Building A Winner: The Foundation

Building A Winner: The Foundation
September 8, 2010, 1:21 am
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Tuesday, September 7, 2010 9:15 p.m.

By Kealin Culbreath of WizardsExtreme
CSNwashington.com

History Lessons
Those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it.

George Santayana

Oh what an exciting time to be a fan of the Washington Wizards. The winds of change have blown through the capital city and after a rather odd 2009-2010 campaign, change is good.

The team has a new owner, new superstar and a new attitude. Many of the players who made the Wizards a perennial playoff team are no longer donning the blue and white. Fan favorites such as Antawn Jamison (Cleveland Cavaliers), Caron Butler, Brendan Haywood, and DeShawn Stevenson (Dallas Mavericks) have moved on to greener pastures.

The new kids on the block are John Wall, Kirk Hinrich, Yi Jianlin, Josh Howard, and the return of the always entertaining Agent Zero, Gilbert Arenas. And with the continued development of Nick Young, Andray Blatche and JaVale McGee, this season will be nothing short of a breath of fresh air.

With all of the exciting changes on the team, it would be easy to focus on the positive energy and ignore some of the painful choices that the Wizards have to make. The most crucial decision that Mr. Leonsis, Mr. Grunfeld, and Mr. Saunders have to make is which type of franchise the Wizards of the future will be. In other words, will Wizards brass look to follow the model of the Phoenix Suns and become a high octane offensive powerhouse who plays defense by outscoring their opponents? (Truth be told, weve been there and done that). Or will they go for a team concept without a true superstar without breaking the bank ala the Detroit Pistons and the Atlanta Hawks? (Not a bad idea but in this age of superstar heavy teams, will this model be able to compete on a championship level?) Or will they follow the proven model of a championship caliber team like the Los Angeles Lakers, San Antonio Spurs, and the Boston Celtics?

All three models can produce playoff teams but only one model has been proven tried and true. If ownership is serious about bringing the coveted Larry OBrien Trophy back to the DMV, then the model to be followed is obvious. Management does not have to reinvent the wheel in this instance. The best indicator of what it takes to be a champion in this league is to look at what past NBA champions have done in order to achieve their elite status.

In reverse order, the winners of the NBA championship over the last decade have been the Los Angeles Lakers (2009-2010, 2008-2009), the Boston Celtics (2007-2008), the San Antonio Spurs (2006-2007), the Miami Heat (2005-2006), the Spurs (2004-2005), the Detroit Pistons (2003-2004), the Spurs (2002-2003), and the Lakers (2001-2002, 2000-2001).

Upon close inspection of this most prestigious list of NBA teams, we discover several things which these teams have in common. The first thing that immediately jumps out is the fact that ALL (not some, not most, but all) of these teams played tremendous defense. This is the one common denominator that separates these winners from the other contenders. Its not a coincidence that the players on the team prided themselves on being able to make life miserable for the opposition on the defensive end. The coaching staff stressed it and the players responded accordingly.

Moreover, while there may have been one or two players on those squads whose specialty was defense, the other players were solid defenders. There were no weak spots, and if there were, their teammates more than compensated for a so-called weak link. They did all of the fundamental things (not extraordinary, not mystifying, but fundamental things) on the defensive end such as moving their feet, blocking out on missed shots, hustling to loose balls, sending their men to the help defense and knowing what their opponents comfort zone was and taking them out of it. Defense really does win championships.

The second thing that all of the champions had in common is the fact that ALL (not some, not most, but all) of these teams excelled in the half-court game. Although many basketball spectators enjoy the up and down tempo of the present day Phoenix Suns and to a lesser extent, the Golden State Warriors, if you look on that list of champions, you will not find a team whose primary offense was pushing the ball up the floor for easy baskets. And why is that? The answer is simple: Playoff basketball is a much different game than the regular season. It becomes harder to score as every possession is critical. Again, it is no coincidence that the Suns despite their immense talent and exciting brand of basketball have not won a championship. Post-season offense entails controlling the tempo, moving without the ball, and execution, execution, execution.

To be sure, while the Lakers and the Michael Jordan-led Chicago Bulls were exciting half-court teams with their reliance on the Triangle Offense, they were still half-court teams. They pushed the ball up the floor when the opportunity was there (generally about 10 of the game). However, first and foremost, they ran their half-court sets with precision.

Finally, with the exception of the Bulls during the second of their championship runs, all of these other teams had at least one player who could score with his back to the basket with regularity. In other words, unless you have greatest player in the history of the National Basketball Association on your roster, you must have a legitimate low-post threat to get you those tough baskets on the block andor draw a double team to make things easier for the perimeter players. These post players like Tim Duncan, Shaq, Paul Gasol, Kevin Garnett, and Andrew Bynum are essential if a team wants to capture a title.

In the next edition, with an understanding of some of the more important characteristics of a champion in mind, we will make an honest assessment of whether or not the present day Washington Wizards possess any of the characteristics and if not, how they may acquire these essentials to winning a championship. Until then...

Whoever wishes to foresee the future, must consult the past; for human events ever resemble those of proceeding times. This arises from the fact that they are produced by men who ever have been, and ever shall be, animated by the same passions, and thus necessarily have the same results.

Machiavelli