There is no correct way to build a basketball team.
As the Spurs have steamrolled the entire NBA, utilizing one of the deepest rosters in NBA history to dominate every team in their path in any which way. It is a true team, having been built through over a decade of great drafts, foreign imports, and savvy trades from general manager RC Buford. Coupled with the best coach in the league, the Spurs have built a team, one of the deepest, most effective groups in recent NBA history.
On the other hand, the Heat built their team through free agency. They drafted Dwyane Wade, but Wade, LeBron James, and Chris Bosh chose to play for the Heat, the Heat did not choose them. With almost no production from draft classes (only Haslem and Chalmers come to mind as rotation players whom they drafted), this is a group assembled through luck, but also finding stars in free agency.
Neither of these ways to build a team is wrong. Many point to the way in which the Heat built their team, getting lucky with three superstars agreeing to play for them, as an unsustainable, blip in the radar for success in the league. But, finding a coach like Gregg Popovich and coupling him with a player, (Duncan) and later players (everyone else) that are willing to buy into his system (the whole is greater than the sum of its parts) is just as rare and lucky. There is no correct, perfect blueprint to building a great basketball team. Every great team is built and constructed in a different, unique way. And although there is no right way to build a great team, there are many wrong ways to build a team.
And the Nets are doing things the wrong way.
As seen through the recent successes of Indiana and Boston, and to a lesser extent Miami, a team’s best player or players do not need to be acquired through high lottery picks. Although they are nice, nothing is more certain for success than making a trade for or signing an established veteran player.
However, all great teams are assembled using the cards dealt to them in the most effective way possible. GM’s such as Sam Presti understand the limits of their team, roster, and salary cap, and use these to his advantage, something the Nets have failed to do. One could argue the Nets should have built their team the “normal” way. This would mean building around Derrick Favors and Brook Lopez after the fateful summer of 2010, hoping to strike gold in the lottery. Had this been the base, the Nets probably would have traded Devin Harris regardless at last year’s trade deadline, and ended up with a fine young nucleus of Favors, Lopez, Brooks, 2011 Pick X, and gobs of salary cap room. However, the Nets have decided to make what was thought to be a strength (having five first round picks in the 2011 and 2012 drafts) into a weakness, only using one of those picks for themselves.
After last night’s failed Lottery, it became clear the vision of Billy King, Mikhail Prokhorov, and the entire Nets organization has been horribly distorted and disillusioned for the past twenty-four months. Not every team can get lucky and get stars like LeBron James and Dwyane Wade or hire a coach like Gregg Popovich and pair him with Tim Duncan. But, the Nets could have travelled the most logical path to respectability by using their plethora of draft picks to draft young building blocks and couple them with established veterans (who we could get with the excess of cap room we’d have with everyone on our team being so young and cheap) to teach and challenge these draftees. Would have doing this led to immediate and great success? Not necessarily. But, it would have made the Nets follow the one blueprint known on how to build a great NBA team, and that is to play the cards you’ve been dealt as well as possible.
The fate of the Nets’ franchise now depends on a borderline superstar being forced to make a decision whether to stay in Brooklyn or go West to Dallas, and even with Deron Williams staying the Nets will be marginal at best. There is no correct way to build a basketball team, but Billy King has shown the world the incorrect way to do so.