The Bafflement Report: What is Winning Culture?

Recently I posted a comment about winning culture producing wins and is a reflection of coaching staff.

However, while I was walking home from the deli last night (just to give you an idea about how much of a life I actually have), I was thinking about the term "winning culture" and the Utah Jazz.

When the term is mitigated from my ears to the firing synapses in my dome-piece, only a select few teams come to mind: San Antonio Spurs, Dallas Mavericks, Los Angeles Lakers, and recently the Miami Heat. These teams have had some of winning-est cultures over the course of the last 15 years, excluding obviously Miami in terms of how long.

I've excluded the Jazz without intention here but it emerged because I don't believe it has existed for 3-or-so years, so please take thee not umbrage.The other teams mentioned have never had back-to-back-to-back-to-back years that we've had.

Those four teams win on seasonal basis, gets to the playoffs, and compete. And it's worth a discussion that these teams have had some of the best players in the NBA during that 15-year (Miami excluded) time span. Dirk Nowitzki, Tim Duncan, Kobe Bryant, Shaquille O'Neal, and, if you please, LeBron James have all won MVPs. Even if they had a horrible coach but had any sort of personnel support (Robert Horry, Dwayne Wade, Steve Nash, Michael Finley, Tony Parker, etc.), they would have won games and still had a winning culture.

We've not had an MVP-caliber player in a decade, so I've taken that into account as well.

So placing coaching aside, it's readily recognizable that players help build winning culture. You must have a fast horse in the race to have the ability to win, no matter the jockey. These teams have had the best of the best, not just in the 15-year span, but some of the greatest of all time.

However, it's also not enough to throw coaching aside entirely because it obviously plays a role (and if you're looking for a Corbin-bashing, stop reading now). This conversation is about winning culture.

What is winning culture? Is it solely an equatable and statistical concept? Does it deal with mentality? What is the definition?

I believe there are a couple ways to define "winning culture" over an extended period of time, say 5 years, and they are not necessarily mutually exclusive, and I don't necessarily agree with all of them, but these are ideas that might be able to mediate a middle ground of the term:

  • A) A team that wins games consistently
  • B) A team that consistently has the mentality to physically compete no matter the opponent, score, or personal feelings on the game plan
  • C) A team that has been consistently cultivated to win games based on mentality, coaching strategy, personal hard work, solid personnel, and a well-rounded team concept that excludes self

"A" is an acceptable definition. "B" does not necessarily produce wins. And "C" is the most desirable of them all because it embodies both worlds of "A" and "B".

We'll get to the Jazz in a minute.

But if we were to take the physical specimen of LeBron James and his Cleveland Cavaliers, where would that squad fall under this category? My guess is that they fall under definition "A", which is the loosest definition of them all. They won games. That squad gave up on games as well, so they cannot fall under "B", and they're not "C" because they didn't have the solid personnel to ever win a championship. I know they played in the Finals, but the only person who believed in that squad was Stephen A. Smith--a conversation for a different day.

Take the Mavericks. I put them under definition "C". Every year Mark Cuban attempts to put together a team that can compete at the highest levels. It doesn't always work out; however, that team still wins more games than it loses every freaking year while also not being a team that gives up. They're mentally tough.I think you could say the same about the recent Miami Heat, the longevity of the Lakers, and is the epitome and definition the San Antonio Spurs.

If we look at the Jazz since Jerry left, or even including the last half-year that he was here, where does that team fall? Does it even hit any of the three? I don't believe it does, while I also understand that there could be a "winning culture" definition that I haven't thought of.

This team (last 3-plus years) has given up on games frequently. We've seen it and complained about effort, especially last year. We have lost more games than we've won, so we can't say we're a team that wins games. And between the personnel (Biedrins, Raja Bell, Josh Howard, Uncle Aamal) and the coaching staff, we cannot say that the teams during the last three-plus years have been cultivated for a winning culture either.

We haven't won games consistently. We've given up on games. We haven't had an assembled team to brag about.

At times, we've seen this team have elements of both definition "A", winnings games, and "B", having a winning mentality--like the game we played against the San Antonio Spurs the other night. However, we've not been the consistent embodiment of either definition as a solid unit. There are several players over the last couple years that have fit the definition of mentally tough (Ronny Price, DeMarre Carrol) who also weren't the winning culture personnel.

And there's no point in putting it lightly: we're far from definition C.

We don't have winning culture in any of the three definitions that I've come up with and I cannot think of another definition of winning culture. The key word to all the definitions has been "consistently." The most important part of winning culture is to be consistent.

We're inconsistently a good team.

Creating the Path: Dennis Lindsey

We may be on some sort of track to have winning culture. Dennis Lindsey made bold moves during the summer by trading up for Trey Burke, Rudy Gobert, and Raul Neto. It's worth nothing that DL is making an attempt to build winning culture by going after a winner in Trey.

Then he made the long term move of picking up expiring contracts. What he'll do with the cash is fast approaching, but it will say something about where this team is going with the desire to build a winning culture when it happens.

In the meantime, we're on the path that he's created and it's no surprise to us that we're in dark times.

Walking the Path: Personnel

There are obvious pieces that all winning cultures need that we have. Derrick Favors has shown me something about him this year that I believe will push us in that direction. I've been happily proven wrong about Alec Burks. In Enes Kanter do I trust, even when the coaching staff does not. Gordon Hayward is a type of player that all winning teams must have. And Trey could grow into a phenomenal player.

Not a single guy out of these five is consistent right now; so, for now, there's no way that we have winning culture.

If you look at the four teams that I've highlighted as winning culture teams, there is an archetypal player or two on each squad that helps push them into a different universe of definition "C". It's not that I don't believe any of these guys will never break out into an All-Star. That may happen. But for now, we don't have him.

And our bench, for now, is so thin that we can see Jeremy Evans. That part of the personnel isn't there either, again, by DL design. This is part of inconsistency. In order for us to win games right now, someone must have an inconsistent night that allows us to compete at a high level.

As we push towards winning culture, the most obvious acknowledgement of it will be what Dennis Lindsey does with our personnel, who must walk the path he creates.

Lighting the Path: Coaching

This is one-third of the equation that may be worth more than its fractional suggestion. It affects the mentality of players, the development of players, and illuminates the path the players walk, ultimately determining the speed by which the players arrive at winning culture.

There is always coaching criticism when you mix fandom and losses. It's healthy until it's no longer healthy--which is also synonymous with the interim of a coach's stay. Great coaches forget how to light the path even after being with great teams for extended periods of time.

It happens. See Larry Brown.

There will be no claim to know how long it should take to build a winning culture in this post. I'll leave that to be decided by the DLs of the world. However, I know that we don't have a winning culture coming from the coaching staff and here's why:

  • A. We don't win consistently
  • B. We don't always play hard consistently
  • C. We don't always play the players who give us the opportunity to win consistently

However, that doesn't mean it cannot be built by the coaching staff we have now. I've admittedly seen the growth of Corbin and been happy when I've seen him call early third quarter timeouts and not waiting for the sub-6-minute mark. It's happening, and as it does--if he continues to be the Ahab of our Pequod--he will illuminate more of the path for the players.

For now, we don't have winning culture. And there's a threshold between having one and growing towards one. If there's anything that fractions prove, it's that we can always get closer to something while never actually reaching it.

All comments are the opinion of the commenter and not necessarily that of SLC Dunk or SB Nation.