I'm waiting for this game between the Miami Heat and the San Antonio Spurs to end. The winner will be celebrated, while the loser will have to deal with a lot of questions over the summer. In a way this is completely unnecessary because both teams are great teams with strong foundations that already have won more championships than all but a few NBA franchises. On the other hand, we are a winning based society, and as we learned from Top Gun, there's no points for second place.
If there's no points for second place we can sure as heck understand there's no points for being 8th in your conference, or worse. The Utah Jazz have made the playoffs once in the last three seasons -- and for that to happen (we were 12th at a point in time out of 15 in the West) the Golden State Warriors, Houston Rockets, and Portland Trail Blazers all had to tank, the Minnesota Timberwolves had to get super injured, and we beat a horrible Phoenix Suns team in the last week of the season to get in. We got in by the skin of our teeth and were bounced out early. In the off season our front office went out to improve our team -- and I would argue that our team this year (when healthy) was better than the team last year. But this year fewer teams tanked and we didn't get in.
Right now we can't get much worse. We can get worse, but after a while being a lotto team = being a lotto team. The San Antonio Spurs and Miami Heat used to be in our spot. But right now they are both playing for a chance at another NBA title. I am going to do a post about the last 30 NBA Finals, the last 30 NBA Final Fours, and look at the qualities of those teams, as well as the stats. I have an idea that certain teams end up winning the games that count. The games that count aren't regular season games in January. The games that count are in June. While I do have a few biases that I am well aware of (like the idea that you need a star to be a real contender, and as a result, that should always be the first priority -- very few teams build around role players and luck into a star later on) -- I will also look at the things I'm not a fan of.
But looking at Miami and San Antonio right now you can see that they both are star driven teams. But it's not just the star players who are making key contributions. And while both teams have great coaches, it's not just the coaches who are dictating the flow of the game. Both of these teams excel on many levels -- from fast break efficiency from strong defense to making the extra pass and making their open jumpers. Andy Larsen (you may remember him, he's a star) wrote a bit about this on twitter yesterday. And I think we are seeing two teams playing at a high level.
So where do we start in terms of getting like them? Do we try to find a star? If so how? Are we in dire need of fixing our system, so that the players we get know what to do, and that our front office can target players to fit in this system too? Does it come down to coaching? A combination of everything? Or do we stick with what we're doing (being a #8-10 team in the West each year and pray for a miracle)?
I'm interested in winning a title. Not everyone is. As a result, my blinders are on for winning a title; hence, this entire experience of looking at the last 30 years of the NBA playoffs. In my opinion we need to change a lot of things within our team, and perhaps change a few things in how we do things here in Utah. We need to value defense over our penchant for previously over-valuing of offense. We need to get everyone enough experience so that when their number is called, that they can play well, and play well because 'they've been there before'. (There = on the court) The team has to counter attack more, we have youth and athleticism on our side for the first time in decades. Walking the ball up to court to favor one player at the detriment of the other four is inherently stupid.
If our team can be defensive oriented squad, while somehow developing a star player, we can be on the right track. (We can't sign for a star player as a free agent, and trading for one will be difficult without assets -- we are invariably LEFT with the draft as our option for getting a star, and because you can't win without a star that's why I'm all about playing the youth so you can see if one of them can be one. Anything before that is just a false start or delaying the rebuilding years.)
While we can't expect to mirror the player transactions that Miami has made, we can learn from them about tailoring a system to the players and playing a counter-attacking game with athleticism. We can't expect to win the lotto or have a HOF coach like San Antonio, but we can learn from them about giving chances to younger players, and about making better scouting decisions.
Both teams play defense, have stars, and make their threes. In today's NBA those seem to be the building blocks for future success in the playoffs.
So what do you think we can learn from these two teams? What do you think we are close to emulating? Where are we off-base?