How to Build an NBA Champion

Building a winner in the NBA takes patience, intelligence, and a little bit of luck. 

If you follow the happenings in New York, Charlotte, Philadelphia (under Billy King), Minnesota, or any other hapless NBA cities, you’ll notice one recurring theme that keeps unfortunate fans rooting for perennial losers: poor management.

There’s nothing worse than watching your team flail away, constantly swimming upstream and toiling in mediocrity while other teams make moves that give themselves legitimate chances at contending for a title.  In the NBA there is nothing worse than the middle ground, where a team has no chance at large-scale improvement but finds itself just good enough to stay out of the running for landing a franchise pillar in the draft. 

Seeing as I’ve lived through both the good and the bad as a Celtics fan, I’ve decided to create a rulebook for running an NBA franchise.  Here goes:

  1. Always look to pick up assets.  If you can get a second rounder or perhaps the right to swap first round picks 5 years down the road, take it, it can’t hurt.
  2. Take chances, but only with a specific purpose.  If your team needs a specific position filled, sign a guy on a flyer for one year or perhaps even a 10 day contract.  If it doesn’t work, get rid of him.
  3. Have a plan, and don’t deviate from it unless there is a championship to be won.  That means Chicago and Kobe–if the right deal comes along that would reshape your team, give it serious thought and then act decisively.
  4. Avoid overpaying unless it means instant contention–the Rashard Lewis signing is a perfect example of overpaying and ruining a chance at contending for years to come.  The Magic spent their cap money (and gave Lewis more than necessary in a terrible sequence of moves) on a guy who would never be considered the best player on a team with title aspirations.  Now, instead of combining Dwight Howard with another stud deserving of a max deal, the team is pigeonholed into its current construction for years to come, with no easy chance at taking the next step.
  5. Don’t make a move just to make a move.  “Mixing things up” is not an acceptable rationale for making a trade.
  6. Decide what style of play will lead to the quickest chance at winning and acquire players and coaches who will fit that system.  If you luck into acquiring a young building block like Kevin Durant, create a stystem that will best utilize his talents and surround him with players and coaches capable of bringing out his best.
  7. Identify a player’s value and stick to it.  Cap space won’t disappear, so if there’s no one worthy of a max deal one off-season, wait till someone becomes available.  If a fanbase and owner can’t understand that then deal with the repercussions, someone will give you another chance if you do things correctly.
  8. Draft well–that means spending the necessary time and money on evaluating players.  Create your big board and don’t vary from it unless your team is already a contender looking for a specific piece.  That’s how you get a collection of talent like the Atlanta Hawks instead of a well-built team–some years they draft the best available player, other years they draft for a need, and others they simply select a terrible player.  If you want a specific guy, trade up or down to where he should be selected, never reach.
  9. Get on the same page with your owner.  Knowing your budget will give you the best chance at winning in your market.  Some teams can’t afford (or choose not) to pay the luxury tax, some can.  Knowing ahead of time is the way to avoid selling off draft picks and key front court defenders like the Suns have done in recent years.
  10. Be proactive rather than reactive.  When things are going great, as they are for the Celtics right now, there is always a chance that an injury could sabotage a team.  Knowing your weaknesses and addressing them before they become an issue, such as lack of point guard depth for Boston, can prove to be the key to avoiding overpaying for a necessary boost.

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