The last two entries have been about the stability of the NBA Playoffs on a year-to-year basis. After making two entries about a topic that the average hoops fan finds to be moderately interesting AT BEST, a mere mortal might stop there, afraid that his readers would get bored and stop visiting his site.
But I’m no mere mortal. So here is a potpouri of additional hoopservations based on the already-posted hoopservation that the teams in the playoffs hardly change from year to year.
1a. Stockpiling lottery picks is no guarantee of success. The Clippers, Wolves, Kings, Warriors, Pacers, and Knicks have been stockpiling lottery picks for years, and they all suck. Oh, wait… the Knicks traded away a bunch of their lottery picks for overpriced scrubs, so they haven’t been stockpiling much of anything (except overpriced scrubs). Nonetheless, the point remains the same: teams can’t expect a bunch of lottery picks to turn their fortunes around. The system is set up for that to happen, but the system isn’t really working.
1b. The way to get good through the draft is to find a superstar; one great draft is better than a bunch of pretty good ones. Look at what happened to the Cavs after they got LeBron, the Nuggets after they got Carmelo, the Heat after they got D-Wade, the Lakers after they got Kobe, the Mavs after they got Dirk, the Hornets after they got CP3 (this year excepted because of injury), and the Magic after they got Howard. Each of those teams turned their fortunes around with one pick much more quickly than the Clippers, Wolves, Kings, etc. have been able to turn things around with a bunch of picks.
1c. Because a pick in the lottery is (i) a sought-after commodity, and (ii) not necessarily going to bring success, it is surprising that the picks are not traded more frequently.
1d. At first glance, the emergence of the Thunder might render this hoopservation inaccurate, but that’s not the case. The Thunder’s emergence does not prove that accumulating draft picks brings about success. Rather, the Thunder’s emergence proves one of the very first hoopservations I made on this blog, arguing that, when a team has a real star player who is healthy for a full season, that team will almost certainly make the playoffs. Kevin Durant emerged as a star this year; that’s why the Thunder is in the playoffs.
2. Just like stockpiling draft picks isn’t necessarily enough to lead to the playoffs, being good enough to make the playoffs for multiple years in a row doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re going to win the championship if you just keep trying. In other words, if a team is thinking that it’s “almost there,” and can rely on acquired experience – and maybe a bit of tinkering at the edges of the roster – to get over the hump, that team is wrong.
3. There are guys in this league who are not good enough to be one of the two best players on a real contender, but are good enough to start on a championship team, and possibly even to be the final piece that makes a very good team great. I’m talkin’ ‘bout guys like Danny Granger, Corey Maggette, Tayshaun Prince, and Hedo Turkoglu.
No lousy team should have any guys of this caliber on their rosters, unless that guy is under 25 and still improving (none of the guys mentioned is under 25 and still improving). Given their salaries (which tend to be high), and the amount of good years they have left (3-5), they do not offer anything to a team that has a long way to go to get better. Why not trade them for developing players and/or draft picks?
4. If all of the above is true, then there should be many more trades than there are. I understand that the rules about trades are complicated, and a team can’t just trade a guy like Corey Maggette for a young dude and a draft pick because of salary considerations, but, still… conceptually, bad teams need to be more aggressive about getting younger and further under the cap, and good teams need to be more aggressive about adding the final pieces to their puzzles. If you’re on board with the concept, then you’ll figure out how to make trades work; throw in cash considerations, or additional draft picks, or young guys from the end of your bench. Whatever. Just don’t be a bad team overpaying Corey Maggette and hoping to get better through the lottery, or a pretty good team that’s afraid to make the move that might put you over the top.