COMMENTARY | One city, either Miami or San Antonio, will celebrate tonight’s victory. But every team will be watching what happens tonight, because it’s more than just a decisive Game 7. It will decide how future NBA franchises will be constructed.
Build a Dream Team: On one hand, you have the Miami Heat. They decided to build their team largely around the attraction of free agents. It meant getting the best ones available, like LeBron James, Ray Allen, Chris Bosh, from other teams. Given that there’s a salary cap, it means getting several players together who might play for less than they might command on the open market, because their chances of winning championships are greater. It also means recruiting a coach and having a GM that are player-friendly, to keep these superstars happy.
Those teams will look to build with Chris Paul, Dwight Howard, Kevin Garnett, or anyone out there looking for a ring, but possibly willing to sacrifice a few dollars for it. It also means getting a coach with a reputation for finding ways to keep all of these players who are thrown together happy, including guaranteeing minutes and shots. That means finding a Phil Jackson or a Doc Rivers.
But such programs need at least one superstar in place already (like Dwayne Wade), a city where a championship recently occurred (the Heat won a few years ago) so the pressure is not so great. Have local attractions like South Beach nearby can’t hurt. The L.A. Clippers and L.A. Lakers, as well as the Houston Rockets and New York Knicks seem to be following this model.
Build a Cohesive Unit: On the other, you have the San Antonio Spurs, who were built largely through the draft. That’s how the team assembled the likes of Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, Manu Ginobli, as well as Kawhi Leonard, Tiago Splitter and DeJuan Blair. Bench player like Matt Bonner and Gary Neal can be the stars one night, not just the starters having an off night. Free agents like Tracy McGrady, Boris Diaw and Danny Green come in to fill roles, not sell tickets. And you need a coach who is a tough disciplinarian like Greg Popovich who makes the tough decisions, like letting Stephen Jackson go before the playoffs.
But such programs need time and patience. The San Antonio Spurs were competitive for years when David Robinson was there, but needed Popovich and a few more pieces before starting their championship run. Even after the four titles, the team and city needed to wait for a while for the big comeback this year. And not many cities feel that bide their time while building. It means getting a George Karl, looking for four-year collegiate starters with as much maturity as talent, and not being afraid to go abroad to look for the right player, as well as having the scouting team to find castoffs from other teams who could be the right fit. The Indiana Pacers, Golden State Warriors, and Memphis Grizzlies seem to be following this model.
Why Tonight Matters: Whoever wins tonight will find their style will be emulated. It could determine the future for the entire NBA, and not just the two teams.
John A. Tures is a professor of political science at LaGrange College in LaGrange, GA. He also took the photo.