Analysis: Building a Championship Team

After seeing multiple KG threads (including the current one), I've seen that it always comes down to one common conflict:

Should a team (our Warriors) gamble on what might be short-term upgrade toward the league elite?


Should the team stand pat, collecting and developing young talent?

I believe this topic has merit beyond KG, so I'm sharing my personal philosophy on the matter.

Let's first look at who, in fact, at what teams have won NBA championships. For those whose memory is a bit foggy, here is a listing of past champions.

A few teams will stand out because they appear so often (i'll go back to 1979-1980, for a total of 29 seasons)

Los Angeles
San Antonio

That's 29 seasons. Miami won one in '05-'06; Philly won it in '82-'83. Houston had a couple during the Jordan Intermission. That's it.

29 years, and those 5 teams account for every single championship bar four years. This is a truly exclusive club, so if you want to break into that club or stay in that club, you better have some luck, and more importantly, you better have some courage.

As I said in the KG diary below, you can't really pass up opportunities to elevate yourself when those chances arise.

The 80's Celtics and Lakers were headed by 2 of the 3 best players ever: Larry Bird and Magic Johnson.

The six-time champion Bulls got probably the best player, Michael Jordan.

The team interrupted the Bulls got another legend, Hakeem Olajowon.

The three-peat Lakers of the late '90s were founded on Shaq.

All of these guys I mentioned are generational talents, they only come along a couple times a decade. The Spurs are thanking their lucky stars they got Duncan instead of Keith Van Horn. Cleveland might have struck gold in Lebron James. Seattle and Portland are hoping to be the next lucky ones with Durant and Oden.

So you want to win a championship? Draft a future Hall of Famer/NBA Legend.

What about the rest of the teams that weren't so lucky? How do you break into a club you when you haven't been annointed with lucky ping-pong balls?

Look at '03-'04 Pistons and '05'-06 Heat:

Joe Dumars took a huge risk adding Rasheed Wallace to a Pistons team already heading to the playoffs. Why? Because he thought good enough wasn't quite good enough. Wallace was a known trouble maker, loathed by the league, punished regularly by refs,  and no spring chicken either (he was around 30 at the time). Rasheed very easily could have disrupted the locker room and sent the Pistons crashing out of the playoffs or into a first-round exit. Instead, he played like the multitalented, ferocious PF that he is capable of being and got Detroit a ring in the process. The next year, the Pistons went back to the Finals.

What if the Pistons held on to those two first round draft picks and decided...nah...let's see how far our core can go cuz Rasheed might leave after we trade for him (he was an impending FA)? Well, they sure as heck don't go to consecutive Finals.

Next, take a gander at the Miami Heat. With Wade, Butler, and Odom, they were a playoff team with some nice young talent. They dealt two of those talents (Butler and Odom with Brian Grant) for Shaquille O'Neal, went to the Eastern Finals, then the year after, beat the hapless Mavericks for the championship.

They could have kept their Wade/Butler/Odom core, but who thinks that core would have made it to the Finals and beaten the Mavs or Spurs or whomever they could have faced from the West? Instead, they took Shaq, gave up two very good young players, blew any though of financial breathing room, and took a huge risk on an over-30 big man with injury problems. All they got in exchange was a championship.

Detroit and Miami took massive gambles because it was the only way to separate themselves from "good" to "championship".

The Phoenix Suns could also fit the bill despite not winning any trophies because they've been no worse than the second or third best team in the league for the last 3 years. For about a decade between '94-'04 the Suns ranged from decent to good. Then they signed this 30 year old point guard named Steve Nash (and had hired D'antoni midway through the previous season), and all of a sudden their collection of nice young talent was the most exciting team in the league, effectively playing for a championship for three years in a row. Nash wasn't cheap, and there were questions about his ability to take a team far...but again, bigtime gamble lead to bigtime success. Were it not for the current scandal, who knows, they might have a trophy for vindication.

All of this, if you bothered to read through it, means that unless you're lucky enough to draft one of the greatest players of all-time, you don't build a championship squad by holding onto your pieces. The only way to a championship is to seize the opportunities that arise before you.

Sometimes a gamble isn't enough, sometimes they fail. Denver gambled on Iverson, giving away a ton of cap space and a quality PG in Miller (and picks); Houston traded for McGrady and gave him a giant (Lewis-sized) contract. Neither has seen results (yet).

All of me, the bottom line for all the teams that don't have the next Jordan or Duncan:

  • Hold onto your young talent and cap space and try to "develop" and you won't win a championship.
  • Make a big trade for a franchise talent and you just might.
  • Just ome things to keep in mind the next time a "KG" diary pops up or the next time some big trade looms ahead...

    This FanPost is a submission from a member of the mighty Golden State of Mind community. While we're all here to throw up that W, these words do not necessarily reflect the views of the GSoM Crew. Still, chances are the preceding post is Unstoppable Baby!

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