Best Case Scenario

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Published: August 1, 2010

The blog entry “Is Paul Leaving the Worst Case Scenario?” stirred debate as to how the Hornets franchise should be built. One section particularly intrigued me.

The author states:

I look at a team like the Milwaukee Bucks, for instance, and see a direction that I would never take personally. They have a nice team that is built to make the playoffs for the next five to seven years, but have absolutely zero chance of ever winning an NBA title. Zero. A squad full of good, but not great pieces that play hard every night but will just not have enough talent to get through four quality teams come playoff time.

This is an interesting take for a fan of another small market NBA team with a similar ceiling. Its true; the Bucks do not have a top NBA player and a championship is very unlikely in Milwaukee. The Hornets do have a top player, but based on the roster created by the previous GM, a championship is just as unlikely in New Orleans over the next five to seven years.

What really interests me though, is when the author asks in the comments if anyone would follow the path that the Bucks have. To answer the question: Yes. I would do what the Bucks are doing. I have a 20 year old pg coming off a fine rookie year. I have a 26 year old center, arguably one of the 5 best in the NBA. I have solid pieces around those two building blocks. Did I overpay this off season for veteran pieces that I believe fit my plan ? Probably, but I still have cap flexibility this year and going forward. I also have a respected coach who will get the most out of these young guys.

My question to the author is, what would you have them do? Should they blow it all up and hope to get lucky with the number 1 pick? That already happened with Andrew Bogut. Or maybe they should lure a top flight FA to Milwaukee? Good luck with that.

Modern NBA Reality

The author used his post to talk about how only teams with superstars win titles. There is a great deal of truth to that, but let’s look at this from another angle. Start at 1983-84 season, the first LA/Boston Finals and what many consider the birth of the modern NBA (this point is a bit arbitrary but I think its a reasonable spot).

Since that time there have been 27 NBA Champions. 17 of the 27 (63%) come from LA, Boston, and Chicago. 6 of the remaining 10 come from Miami, Detroit, Houston. So that is 23 of the last 27 (85%) championships for those six cities, all top 10 largest Metropolitan populations in the 2000 census. The winner of the remaining 4 titles was the San Antonio Spurs- number 28 in the Census survey and small market model franchise. How did they create a dynasty, winning four titles over eight years, as a small market NBA team? 

The Blueprint

Short answer: they got very lucky to land one of the 5 greatest players ever in Tim Duncan in the lottery. However, the luck ends there. Compare the Spurs’ title winning rosters to the roster of any of the other champions. Only three players from all the Spurs’ title teams could be classified as All-Stars: past his prime David Robinson, Tony Parker, and Manu Ginobili. That they won four titles with so little talent on their rosters is a testament not only to the brilliance of Duncan, but also to the genius of the Spurs front office. The Spurs never broke the bank on high priced free agents. They have cheap veterans (Johnson, Bowen, Horry) and developed young players (Parker, Ginobili, Stephen Jackson, George Hill) who mesh with their cornerstone. The Spurs built a team to compete every year around their foundation and within their system while staying financially flexible. Compare what the Spurs FO did with Duncan to what the Cleveland FO did with LeBron. Its Einstein vs Blutarsky- no contest.

Many small market teams, like the Bucks, are copying the Spurs. The key difference is that the Bucks do not have the greatest PF ever as their foundation and their team’s ceiling is limited by this fact. The author thinks this makes the Bucks strategy a waste of time. I disagree. The object of any franchise should be to put the best product possible on the court every night, to deliver to your fans. Titles are the ultimate goal, but unless a miracle happens (Garnett to BOS, Gasol to LA), teams don’t go from also-rans to title contenders over night. You need a culture and a consistency of winning. No one knows how a team will gel and how young players will mature. Could Jennings turn into a top NBA player over the next 5 years? Yes. If he does, the Bucks have pieces in place to become a real contender. If not, they still gave their fans several winning seasons.

What Demps Will Do

As I said above, the Hornets are in the same category as the Bucks- not contenders, but not lottery winners either. If we can safely assume Demps has a San Antonio approach, he will, with or without Paul, build around his franchise player(s) with talents that mesh. He will create a team that is competitive on a yearly basis while staying financially sound. I do not expect a finished product this year. And it might be painful to watch as a Hornets fan, but I believe in Demps. He will turn it around.

Does this mean the Hornets will be guaranteed a shot at title? No. Talent does matter and small market teams have a huge mountain to climb under the current CBA. But this does guarantee the Hornets have a plan and will be worth watching. They will become consistent winners which is all I can ask as a paying customer and fan.

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