NBA Teams Rely On Stars
Published: Friday, November 1, 2013
Updated: Friday, November 1, 2013 01:11
This year, the NBA season figures to be a great example of the old cliche of the “haves and have-nots.” Surprisingly, the teams in these two extreme tiers of the league are far more similar to each other than what is obvious at first glance.
The Miami Heat, San Antonio Spurs, Chicago Bulls, Oklahoma City Thunder, Brooklyn Nets and Los Angeles Clippers all possess ridiculous talent at the top of their rosters. The Indiana Pacers are the only ones to buck this trend, with no superstars on their squad — although Paul George is quickly getting there. At the bottom of the league, the Philadelphia 76ers, Phoenix Suns, Utah Jazz, Charlotte Bobcats, Boston Celtics, Orlando Magic and possibly Toronto Raptors are all doing whatever they can to develop or search for this kind of top-tier talent, and nothing else even comes close as a top priority.
Teams like the Jazz, Magic and Bobcats could be hoping that their young talent develops into superstars, but they may resign themselves to the mindsets of the other basement teams by season’s end. The 76ers, Suns and Celtics — and possibly the Raptors, depending what they do as far as in-season trades go — are all trying to bottom out and get a high draft pick in a loaded draft class next year. The 76ers, for example, took tanking to a comical low even before the season started by waiting until Aug. 14 to hire a head coach. They traded their best player for a 2014 first round pick and Nerlens Noel, a rookie who might not play his entire first season. The Celtics dealt their two best players, Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce, to the Brooklyn Nets, and they dealt head coach Doc Rivers to the L.A. Clippers. Both trades returned little value for this upcoming season. Many expect them to trade their remaining valuable assets, Brandon Bass, Jeff Green and especially point guard Rajon Rondo during the season — again for little value this season. The Suns decided that they had to copy the 76ers by trading one of their best players for a first round draft pick and a player currently on the sidelines.
There’s a reason that the haves and have-nots are tied together, and there’s a reason that the have-nots are trying to bottom out almost as quickly as Amanda Bynes. Next to nobody wins in the NBA without superstar talent on the roster. Looking at past champions proves this. The 2012 and 2013 Heat had LeBron and Wade, the 2011 Dallas Mavericks had Nowitzki, the 2009 and 2010 Lakers had Kobe and Gasol, the 2008 Celtics had the Big 3, and the 2007, 2005, and 2003 Spurs had Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili. The only exception in recent years, which the Indiana Pacers will try to emulate, are the 2004 Pistons, who didn’t have anybody that will one day be counted as an all-time Top 50 NBA player. But by and large, nobody wins in the NBA without top-level talent.
We can also look at teams that came up just short. The Magic lost in the 2009 Finals with Dwight Howard, while the 2012 Thunder lost in the Finals with an amazing core of three young superstars.
And, speaking of that same Thunder squad, it’s important to consider what will go down as one of the biggest, and possibly worst, trades in recent memory. Thunder GM Sam Presti dealt superstar James Harden for Kevin Martin (who only had one year left on his contract), Jeremy Lamb and three draft picks. Presti had been seen as the best GM in the league, constantly avoiding overpaying role players and doing whatever he could to get the most out of his superstars. It’s always nice when you are lucky enough to draft Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and James Harden in consecutive drafts, considering that draft picks can blow up in a team’s face (Greg Oden was drafted right before Durant in 2007), but Presti received his due acclimation for being a great GM.
And then he threw away that title. He believed that he could make up for the high level of play from Harden with a year of Kevin Martin and the future contributions of Lamb and the upcoming picks. Well, Martin’s scoring declined by 3.1 points per game, Lamb averaged 3.1 ppg and, to top it all off, Westbrook got injured before the team could go deep in the playoffs, wasting Martin’s one year with the team. OKC was blessed with three superstars when most teams don’t have one. After all, all three players were on the Gold-medal winning Olympic team only a few months before, and that was at 23, 23 and 22 years old. Presti made the mistake of believing that role players generally can fill in for superstars. Such a thought is downright false, and I’m still surprised that such an accomplished GM made the mistake. As NBA writer Bill Simmons is fond of saying, you should always trade coins for paper, not the other way around.
The top teams can win this year because they have top talent. Whether this talent was acquired through luck or savvy personnel moves, it’s the recipe with a correlation pretty close to one. And seeing that formula, can you really blame any of the terrible teams for tanking and doing whatever they can to be in that position?
Tom Hoff is a junior in the McDonough School of Business. Down to the Wire appears every Friday.