|Derek James: The Eastern Conference’s House of Cards
When I was a kid one of the things I would do for fun to kill time was to build card
houses. It’s just one of those things that you pick up in a daycare center when you
get sick of things like Legos and Lincoln Logs and such. Somehow I managed to
come into contact with someone who had learned how to build card houses and
actually get them to stay upright, which, if you’ve tried building a house of cards,
is not always an easy thing to do. Even when you do managed to get the cards to
stay up, you have to hope someone doesn’t walk by briskly or even so much as
cough or sneeze otherwise all of your efforts will have been for naught. Still, there
is a trick to it all: it helps if you curve the short ends of the cards and stack them
in a triangle shape to get them to balance. Is it cheating? Maybe, but it’s still pretty
difficult to build upon that anyway.
Just like building a house of cards is far less sturdy than building a house of Legos
or Lincoln Logs, it’s also not a great idea to take a house of cards approach to
building an NBA team. In particular, the Pistons, Cavs and Bucks have all attempted
this and have failed miserably so far. What they saw in their teams from the season
before to think that constructing their teams this way was anything more than an
ill-fated longshot at success is a bit of a head-scratcher. Now, this has cost the
Pistons their coach, the Cavs their general manager and the Bucks their…I don’t
know…they’re the Bucks, what did they have to lose?
Joe Dumars signed Brandon Jennings and Josh Smith while bringing in Maurice
Cheeks to put it altogether. The Pistons had been a middling team for many years
and were looking to expedite their own developmental process. This is in spite of
the fact that they already had Andre Drummond and Greg Monroe in the frontcourt,
but Dumars swore up and down this would all be fine because they were smart
basketball players who could overcome any potential spacing issues that would
On Sunday, the Pistons sat at 21-29 and just half a game out of a playoff spot, but
21-29 is not what these moves were made for and Dumars acted to save some
space. Ultimately, it would be Cheeks who would take the blame. The point has
been belabored to death that it should be Dumars’ job on the line as-much-if-not-
more than Cheeks since he built the team, but it should be noted that by keeping
Dumars in office until and postponing the coaching search until that time as well
means the team will have the opportunity to start fresh with a new general
manager and coach. This is type of change that the Pistons organization has
needed for a time as Dumars has burned through coach after coach while trying to
make his rosters work together.
Looking past this season’s disappointing team, the Pistons do have some hope.
They do have Andre Drummond and Greg Monroe (As well as Monroe’s contract
situation, but you could have worse problems) in the frontcourt and an above
replacement level point guard with young guys like Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and
Kyle Singler off of the bench. Deciding if guys like Rodney Stuckey and Will
Bynum are part of their future will be another topic to address, but at least this is
far from a barren wasteland.
What– why are you looking at me like that? I didn’t end that sentence with “barren
wasteland” to segue into the Cavs on purpose, because they’re really not. Like the
Pistons, they have their players, but the shaky foundation that ex-GM Chris Grant
built the team upon was exactly the type of high-risk/high-reward gamble that
winds up blowing up in a team’s face more often than not (See also: David Kahn
signing Brandon Roy). Yet, if any team’s actions exemplified the house of cards
approach it was the Cavs in that it could be pretty cool, but ultimately wind up
blowing over at any given moment.
It’s not that Grant’s plan was entirely unrealistic. Dion Waiters and Tristan
Thompson had multiple NBA seasons under their belts, as well as star Kyrie Irving.
In addition to these two, the team signed another ball-dominant guard in Jarrett
Jack to go with Irving and Waiters, and consequently creating a redundancy at the
position. Grant also brought in Bynum on a player friendly deal in the hopes that
he would regain his all-star form and appear to be a bargain. Of course, there was
the Anthony Bennett pick, another card that was unable to fall into place as the
former UNLV forward has struggled with conditioning as a result of shoulder
surgery, asthma and sleep apnea. Yet, that hasn’t happened. Waiters reportedly
got kicked out of practice, Bynum was waived and Irving’s growth has stagnated
because of a reported lack of effort. Not even the Luol Deng trade could
resuscitate the Cavs’ playoff hopes and it was Grant who paid the price and is now
out of the job.
To build a winning team you do have to take some risks and gambles, but it
appears that Grant misread where Waiters and Thompson were in their
development and Bynum’s actual interest in playing basketball. Again, the Cavs
have players and talent, but they didn’t have the patience to wait that out. Owner
Dan Gilbert seemed to be hellbent on making the playoffs this season but every
team develops at their own pace and this team just wasn’t their yet, so there is
some blame to be shared there between himself and Grant. But give credit to the
Cavs for recognizing that the way things were being done wasn’t working and
changes had to be made. Cleveland did appoint an interim GM, but it will remain
to be seen if he or another general manager would have interest in retaining Mike
Brown to coach this young roster into the future.
Our sad tour through the dregs of the Eastern Conference concludes with the Bucks.
This summer the Bucks appeared to finally be entering rebuilding mode when they
acquired....CONTINUE READING AT HARDWOOD PAROXYSM