- What Makes A Great Scorer?
- Top 10 Myths About Andrea Bargnani
- Jonas Valanciunas Is Like Two Cookies (and Amir)
- Is The Big Man Era Over In The NBA?
- What Would Einstein Say About the Raptors Trading for Rudy Gay?
- Seeing Through Colangelo's Reality Distortion Field (Part 1)
- Can The Raptors Contend Without Tanking?
- The Case Against Signing Steve Nash
- An Open Letter to Bryan Colangelo
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Posted on December 22, 2011 | 9 Comments
So in parts 1 and 2, we looked at the 16 year history of the Raptors organization that seemed to be so focused on not losing that it couldn’t manage to actually win, very much. The Raptors have spent nearly their entire existence on the mediocrity treadmill. For an NBA team and it’s fans, that’s basically hell.
So now we turn our attention to a few other franchises, and see what they’ve done.
CLEVELAND FLIRTS WITH A CHAMPIONSHIP
When Cleveland drafted LeBron James, it was probably the greatest turning point in their entire existence. Except for a brief period in the 90′s, the Cavaliers were synonymous with poor management and losing.
When LeBron was drafted, the Cavs roster was made up of a collection of mediocre veterans and a few promising youngsters (Carlos Boozer, Ricky Davis, Darius Miles). the promising, but flawed, youngsters were traded away or left, and in their place came veterans who could help the team immediately.
While they were able to acquire Anderson Varejao, the majority of the moves the Cavs made were either forgettable or one you’d rather forget (trading a first round pick for Jiri Welsch in February and then turning around and trading Welsch for a 2nd round pick- turning a 1st round pick into a second in a matter of months!). Still the team went from 17 wins the season before LeBron, to 35 and then 42 wins. It was obvious this team was on it’s way up.
When Danny Ferry was hired as the Cavs GM, in 2005, he made an immediate splash, signing volume scorer, the 27 year old Larry Hughes to a massive contract, and 32 year old Donyell Marshall (from the Raptors). At that point, of the 8 players that played the most minutes, only 2 were below the age of 26. They did go out and win 50 games and get to the second round of the playoffs, though.
The next season, with Danny Ferry basically standing pat with the roster, the team went out and won 50 games again, this time getting all the way to the Finals. Despite the success in the playoffs, the Cavs didn’t carry over the momentum to the regular season and Ferry decided to shake things up, trading away almost half the roster, and grabbing among others, 33 year old Ben Wallace and 32 year old Joe Smith. The team ended up winning just 45 games and losing again in the second round.
Probably the best move Danny Ferry made as GM, was when he turned Joe Smith into Mo Williams. It was one of the few times that Ferry attempted to make the team younger. And somehow, the Cavs gelled and ended up destroying the league in the regular season, winning 66 games. But then the playoffs came and they got bounced in the Conference Finals by Orlando.
So Ferry pulled the trigger on a trade that sent Ben Wallace to the Suns for Shaquille O’Neal. It was an act of desperation for the Cavs, who felt that winning a Championship was the only way to keep LeBron, who was in the last year of his contract. They then used a good portion of their MLE to sign 34 year old Anthony Parker, and then went out and traded for 33 year old Antawn Jamison. By season’s end, the Cavs had 3 starters who were 33, 34 and 37 and whose best years were well behind them.
Is it any wonder that when LeBron decided to abandon the team, they ended up winning only 19 games the next season?
While the Cavs ended up finding much more success than the Raptors did, using a similar plan, that was mostly due to the fact that LeBron was simply much better than Vince Carter ever was. And the results ended up being the same. An unsustainable climb by acquiring aging veterans whose stock can only decline.
Like the Raptors, the Cavs had to start making riskier and riskier moves, acquiring older and older players, because when you keep acquiring declining assets, you lose more and more leverage. And just like the Raptors, right near the end they took a risk on an aging Hall of Fame center whose best years were behind him.
OKLAHOMA DECIDES TO GO YOUNG
The Thunder are probably one of the most discussed teams, in terms of building through the draft with youth, but quite frankly, that’s because they’ve done a textbook-like job.
When Sam Presti took over the then Seattle Supersonics, they had just come off a 31 win season, had two 20+ppg All-Stars on the roster, some half decent young talent and a number 2 pick in the draft. After drafting 19 year old Kevin Durant, Presti made a choice that was basically the complete opposite of what the Raptors and Cleveland had done. Keeping former All-Stars, Rashard Lewis and Ray Allen would certainly have made the team competitive, possibly even a playoff team with a move or two, Presti wisely decided that at ages 27 and 31, Lewis and Allen were declining assets who would probably be too old to help the team when Durant was entering his prime.
Presti first traded Allen for 5th pick, Jeff Green, as well as Wally Szczerbiak and his expiring contract, and Delonte West, both of whom were ironically traded to the Cleveland Cavaliers just one season later. Then Presti decided not to match Orlando’s massive contract offer for Lewis, leaving the team without their two best players in a matter of days.
Instead of surrounding Durant with veterans, which would have speeded up the team’s development, but limited it’s growth, Presti preached patience, and decided to surround their new franchise player with players his own age, allowing them to grow and develop together. While it meant the team was actually worse the next season, winning just 20 games, they were also able to pick up future All-Star, Russell Westbrook in the next draft. They improved only slightly the next season, again, giving them a top 3 pick, grabbing James Harden.
In just three seasons, the Sonics/Thunder were able to acquire three top 5 picks and the very next season they jumped from 23 wins to 50 wins. They never added one major veteran over the age of 25 and by the time they win 50 games, they only had two rotation players over the age of 25- 26 year old Nenad Krstic, who signed the previous season, and 29 year old Nick Collison, who was the only holdover from the pre-Presti era.
And with a starting of with an average age of just 23 years old, the Oklahoma City Thunder won 55 games last season on their way to a Conference Finals appearance. And it’s certainly not inconceivable that, as long as they are able to keep their core together, the Thunder will be contenders for the next 10 years.
If the Thunder had kept Allen and Lewis, the team would already be trying to figure out how to replace them.
One of the most common arguments again “tanking” is that you don’t want to end up like the Los Angeles Clippers. Of course, that argument may not work anymore, after trading for Chris Paul, but it never really worked anyway.
The problem with the Clippers was not that they were always trying to lose and get high draft picks, it’s that they were simply badly mismanaged and drafted poorly when they got to the draft.
If the Cleveland Cavaliers were synonymous with poor management and losing, the Clippers made them look good.
In their 47 year history, the Clippers have made the playoffs just 7 times. That’s just 2 more than the Raptors, in nearly 3 times the amount of time. To the Clippers, mediocrity would have been a step up. In the last 30 years, the Clippers have drafted in the top ten 23 times. They’ve had a top 5 pick 13 times. Yet, somehow in all that time, they only managed to draft 3 All Stars. Actually, that’s not entirely true. They drafted five All-Stars, but traded away two of them before they became All-Stars. You could probably manage a better drafting record than them by throwing darts at a board. I could probably write and entire post devoted to their poor drafting.
So needless to say, the Clippers have not been successful, but that turned around in the last few years, when they drafted Eric Gordon and then got the 1st pick in the draft the next year and took Blake Griffin. Unlike previous eras, when young players were traded away for veterans either past their prime or who never had one, the Clippers actually started stockpiling their young talent.
While Griffin and Gordon are definitely stars, there’s a question of whether either are the type of elite talent that can lead a team to a Championship. Thankfully, that doesn’t matter since they were able to use their stockpile of youth and Chris Kaman’s expiring contract, to trade for Chris Paul.
Now, what is the difference between what Cleveland and Toronto did and what the Clippers did? There are a couple.
First is that Paul is only 26 years old. He’s not a 31 year old athletic wing player or 33 year old big man.
Secondly, and most importantly, Paul IS their franchise player now. Griffin is a great talent, he’s not the type to make those around him better. He’s not a good passer or stellar defender and most of his scoring is done by being more athletic than his opponent. He is much more suited to a complimentary role, and with Paul running the point, he can now do that.
Without Chris Paul, the Clippers probably had a ceiling similar to the Atlanta Hawks- the second round. The number of teams without a top 10 player on it that have been a true contender, in the last 20-30 years you can count on one hand. And now the Clippers have that.
SO WHAT TO DO?
So this brings us back to the Raptors and this season.
Now there is a portion of Raptor fans who hate to see the Raptors lose intentionally and that nothing good ever comes from tanking. Well, first of all, I don’t think anyone is suggesting the team actually “tank”. That would involve trading away the team’s best players and not giving the team a shot to even be competitive in games. Cleveland and Denver did that and all it got them were LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony. Er…nevermind.
The Raptors currently have the talent to vie for the top spot in the NBA….draft. So the best thing that Colangelo can do, and seems to be doing, is to just let them play. Don’t try to win a few more games just to make the team look slightly better. In the end that gets you nothing but what Raptor fans have had to put up with for the past 16 years. Mediocrity, at best.
The few more wins that a Tyson Chandler or even a Shane Battier might get you may be the difference between a top 3 pick and yet another good, but not great, draft pick. As 82Games.com showed, there’s a big dropoff after the fifth pick.
When you’re walking the line between mediocrity and being a contender, the difference might be just a few ping pong balls.
Now as I mentioned in the first post, PhDSteve, over at Raptors Republic argued in his latest podcast that it doesn’t really matter where the Raptors pick because there’s no real consensus #1 and the Raptors can get a good PG later in the draft.
That would make sense if the Raptors biggest need is a PG. It isn’t. The Raptors biggest need, far outweighing any position or skill, is a franchise player. Who cares if the Raptors get the best PG in the draft if they still don’t have a franchise player. In the NBA, teams generally only go as far as their best player can take them. Atlanta’s problem is not that they don’t have a good team. It’s that Joe Johnson is a perennial All-Star, but not a truly elite player.
In fact, Toronto’s history shows the limitations teams have without truly elite players. While Vince had the potential to be one of the greats, he never fulfilled that potential and the farthest the team could get with him was the second round. Bosh was a perennial All-Star, but simply not the type of talent that can lift a team above mediocrity.
While there might not be any sure-fire Hall of Famers, like Tim Duncans or LeBron James’, there are still a few potential franchise players in this draft. Anthony Davis, Andre Drummond , Perry Jones and Harrison Barnes have been the most talked about (although I personally am not sure Barnes has any elite skill that would allow him to be a franchise player), but Quincy Miller and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist also have some potential. That’s six players, but most likely half are not going to fulfill that potential, so getting first crack is all the more important.
While pushing towin as many games as you can might seem like a good idea, if your goal is to compete for an NBA Championship, it’s simply not always a sound strategy. While getting one of the worst records in the league certainly is no guarantee of a top 3 pick, it gives you the best chance. It’s been said that the best thing for these young players on the Raptors is to start trying to compete now, but without a franchise player, exactly what would they be competing for? More of what we’ve seen over the last 16 years. And that’s simply not good enough.
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