The Downbeat #888 - Yesterday Shall Be Struck From the Record

Tom Szczerbowski-US PRESSWIRE

Lets ignore some of yesterday's darker moments like so many text messages, conversations, or phone calls after a few too many libations.

Yesterday, distractions aside, Yucca posted a thought provoking article about the meaning of the win in Toronto. The ensuing discussion evolved into some very fascinating banter on some very deep topics, and it was very interesting. Of course, it then derailed like so many Californian Amtrak's. But the main point was interesting. As I see it there are two ways to judge the outcome of that game:

1. Pure results. This method would draw meaning from that game based on its impact on the teams' record. Do they go on a winning streak? Win a large percentage of the next 10? Improve their road record dramatically over the next several away games?

2. Its affect on the development of the team. This may or may not immediately correlate into results as mentioned in 1, but will it serve to advance the cohesion of the team along an identified progression that all teams go through?

I've said it many times, but for the newer readers: I'm a Senior in an undergraduate management program. Thus, I find it fascinating to analyze these teams and identify the events that shape the teams development. The most widely held management theory about the development of teams, states that all of them go through 4 stages: Forming, Norming, Storming, and Performing. This absolutely applies to sports teams. If you take any team you can identify events that took place that would accurately indicate where the team stood in its development. For example, we could look at the signing of Bosh and James in Miami and the ensuing introduction event held in Miami as the "Forming" stage of that team. During the subsequent seasons they went through a number of growing pains in which various members came and went, but the core of the team was figuring out their roles and after some struggles, both internal and external, would eventually achieve success.

FORMING

Certainly, not all teams achieve the level of success that Heat team did. Perhaps that is not the goal of every team, or perhaps it is more of an Everest Goal that is realistically out of reach. However, the process and the progression remains largely the same. How does this relate to the Raptors game? If we look at this Jazz team on the macro level, we see a team following this path. They came together in training camp, the forming stage, and all the players began to associate with each other and learn a number of things. They learn each others' personalities, their various characteristics, their backgrounds, and therefore, some of the things that make each individual tick. They also learn about the professional side of their teammates. They learn their playing habits, where they like the ball, where their sweet spot is on the floor, and their strengths and weaknesses. This information then serves as the infrastructure for the next stage: the Norming stage.

NORMING

This is an important stage, in that it is where the individual players began to realize their role on the team. This can also be the stage that many teams get stuck in. Depending on the make up of the individuals within the team, it may be difficult for individuals to accept a role or accept a role taken by another member. Assuming nonesuch issues arise, this is also the area in which the team begins to develop a sense of teamwork. They form interpersonal relationships (a player may be closer to one or two players than to others-- think Jeremy Evans and Gordon Hayward, or Big Al and Kanter) and develop a culture within the group that dictates what is acceptable behavior. This is paramount. This is what helps the team determine whether first, it will even have the ability to move to the next stage, and second, whether it will perform at a high level. Example? The Wizards of the last few years. The culture within that team created some of the biggest showings of numbskullery seen in The Association; it was dysfunction in its highest form. However, take a situation like Denver, in which the culture is one that sees Kenneth Faried telling the newly acquired Javale McGee that in their team, "we work."

This stage will also provide the team some small scale successes. With the Jazz, it would have been the preseason and the opener against the Mavericks. There we saw the newly formed team seem to click right out of the gate and perform like a team that was far advanced in their development.

STORMING

In this stage the team is focused on the task at hand and beginning to have its ups and downs. They will have small successes that help develop team cohesion, but they will likely have many more failures that test the will of the collective, as well as the individuals' commitment to the larger goals. Somewhere between the norming stage and this stage is where I would put this Jazz team. MIT Professor Judith Stein states that teams develop in three areas in these stages: Feelings, Behaviors, and Team Tasks. My theory is that this Jazz team has developed well into this stage when it comes to their feelings and behavior. The believe in the team and in each other, but there reservations may come when it comes to their individual tasks as delegated by the coaching staff. It is no surprise that Favors feels like he should have more minutes; Burks confidence would not him feel less than the same. Now, this is where a situation like the Toronto game can have a significant impact on the progression of a team. In order to fully advance through the Storming stage, a team must face and overcome some sort of adversity or conflict. In this case it would be their inability to perform on the road. I concur that the mark of a good team is that they get wins against inferior teams, on the road. I would add, however, that talent and potential do not equal success and it certainly does not happen overnight. Thus, a grueling, emotional victory can become the final piece that allows the team to make a noticeable leap in their unity, and their success by proxy.

PERFORMING

This stage is one of the most difficult to define because it is largely subjective. What one person might perceive as "performance", another may not. This means that to be objective, the team must have understandable and measurable goals in place. They must also be realistic. This means, that while in public, and in the collective thoughts of the team, an NBA Championship is the goal. Unfortunately, the leaders in charge of assessing the team, and the outside observers (namely, we fans), might not see that as attainable. However, what both the teams and we should agree upon, is that the progression toward higher performance is reachable. This may mean that the goal is to win one game during the playoffs, or it may mean that the team wins a playoff series. Further, these goals, especially this early in development, must be progressive and flexible. It is wise for this team to have their immediate goals be a positive away record, perhaps followed by a specific winning percentage for the month of November... say, 75%. This doesn't mean that the team settle for this, as they should be shooting to surpass it, but it does mean that they have something specific to aim for, and can gain confidence when they achieve this goal.

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