Hmmm... some interesting comments from Donnie here and there in this article. Don't think it has been posted yet, but if it has feel free to lock this thread Admins .
"Which way is up?
Path to success unclear for teams stuck in the middle
For much of the NBA, the trade deadline has a straightforward focus. Those teams cruising to a playoff berth are looking to deal for the final piece to the Finals puzzle, while those in the express lane to the draft lottery are trying to peddle their veterans for young players or draft picks.
Stuck in the middle, though, are those teams whose destination is unclear, who are seemingly as close to the playoffs as they are to rebuilding. And for teams such as the Indiana Pacers and Milwaukee Bucks -- clubs not in realistic title contention nor out of the playoff chase -- the decision about whether to trade yourself into or out of the postseason may be one of the most difficult in the NBA.
"It's wonderful to say everybody's goal is to win the world championship; that's a good sound bite," said Bob Ferry, general manager of the Washington Bullets from 1973-90. "But realistically, if you don't have the nucleus of players to build around to do that, then you're much more likely to take your lumps and take a chance in the lottery. But it's a huge gamble, and you're going to have to understand it can take years to build that way."
Before rolling the dice on that sort of fresh start, teams tend to consider the odds on a handful of key concerns. These issues say as much about a team's present as they do in determining its future.
Being invited to a party that includes more than half of the league may not qualify as exclusive, but the playoffs still offer a lot more pluses than minuses: revenue, exposure and an accomplishment to sell to fans. Still, the difference between attending as a low seed and getting a seat behind the velvet rope as a title contender is a function of having the type of talent that isn't common in the NBA.
"If your goal is to win the championship, you've got to have basically the best player in the NBA," said Ferry, who presided over a Bullets team that won the 1978 title and reached the postseason 14 times in his tenure as GM. "It doesn't make any difference what position."
While the occasional outliers -- the 2004 Pistons, the Sonics and Bullets of the late 1970s -- offer some evidence to the contrary, for the most part, the history of the NBA Finals is littered with the game's iconic figures, from Russell to Abdul-Jabbar to Magic to Bird to Jordan to Shaq and Kobe to Duncan.
Acquiring that rare talent has thus become the driving philosophy for many a team, an impetus that prompts some clubs to welcome a nosedive in the standings in hopes of winning the draft lottery. That is, when they are not continually searching for the right mix of complementary pieces to surround their MVP candidate.
"It's like a poker hand. Your best player is your wild card," Ferry said. "If you've got a couple of wild cards, then it's best to keep going, trying to pick the right players or make the right trades to add to what you have. If you don't, then you've got to decide how to get that player."
Tying your fortunes to the likes of a Jason Kidd, though, also ties a team to the whims of the player. That means a team could be compelled to make moves whether it wants to or not.
"Guys who make a lot of money often tell teams which way they want them to go," new Sixers GM Ed Stefanski said. "Players' attitudes and chemistry in the locker room and on the court will dictate whether you blow it up or not. If they decide that they don't want to be around and they make a ton of money, that forces a team to make a decision."
The goals of that choice differ, though, for a team running out the clock on a playoff run versus a club at the beginning of one.
"There is a decision to be made if getting in the playoffs is going to put you in a better position next year to go higher in the playoffs," said Pacers CEO Donnie Walsh, whose club missed the postseason for the first time in 10 years last season. "When you have a young team you should always want to make the playoffs because the more times your team is in, the better they are going to be once they grow up and get to a certain point where you can add the necessary players around them to make them an elite team.
"There's [also] a time you might look and say, 'We've had elements of this team that have been together for a long time; it's not working. What is our best value out there? Are we in a position where we can add players, or are there trades that will make us better, or should we just break up the whole thing?' "
That decision, according to Walsh -- who acknowledged that the Pacers need additions to become a better team -- will guide Indiana's moves and those of most teams this week and this summer.
To market, to market
No matter how many hours a front office spends scouting potential trade targets, a team's options are limited by the very opponents it hopes to beat.
"What you want to do isn't the question," Walsh said. "The question is, What are those teams I'm dealing with willing to do? If you make the right trades, it can go either way. It may allow you to break up the team, get draft choices, young players and start all over. On the other hand, if you're not able to do that, you may have to go in another direction."
Walsh cites the recent Shaquille O'Neal trade as an example of how quickly a team's plans can change. With Shaq signed for another two seasons at $20 million annually, the Diesel was thought to be all but untradable, a notion that likely would have had the Heat looking to quickly build a productive, if not title-worthy, supporting cast around O'Neal and Dwyane Wade. When the Suns came calling, though, the opportunity to rebuild for the long term was too enticing to ignore.
But those types of offers from contenders can just as easily keep a team focused on making the best of its current situation. In Philadelphia, Stefanski took over in December promising to assess the organization from top to bottom, which, for a team that lost 47 games last season, seemed a prelude to a housecleaning, especially with the salary-cap savings veteran point guard Andre Miller could offer in a trade. But impressed with Miller's leadership of a young roster, Stefanski may just keep his $9 million asset.
"I have not called any teams and asked them what they would give me for Andre Miller," Stefanski told SI.com. "I've fielded calls about Andre, but there have been no offers that would make us trade him. He's our leader and the glue guy on our team. If we decided to trade him, you'd have to go with youth and a piece for the future; we've already got experience, so you'd have to stay in a total rebuilding mode."
Of course, the willingness to pick up the phone in the first place depends on another variable out of a team's control: the draft.
"Certain years it makes a hell of a lot more sense to lose and scratch it out than other years, depending on who is projected to go in the lottery," Ferry said.
For every year that offers a LeBron or a Carmelo, however, there are far more that include players such as Adam Morrison and recently traded Shelden Williams among the top five. That reality may give a general manager pause before taking the sledgehammer to his team. And that's to say nothing of the team that swings for a lottery prize and misses.
"Teams have gotten really burned going for the worst record," Walsh said. "Instead of getting a Greg Oden, they pick 4 or 5 or 6, and that sets you back a long way. You'll get a normal, good player, but you've given up your whole team and you can't really replace it, so you've probably put yourself way behind."
Despite the bluster of how important rings and banners are, the NBA is, like any sport, a business enterprise, and that business is entertainment. Filled seats and luxury boxes more than make up for the hundreds of millions spent on salaries, luxury taxes and palatial training courts. And though logic holds that fans will support a winner, they won't come to see a winner tread water.
"There comes a point where making the playoffs isn't received as well by the franchise or the fans," Walsh said. "Nobody's excited anymore that you make the playoffs because you always make the playoffs. It doesn't mean as much to you or your fan base."
That fact doesn't manifest itself, initially, in wide swaths of empty seats, but in an undefined "feel," according to Walsh, a sense that sends some teams scrambling for the checkbook to acquire that elusive player who will get them "over the top" before the title window slams shut. But a new toy only goes so far with fans.
"When I was in Washington, our big decision centered on whether or not to keep paying Moses Malone," Ferry said of the star center, whom the Bullets had acquired in June 1986. "[In 1988] we lost to Detroit in the final game of our [first-round] playoff series [the Bullets' fourth consecutive first-round exit]. After that happened, I think it was more exciting to [owner] Abe Pollin to think about the lottery and what might happen than it was just making the playoffs.
"It was explained to [Pollin] by our marketing people that if we rebuilt they could market the team just as well as if we made another playoffs and lost in the first round. When Abe was reassured he wouldn't lose any more money going through this process, he went for it."
Malone signed with the Rockets in the summer of 1988, and the Bullets' five-year streak of playoff appearances ended the next season.
A painful process
A fresh start rarely sounds like a bad alternative. It even engenders catchy slogans such as "Doin' It," or "The Hustling Bullets." But once the marketing campaign has been deployed and a team in the throes of reconstruction has to draw on its own play, the atmosphere in and around a club can turn sour quickly.
"When those decisions are made, sometimes people don't realize the pain of losing and how devastating it is on people," Ferry said. "The summer may be great, but then you lose eight or 10 in a row, the bottom falls out and all of a sudden you remember, 'Oh my god, we're doing this on purpose.'
"I would imagine some owners or organizations can handle it, but I didn't think our market or our chemistry could survive a rebuilding job. I showed [upper management] how long it took the average team at the time to build through the drafts and all the lotteries and ups and downs, and it was up to eight years. I said, 'I just don't think anybody in this room can handle losing for that long.' This wasn't going to be easy and relationships were going to be strained, and I knew it wasn't going to work for me."
Ferry left the organization in 1990, when Washington was in the second year of an eight-year playoff drought. Free agency now can hasten a rebuilding project, but the process still can take years.
"If you have draft choices and your salary is down, you could go out, draft good players, sign free agents and maybe get the talent in two years," Walsh said. "Then it's going to take time for you to grow into a very good team. Players have to learn one another and they have to go through all the trials and tribulations of ascending up the league. ... [But] if you're talking about completely rebuilding -- what Chicago did after Jordan's group -- you have to get ready for it because it can be real ugly in the beginning."
How ugly? The Bulls averaged 21 victories in the first five 82-game seasons after Jordan's last hurrah in 1997-98. Seattle started this season 0-8 and also has had a 14-game losing streak. The Hawks haven't won more than 35 games in a season in 10 years.
So why do it? Why tear down if tension and pink slips and hundreds of losses are the price of reaching for the next Hall of Famer? Why not play it safe, build a solid core and aim to become the next Pistons of 2004?
Simply? It's easier to win with one than without one. The nature of the game allows one player to change a team's fortunes. With so many other hard, uncertain choices to weigh in determining a team's future, the comforts of stardom offer an asset that takes little analysis to appreciate."