I was thinking about why certain NBA teams are successful and others are not. I’m talking on a consistent basis, not year to year. As I thought about it, there were certain things that seemed to be a common factor between them all. Here’s my take on the ingredients that are the foundation of sustained success.
The very first thing that must happen is the owner must let the people they hired to make all the personnel decisions without interference. Next, the front office (President, GM/Head of Basketball Operations and Head Coach) must have the same vision and be on the same page. Before they can even think about drafting or free agents, the most important thing they must decide on is a “Team Identity”.
That identity will determine the team’s style of play. Which could be defensive, offensive, fast break pace or a slower half court pace with sub categories (dribble drive offense, ball pressure defense etc). Ultimately, the goal is balance between offense and defense (i.e. Golden State Warriors). Once you decide on that, it makes personnel decisions clearer. Then you can plan your draft and free agent strategy.
Here’s where it gets tricky and mistakes can be made. Your draft and free agent moves must compliment each other, not mirror each other. There are always exceptions to the rule. A team may feel like they are set on the perimeter and focus more on frontcourt players in the draft and free agency.
Based on your team’s identity, your draft board and free agent targets will take shape. As we know, players don’t always pan out as expected. When you miss on a draft pick (especially in the lottery) or a free agent, it can really set your franchise back (see: NY Knicks). But if you consistently make good choices, winning stability awaits (see: San Antonio Spurs).
We know drafting and free agency is an inexact science. Unless you get a ‘can’t miss’ prospect (Shaquille O’Neal or Tim Duncan) or an elite free agent (LeBron James or Kevin Durant), you are simply hoping for the best.
Building a team is more about chemistry and players that compliment each other. Amassing talent is great but if the pieces don’t fit, you can be mired in mediocrity for years.
Notice I didn’t mention trades. That’s because most trades are born out of an unhappy player, cap space issue and/or sheer desperation. It is rare that trades will consistently help a team build a winning culture. Every team’s front office rolls the dice. The fans are at their mercy.