There are many different ways to build an NBA team, and every GM has their own vision and philosophy on how to get there. But while some approaches can be applauded and respected, other ways can cause head scratching and harsh criticism – especially from fans.
Some teams build their teams from the ground up. They suck it up and suffer through a couple bad years as they draft and develop young players and watch the team grow together. The Oklahoma City Thunder are a great example of this. The former Seattle Supersonics built around superstar Kevin Durrant, and then added solid pieces around him, including forward Jeff Green, young phenom Russel Westbrook and Thabo Thefolosha. Sure there were growing pains and losing seasons (the Thunder barely won 20 games last season), but the slow and steady method has begun to pay off, as the Thunder are enjoying a great season that will lead to a playoff spot in a very competitive Western Conference.
Unfortunately, these days fewer teams are going with the Thunder’s approach. Instead, the latest trend is to bottom out not only for a high draft pick, but to clear cap space and sell off players to go for top free agents. In the past three seasons, teams like the Nets and Knicks have been trading players, draft picks and bloated contracts on the hopes they can lure big names like LeBron James, Dwayne Wade, Chris Bosh and Amare Stoudemire among others to their rosters this summer.
There are two major problems that come from this line of thinking. One, many of these teams are longshots to entice these superstars to come aboard. The aforementioned players can make more money re-signing with their own teams, and it is hard to believe they will leave their current situations to sign with a bottom feeder team (the thought of LeBron signing with the NBA’s worse team the Nets or with longtime loosers the LA Clippers with their losing history is borderline laughable).
Secondly, and this is the worst aspect of this strategy, it is a horrible way to treat the diehard fans of these floundering franchises. The GMs of these teams are basically saying to these fans; “Hang in their loyal fans, we will sell off all our best players and lose 50-60 games a year and we might, just might sign one of the top free agents in the summer of 2010. Thanks for your patience.” That’s fine if you’re actually able to sign one of these guys. But what if they can’t? After all, there are several teams that can use a superstar player and there are only a handful of them available this summer – meaning most teams will be left holding the bag and having to sell their pissed off fans on yet another plan to make their team a winner.
This is a poor way to manage a team and it is bad for fans and for the NBA in general, and many GMs will learn this the hard way this summer. The Thunder will show the rest of this season and into next season that patience is the key. Selling hope to fans is way more risk than realistic, but the Thunder are proving that slow and steady has a much better chance of winning the race.