Here are two things you need to know:
- The Golden State Warriors are really good.
- The New York Knicks are really bad.
Those things didn’t happen by accident. In Golden State, we have an example of brilliant franchise-building. In New York, we have one of the NBA’s biggest disasters. Here is, in the terms of the laity, how this works. Hopefully you can see in the Warriors a model of success and then understand how that methodology has not, is not, and will not be used by the Knicks. Here we go.
The Warriors had a magical run in 2006-2007 when they, as the 8th seed, knocked off the top-seeded Dallas Mavericks in the first round of the playoffs. The following year they inexplicably missed the playoffs despite winning 48 games. After that things went south. Their record the following season was 29-53. The next season things were even worse as the managed only 26 wins and management fired head coach Don Nelson. So let’s take stock of where the Warriors were when they had quite clearly bottomed out:
- They had a lot of young guys. One of them (Stephen Curry) would eventually become a star. A few they had drafted didn’t turn out so well (Kelenna Azabuike). Most of their young guys would go on to be solid role players somewhere else (Anthony Randolph, CJ Watson, Anthony Morrow, Brandan Wright). They were not exactly full of ascending stars.
- They did not have many established veterans that were going to help them win. Stephen Jackson was past his days with the Pacers and would soon dissolve into old-man territory and Corey Maggette was done being a productive player.
- Andris Biedrins was inexplicably making 9 million dollars per year.
- Their best player, Monta Ellis, was in his fifth year in the league and the jury was somewhat out on whether or not he would be a real star.
So basically they lacked a nucleus of reliable team leaders. Their best player was a ball-dominant volume scorer who didn’t play defense. There was not a great core of young guys to improve. They were also going through coaching changes. After firing Don Nelson, they gave Keith Smart only one year to try to improve things before turning to Mark Jackson, who inspired his players and forged a defensive identity. Let’s look at their current roster and how it was built from year to year:
2009: Draft Stephen Curry, who will become an MVP-caliber player.
2010: Sign-and-Trade for David Lee, who becomes their first major building block to go alongside Stephen Curry.
2011: Draft Klay Thompson, who comes into the league as a great shooter, but develops into a max-contract player.
- Trade for Andrew Bogut. The trade cost them Monta Ellis, but Bogut was the kind of center they needed. He was also out with an injury for the season when they acquired him, which helped them to tank and….
- Draft Harrison Barnes, who has become a very nice young player.
- Draft Festus Ezeli, a big man with some potential. Then, in the second round, they
- Draft Draymond Green. An absolute home run draft pick. Second round picks almost never develop into this kind of player. Green is now the versatile glue for the league’s best team.
- Sign-and-Trade for Andre Iguodala. A versatile, unselfish, defense-first quasi-star player. Would fit on any of the league’s 30 teams.
- Sign Mareese Speights, a decent post player who is now a legitimate candidate for Sixth Man of the Year.
- Sign Brandon Rush, a fine reserve player at little cost.
- Sign Justin Holiday, a formerly undrafted free agent two years out of college, who looks right at home giving the team some important minutes.
- Sign Shaun Livingston, one of the league’s best backup point guards.
- Sign Leandro Barbosa, a veteran, former Sixth Man of the Year.
So now in 2015 the Warriors have two star players in Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson. They have really useful veterans in David Lee, Andrew Bogut, and especially Andre Iguodala. They have young players growing into big roles. They have a ton of depth. They are built to play unselfishly and they excel defensively and offensively.
Much of this is due to the organization’s decision to fire Mark Jackson after last season and hire rookie head coach Steve Kerr. I can’t say that this is necessarily part of the model for building a champion, but it certainly seemed like Mark Jackson was reaching his ceiling as a coach and that Steve Kerr is a brilliant basketball mind. The bottomline is they found the right coach.
The Warriors face two major problems. The first is injuries, especially to Bogut and Lee. The Warriors can’t be blamed for buying damaged goods, as it wasn’t certain if the two were injury prone or not. They need both of them, but especially Bogut to be healthy in order to win it all, but at the very least their depth has allowed them replace those two when they are not in the starting lineup. The second problem is salary cap. They have been smart with spending their money, and have been good at clearing space, but Draymond Green, who is currently playing for less than a million dollars per year, has an expiring contract and will be worth probably 12-16 million dollars per year starting next season. Additionally, Barnes only has one more year before he is due for a raise. They have 15 million per year in David Lee, who only has one more year left, so that may give them some flexibility, but the fact remains that the Warriors won’t be able to keep all their guys, which makes their depth and development of young players all that much more important.
Bottomline, this is about as well as you can build a team. But it takes 5 or 6 years, smart spending, player development, and superb drafting.
So, using what we know about the Warriors, take a quick look at the New York Knicks:
What they’ve done: Demolish a team they built through the draft and by one great free agent signing (Amare Stoudemire). Trade away half that team for a ball dominant player (Carmelo Anthony) and run Amare into the ground until he’s broken. Have identity crises with coaching changes. Sign a bunch of really old guys. Trade for Bargnani. Re-signing Carmelo Anthony
What they’re doing: Insisting on running a system none of the players want to run, getting rid of players to clear cap space (and guarantee a major tank).
What they will do: Try to use their abundance of cap space to sign star players to join the aging Carmelo Anthony in order to throw together a team that a second year head coach can take to the Finals….
Bad signings, bad trades, bad coaching, and a dearth of developing young players.
There are a lot of ways to build a team in the NBA. Here we see, pretty clearly, one outstanding way and its opposite.
Oh and the Cavaliers are in trouble.
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Soli Deo Gloria