Slow and steady wins the race, right? Not always. I can list several examples of NBA teams that made quick, “now-based” decisions to get to that next step; be it playoffs, a conference championship or getting that title their fanbase so desperately desired. Take Toronto for example; President of the team, Masai Ujiri, chose to take some big risks ahead of the 2018/19 season. He fired his coach, Dwayne Casey, after a second round playoff loss to LeBron James and the Cavs. Think about that; the most successful coach in Raptors history was let go because he couldn’t get past LeBron James. Bold move. He then hired first time NBA head coach Nick Nurse to run the team. Next move? Ujiri traded beloved franchise player DeMar DeRozan for Kawhi Leonard, a star that had only 1 year left on his contract. Those moves alone screamed that the Raptors were in a win now mode and the man in charge said as much. “On paper we feel we have a team that can compete in the East and hopefully to compete for a championship in this league,” Ujiri told NBA.com after the trade for Leonard was official. Both moves, firing Casey and trading for Leonard, were huge risks but obviously they paid off as Toronto won it’s first NBA title. But what about the future? Sure, the gamble earned you a championship but as expected, Leonard is now an LA Clipper, dropping the Raptors out of legitimate repeat talks next season. I think it’s fair to say the “We The North” crew is worse than they were this time 2 seasons ago because at least then they had DeRozan. Now they are a team with some nice parts but no real superstar to take them to back to back championship heights.
Miami, Cleveland (second LeBron era) and Boston’s big 3 are a few more examples of a win now philosophy. Unfortunately for those 3, the departures of their stars crippled each franchise for several seasons thereafter (Cleveland won’t be good for quite some time). You would think after seeing what happened to those get rich quick teams after their stars became bored general managers would think twice before going the path of least resistance.
Golden State built their team, for the most part, through the draft. Wouldn’t it be conceivable that other teams would take notice and at least copy some of the warriors notes? However, it seems most organizations are copying the latter portion of what the Warriors did; get a star and make it easy on yourself. Golden State showed us that you have a better shot at consistent success by building from the ground up while acquiring a piece here and there. That model attracted KD. Only then did it seem easy. But make no mistake; The Warriors were good Pre-Kevin Durant and with Kevin Durant and likely pos-Kevin Durant.
Brooklyn isn’t even in a win now mode. They’re in a “do something” mode. Brining in KD knowing he’s out for a season after a significant achilles injury is a desperate move, especially when you traded your best scorer in D’Angelo Russell to make more room for Kyrie Erving. Let’s not forget who Erving is; a guy that couldn’t deal with sharing the spotlight with James in Cleveland and couldn’t handle being THE guy in Boston. Grab your popcorn for this one.
The Lakers are a joke. Have been for quite some time now. After 5 straight seasons of no playoffs, LA brought in the one man known for taking bad teams out of the depths of despair; the King himself, LeBron James. Nope. Not even one of basketball’s finest could make that thing go. So why not bring in Anthony Davis, Rajon Rondo and Danny Green? They completely overhauled their roster and ditched former #2 overall picks, Lonzo Ball and Brandon Ingram. Whatever blueprint they started with in 2016 didn’t even get a chance to see the foundation put in place before they tore it up and put a nice readymade sky scraper in its place.
The Clippers are interesting. I tend to lean toward more of a Golden State type model with them, however, they had to make a ton of room for Kawhi Leonard and Paul George. A young, promising team just became perhaps the most legitimate contender in the NBA. Hard to argue with their plan. My only question is can Leonard play well with another mega star? Has he? in San Antonio he played with hall of famers but neither Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili or Tony Parker seem to resemble today’s NBA superstar. In Toronto you saw Marc Gasol, Kyle Lowry and playoff star Pascal Siakam. Not exactly Paul George. Can Leonard share the fame after being worshiped in Canada?
So all these teams are moving as fast as the hare in the classic tale The Tortoise and the Hare. Sure, now they’re enjoying the hype and build up in July and sure, one of them might even snag the ultimate prize but what about the future? What happens when well traveled stars get bored? Leonard, George, KD and Irving are all on their 3rd team now. Those teams better win a title or several soon unless they want to see their stars leave their franchises in shambles. Team after team keeps touting their win now mentality but while they’re players stop for bigger shoe deals, more popular endorsements and Space Jam 2 cameos, the tortoises of the league might just sneak over that finish line before any of them notice.
Enter the Denver Nuggets. This is a team that is not simply looking to win its first title then slip back to mediocrity. They, like Golden State did, are building a solid foundation. One based on loyalty, teamwork, chemistry and growth within a system. Reminds me of another franchise that has multiple titles; San Antonio anyone? Denver could have let Paul Millsap walk and used the $30 million to lure in another star or 2. Instead, they stuck with their locker room leader and arguably best defender, keeping the nucleus intact. They could have waited to see how Jamal Murray would follow up his first post season appearance but instead, Denver showed their belief in the young point guard by signing him to an extension of 5 years and $170 million. Nikola Jokic and Garry Harris are locked up and they have a plethora of talented players ready to take the next step in 2019/2020 (Malik Beasley, Torey Craig, Monte Morris, Jarred Vanderbilt and Juan Hernangomez). There are also the low risk/high reward guys in Michael Porter Jr. and Bol Bol. Both players were projected to be top 5 in their respective drafts but both dropped significantly due to injury. If one or both of them work out in the future I would consider that a major bonus. And finally, the Nuggets traded a 1st round pick for ever improving forward Jerami Grant; someone who can backup Millsap or start at SF. Denver shouted their belief in this team from the rooftops and with any luck, that loyalty will pay off. They added a piece or two along the way but the core is strong. Unlike the Lakers, Nets and several others, the Nuggets are sticking with their blueprint. For better or worse, the Mile High crew will build their franchise brick by brick with a not one bulldozer in sight.
Who do you think will win it all next season?