar DeRozan is developing well and it’s exciting to see him excelling on offense, but he’s still got a lot of work to do in other aspects of the game. Thankfully, he’s just 21 years old, so he’s still got a lot of time, and is a hard worker.
Amir Johnson is playing up to his contract and has possibly the most positive impact on the team when he’s on the court, but he is what he is. Certainly a guy who can be a rotation player, or even a starter, on a contender, but probably will never sniff an All-Star game.
The team has some nice pieces. They won’t win a lot of games, but in some ways, that’s a good thing. As I said, it means there’s more chance of getting a higher pick, but it also means that Colangelo isn’t trapped the way he was when he first took over the team. There’s not an All-Star on the team, so he isn’t forced to build around a flawed player. Realistically, he can trade any player on the team and not get a whole lot of backlash for it, as long as it puts the team on the next step.
In one of my next posts, I’m going to discuss how the Raptors can build a real contender.