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The Jerry West without Johnson Model of Team-Building

Discussion in 'Houston Rockets: Game Action & Roster Moves' started by Carl Herrera, May 6, 2011.

  1. Carl Herrera

    Carl Herrera Contributing Member

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    Since the Adelman departure, I've thought about what precedence there is for the team-building plan that the Rockets say they are pursuing: getting a star and becoming a contender without becoming "terrible" first.

    There was some earlier discussion of the Joe Dumars Mid-2000 Pistons model, but I don't think this is what the Rockets are going for since the Rockets clearly are trying to get a "superstar" (or two), and the Pistons were built on having multiple high-level players but without a superstar.

    Looking at the relatively recent history of the NBA, the "success story" that most remind me of Morey's effort is how Jerry West turned around the Lakers after the end of the Magic Johnson-led championship teams.


    To me, the lesson of the post-Johnson Lakers is that it is valuable to build a good team even if it isn't "elite" and has no "superstars" because showing that your team knows how to win is important to attracting/getting star talent to your team.


    The History

    http://www.basketball-reference.com/teams/LAL/

    Here's the history as far as I can recall: The Lakers run as a contender came to an end when Magic Johnson had to retire due to being HIV positive. They won 58 regular season games and were in the Finals in 1991, but without Magic, they fell out of contention. However, those post-Johnson teams were never quite bad enough to have a top pick-- they had 43, 39, 33 win the next 3 seasons. The highest draft pick they had was #10.

    Then they improved to 48 wins and 53 wins in 94/95 and 95/96, largely on the back of a young players like Nick Van Excel, Vlade Divacs, Eddie Jones, Elden Campbell and Cedric Ceballos.

    That was a good core, but not "elite." The Lakers didn't acquire a "superstar" until 1996, when they signed Shaquille O'Neal and traded for the draft rights to #13 pick Kobe Bryant. They didn't actually win a championship until 3 seasons in 99/00-- with Phil Jackson coaching and Kobe Bryant growing into a true superstar.

    Thoughts


    1. Winning "small" is Not Pointless


    Was it pointless for the Lakers to have gathered enough talent to win 53 games in 95/96?

    Certainly, there was no superstar among that group. That team was not championship caliber wasn't going to become championship caliber without a major addition. Also, none of the 95/96 "core" remained on the roster by the time the Lakers won their title again.

    Still, I think it was very important for Jerry West to have build that "non-contending good team."

    First and foremost, Shaq signed on as a free agent the next year. I recall Shaq saying he grew up wanting to become a Laker, but I don't think he was going to leave a 60-win Orlando team to join, say, 25-win squad.

    There's also the point that contributors on a 53-win team look a better than players on a 20 or 30-win team, though I'm not sure if this point is as critical as the first one.

    Of course, he Lakers got what ended up being a great deal for Vlade: Kobe Bryant (or rather his draft right as the #13 pick). Having Vlade being the starting C on a 53-win squad, I think, helped in making deal. On the other hand, West didn't necessarily "win" his other trade of the 95/96 core in terms of return on talent. Ceballos netted them Horry-- a pretty decent deal that filled a need. Campbell and Jones got them a declining Glen Rice. Van Exel got them Ty Lue's draft rights and Tony Battie.


    What the Lakers did, and what I think the Rockets are trying to do, is looking out for opportunities to get a superstar in whatever form, but, at the same time build a good team even without one in their midst to show that this is a franchise ready to contend once they get their superstar.

    2. Trades and Treating Players like "Assets"

    Another thing: Jerry West ended up trading all of his 95/96 "core" within a few years-- arguably, those guys were treated as "assets." I don't, however, think that West "churned" his young talent as aggressively as Morey had during the last few years or talked about his willingness to trade as often.

    I also think that, for the Lakers, having a good record (53 wins) was more important than having the biggest collection of asset to trade.

    With established guys like Shaq, it was more important that the player chooses to go to a team rather than his current team wanted to trade him to a team (and that's true whether in the case of an actual FA like Shaq, Lebron, Bosh or an upcoming FA like McGrady (in 2004) or Carmelo Anthony).

    Also, as far as trades went-- they got Kobe, or rather the #13 pick, for Vlade and the rest of the deals they got were rather "meh." It does not seem that having "depth" of talent or assets matterd much.

    Anyways... I still think building the best winning team that you can is still more important than collecting "assets" (especially when such assets are Thabeet and Squid) and still don't think frequently declaring one's willingness to trade everyone on the roster is necessariy helpful even if it's the honest thing to say.
     
    #1 Carl Herrera, May 6, 2011
    Last edited: May 6, 2011
    4 people like this.
  2. CXbby

    CXbby Member

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    If we can take management's words at face value, this certainly looks like the direction they are going. Which is kind of my fear. It makes sense in theory, but only because we are making a big assumption. That players are rational. In the end, with all of the examples out there if we can only come up with one that matches ours then that might be a problem. The fact that the only one that matched ours only worked because both players either signed or forced their way to LA because it was LA means we definitely have a problem.

    You are right that if LA only won 25 games they likely would not have gone there. However the reason they did go there was not because they won 53 games. It was because it was a Laker team that won 53 games. Plenty of other teams won 53 games or better without superstars forcing their way onto them.

    If at the end of the day player JUST wanted to win it would be so easy. Or at least much easier. Instead, they are not rational like that. Not in a basketball sense. They want the fame, the glitz, the glamor. I guess that IS rational in a human sense.

    That isn't something the Rockets can offer which means the draft is still the best way for us to get that superstar. Maybe we can still pull it off where we stay with this strategy and trade up in the draft like LA did for Kobe. We won't be able to for obvious superstars unless they forces their way like Kobe did(won't happen). Which means we will have to take our bets when either the draft is seen as shallow(this year) or other teams are confused about who to take. Although that is the strategy that I argued for before, my question lately has increasingly been, "Why can't we just take the easy way out?" It would be so much... easier! It's worked for nearly every successful team in the past and present, so why do we have to reinvent the wheel?
     
    2 people like this.
  3. LongTimeFan

    LongTimeFan Contributing Member

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    The Lakers were able to become a contender because Shaq wanted to be in LA -- I'm not sure how much their team success before had to do with it. Shaq wanted to be in movies and have all the attention.. he was headed to the Lakers whether they knew it or not.

    The Kobe Bryant draft pick.. that was in a time long, long ago when they allowed high school players to declare for the draft. Due to the difficulty in scouting HS players, several talented players often fell further than they ever should have -- Kobe, Garnett, Jermaine O'Neal, McGrady, Rashard Lewis, Amare Stoudamire, Al Jefferson, Josh Smith, Monta Ellis.. you get the point.

    Now days, there's no way that those type of talents would ever fall in the draft as they did back then. NBA scouts are able to watch these one-and-dones against tougher competition and better evaluate their potential and skill versus having to evaluate their play against weaker high school competition. That's why I shake my head when people think we can get the next Kobe with the 14th pick -- it's not the same type of draft.
     
  4. Carl Herrera

    Carl Herrera Contributing Member

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    1. I agree the "intangible" (or more accurately, "not strictly basketball") factors make a difference-- Shaq wasn't gonna join the Utah Jazz in 1996. However, I think Houston has enough "intangibles" to attract a star player if it manages to put together, say, a 53 win team like Jerry West did.

    While Houston isn't glamorous like LA, NBA players seem to like it and many life in Houston. The Rockets don't have the Wilt/Miken/Kareem history, but they do have Hakeem and Moses. They attracted star players when they've had good teams, so I'd think if the Rocket were able to put together a 50+ win season, it would be worth something.

    2. I don't think the "easier" way is really "eaiser." I'll have to take a look at the comparative data overall, but my sense is it's just as hard winning by tankin as it is doing so without tanking.

    A quick glance at the post Jordan years, we've had 12 champions, won by 5 teams: Spurs x4, Lakers x5, Celtics, Pistons, Heat. The Lakers (either the Shaq ones or the Gasol ones) and Pistons didn't win on the back of "tanking." Spurs, Heat and Celtics to one degree or another did. But each of these even had unique circumstances-- few recent lotto teams had David Robinson coming back, traded for Shaq, or have Paul Pierce on the roster and were able to trade Al Jefferson for Kevin Garnett.

    There's been a ton of tanking teams out there, but the vast majority of them end up staying doormats (Clippers) or rebounded but not quite high enough to win a title (Melo's Nuggets).
     
  5. cyntil8ing

    cyntil8ing Member

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    Sensible read but, as mentioned by the initial 2 responders and yourself, marquee players are as much about their "brand" as they are about the hoops. They know the max salary is already a given so, they'll pursue the opportunities in the periphery. LA has a pedigree and exposure opportunities that can't be matched by Houston beyond the organization.

    I hate the thought of having to tank as well but unless the Rox can make enough changes to make the Houston an appealing destination, we’re not going to be in any big name player’s forethought. Let’s take the 2 premier FAs upcoming names as an example. D. Howard mentioned going to the obvious destinations of LA and NYC Nets (via some CF link if I remember right). CP3 you ask? If last off season is any indicator pre Monty Williams hiring, he wanted to go to a big city destination and/or tag team with another big name. Also, if the company he keeps is any indication, he’ll head that direction as well. Unless we can get one to bait the other, we’re a long shot at acquiring either.

    Realistically, for me, we’ll probably go the longer route of gradual upgrades over time via sensible trades and finding value in drafts. While winning definitely influences players, winning in the historical big cities weigh in more. Be patient…very patient.

    On a side note, I get that you’re down on the Rox, but please don’t compare us to the Clips again in any capacity. The comment of the Rox possibility being like the Clips made me want to pile-driver random old ladies.
     
  6. leebigez

    leebigez Contributing Member

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    You CH, when you create threads like this, it really shows how great of of poster you can be. Great thread and let me add, I agree with what you're saying, but one of the most important things that happened was the trade to free up money to sign Shaq.

    If the Lakers had signed Vlade to the 10m per yr he signed, they couldnt have signed shaq. This is why I say the rockets should trade scola and miller and let Hayes go. If they have any hope of getting Howard,Williams, or both, they need that money. Not that those guys arent good players, but they need to get into the money game and give themesleves a chance at those 2.
     
  7. CXbby

    CXbby Member

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    The comparative data will be skewed since most of the well run organizations stay OUT of the bottom, meanwhile the "tankers" mostly are just the terribly run teams who are perennial cellar dwellers. One of the big reasons they are terribly run is their shortcomings in scouting and talent evaluation, causing them to botch draft after draft, keeping them at the bottom. Meanwhile if you gave those same picks to the top run teams in the league, the comparative data would paint a completely different picture. At least that is the flaw I see in studying the hit% of past drafts.
     
  8. da_juice

    da_juice Member

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    Continuing on that note, while Houston is no LA we're also not a Cleveland. We may not have that IT quality to attract big names, but we don't lack anything to make them leave, as long as we can draft a big name player, and put a formidable team around him, we'll be good.
     
  9. smoothie

    smoothie Jabari Jungle

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    i loved reading through this and agree with a lot of it. great job CH.

    however, a lot of the lakers success was luck. what if shaq wanted to stay on his team since they made it to the finals? that was a pretty good young team. penny, anderson, 3d, grant, shaq. what if they couldn't find a willing trade partner to take vlade for the rights to kobe?

    imagine if they spent their cap space on alonzo morning, or allan houston that summer. both very highly regarded free agents. how about if kobe was selected higher than 13 and they kerry kittles fell to them? or they might have taken a chance on another high schooler jermaine oneal. imagine zo and kittles? houston and JO? they could've traded with the suns who owned the 15th pick. they had crap centers but point guards like kevin johnson, jason kidd, sam cassell, and with the 15th pick, steve nash was on the board. ceballos for horry was in place, add divac for a pg and you're doing pretty good.

    however, none of those combinations are going to lead to a championship. in fact im sure that they may not have even improved much from the 53 wins they had the year before. did it work out well for the lakers? sure. how many teams are able to land the two most dominating players of their generation? my point is it doesn't always work out that the best player of your time chooses to sign with you. or that the 13th pick turns out to be the second best player of your time.

    i prefer the bulls model. build through the draft. they did with jordan and traded for the rights to pippen. the next era was off to a good start with brand (who had a very successful career as a 20-10 player just on very bad teams), artest, and brad miller. IMO they gave up on that too quickly. they had a franchise player to build around. brand was a superstar in his prime, an MVP candidate when he took the clippers to the second round. they traded that away for the promise and upside of 2 high schoolers chandler and curry. bad idea to start over. i think once you have a "face of the franchise" type player you should build around him, not trade him in a couple of years for a high draft pick again.

    none the less they played their luck rebuilding in the draft again, drafting solid players (deng, hinrich, ty thomas, gordon jcrawford) but none that could carry a team on his back. they let go of players like curry, crawford, and gordon rather than pay to keep them. here is where they differ from your line of thinking again. rather than continue to build a playoff team hoping to land lebron in 2010, they played the lotto and this time hit it big with rose. sure there is luck involved there to, but i think more championships have been one by superstars still on the team that drafted them. far less often does the best player of his era, choose to switch teams. we could build a decent team and hope to land blake griffin in a couple of years, but we are one of 30 teams. the odds just aren't in our favor. why pin your hopes on one guy's decision when you can spend the same amount of time trying to draft the next superstar. except this time the choice is yours not his.
     
    #9 smoothie, May 7, 2011
    Last edited: May 7, 2011
  10. Pat

    Pat Contributing Member
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    Yes, but all the great GM moves to get the dominant players of that era, they did not start to win championships until they replaced the coach!

    Rockets may be on the cusp.
     
  11. pmac

    pmac Contributing Member

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    THIS.

    LA will always be a major free agent destination. And yes, Kobe would be a top 5 pick (and unattainable by the Lakers) if he went to college.
     
  12. jim1961

    jim1961 Member

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    In any situation, their are those things you control, those you dont, and those that you can influence to some degree.

    First, The DONT:

    1) Whether a player likes Houston, the city , the town.

    The DO:

    1) Your coach, management and your reputation.

    INFLUENCE TO SOME DEGREE:

    1) The players on your team.
    2) How good your team is

    Now take what players seem to look for:

    1) Money
    2) Winning
    3) Location preference
    a) glamor, status (NY, LA, ect...)
    b) hometown (could be anywhere)
    c) climate?
    4) Players and coaching

    ---------------------------------

    I dont believe any one model or historical perspective is going to be a universal litmus test for future success. Each team, its town, its location and its coach, players and reputation all have an impact. And are also unique. While what worked for LA is interesting, its not a model (imo) that Houston or any team can pick up and follow and expect similar results. Luck has a lot to do with it as well. So you do what you can with the things you CAN control, do good damage control on the things you can merely influence, and forget the rest.

    I firmly agree a winning team is more attractive than a losing one. Especially one that has been losing for a long time. Its got to be in the back of a players mind that a team that has had a few years of mediocrity, but overall keeps trying to win is going to come out in the end. You tell yourself that a good formula gives them a chance to win at least. Once you go down the road of blowing up the team and firing coaches on a regular basis, its very difficult to turn it around. And exponentially more difficult to bring in players that want to win.

    So in the end, I think the Rockets are doing mostly what they should. Trying to win as they redesign themselves in the wake of their two fallen superstars. But they need to be careful in regards to the more recent coaching carousel. They need to be very concise about their philosophy during this rebuild, and make sure the next coach is one that can endure both during and beyond the rebuild.

    We saw what a difference a teams/players mindset has on their game in looking at our performance after the trade deadline. Players like some bedrock of stability. And knowing your coach and where you are playing next week affect you. Players/Teams need to believe in themselves. And if you start pulling the pieces out that that belief is based on out from under them, doubt will ensue. Im not saying dont trade players or make coaching changes. Im saying make the reasons clear and move in a discernible direction.

    All this secrecy and hush hush about Adelman are not helping things. Its a human trait that when you dont know something, you fill in the blank yourself. And often times what you put there is worse than the truth. If Morey has a failure, this is it to me. If he wants to play cat and mouse with other GM's, fine. But dont do it with your own players and coach. Make your intentions clear, so when change does happen, the bedrock underneath doesnt shake the remaining pieces.
     
  13. RockingRox

    RockingRox Member

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    You're right on the points LongTimeFan. Right on the points. Morey had tested his "trade-for-a-superstar" model last year. No one was interested. The Rockets was able to get TMac because of Yao, who was #1 pick. I think Patterson was really a good pick of Morey at #14. But he will never be a guy to build a team around.

    To be realistic to the Rockets, they should go to the recent Spurs model, Thunder Model, Blazers model, Celtics model, Orlando Model, Rockets/Yao model and Cavaliers Model. All these models have a same feature in their very first step: that is to draft high and get a superstar.
     
  14. TheRealist137

    TheRealist137 Member

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    So you are saying that the only way to become contenders is by convincing Dwight to sign with us? That's funny cause he isn't even close to the force shaq was, and Dwight coming here is a long shot at best.
     
  15. Carl Herrera

    Carl Herrera Contributing Member

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    1. No one was interested because the Rockets were only a .500 team, in fact, a sub-.500 team for most of last season. If they manage to be better-- i.e. like the 95/96 Lakers, win 50 or so games, make the playoffs and maybe even making some noise in the playoffs -- the team looks a lot more attractive with or without a supposed "superstar" on it.

    The theory is that the attractiveness of a team requires a certain level of achievement: 50 wins and the playoffs. The Rockets team the last couple years are short of that so does not prove the correctness of the theory one way or another. Add a decent center, make the playoffs, and we'll see what happens.

    2. As far as the "Yao attractive because he's another superstar" theory goes. He's an excellent player but no true superstar and most players know it. The team was attractive with him because they had enough talent around him at that time to be winning and be playoff bound. Had they had crap around Yao and were winning 35-40 teams, I doubt people would think much of him or be eager to join him and the Rockets.

    Winning matters.

    3. Out of the teams you listed, only the Spurs and the Celtics actually won titles. And, as I said, these are not pure "tanking" teams. The Celtics didn't tank to draft all 3 of their superstars: they drafted Pierce with a 9th pick, traded Al Jefferson (15th pick) for Garnett, and 5th pick (Jeff Green) for Allen.
    In fact, the "pure tanking" effort by the Celtics resulted in the Pierce/Walker era Celtics.

    The Spurs had David Robinson coming back to win a title with Duncan and had the good fortune of drafting Parker and Ginobili late.


    Blazers fell short. Orlando fell short. Thunders are not there yet-- are they title bound or just another good team?

    It's hard to win titles whatever you do. Neither the "Jerry West" way or "tanking" guarantees you an elite player and a title. Tanking, on the other hand, guarantees you years of misery and loss of fan interest.
     
    #15 Carl Herrera, May 7, 2011
    Last edited: May 7, 2011
  16. TheFreak

    TheFreak Contributing Member

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    So your preference hinges on being able to draft a Michael Jordan? What happens if you don't happen to have the #3 pick in a draft where the best player of all-time happens to be available at that slot?
     
  17. Spacemoth

    Spacemoth Contributing Member

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    I think it's a defeatist attitude to say that "NBA scouts have figured it all out". More than anything because that's not true. Yes they've learned from some of their mistakes in the past and will be looking harder for guys that fit the Kobe/McGrady mold just the same that they'll be looking more for international players that got drafted too low in the Dirk/Manu/Scola mold. But just because they've adjusted for some of the trends in the past decade does not mean they'll be able to predict what trends are to come in terms of the type of player that will thrive in the future NBA, the next great pool of talent to go unnoticed, and how the NBA game might change in terms of officiating in the future. You could make an argument that only David Stern has control of these factors, but you could make an even better argument that no one has control of these factors. We're all left guessing, and the team that guesses right will reap the rewards of its prognostication and be able to deem itself prescient in the eyes of the public.

    But just like the rest of us, theirs will remain in the present, just a guess.
     
  18. blink

    blink Contributing Member

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    your post forgot one key point... shaq ans kobe WANTED to come to LA. Didn't matter if they were a 25 win team or a 45 win team. so any kind of justification you may be making for the rockets organization, it's moot.... no one wants to come here
     
  19. Raven

    Raven Member

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    LA, Hollywood, Entertainment/Music Industry, Celebrities, Awesome Weather, Glamor, Nightlife, yeah, they've got a little bit of an advantage when it comes to attracting players, so perhaps it's not absolutely necessary for them to rebuild through the lottery, but that doesn't mean we don't have to.
     
  20. smoothie

    smoothie Jabari Jungle

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    thats not what i said. nor is CH suggesting that we sign shaq. did you ask him why his preference hinges on being able to sign shaq? or what happens if you aren't able to trade for the draft rights to the second best SG of all time? lets be reasonable here.

    if you read my post again you will see that i said you have a better chance of landing a star in the draft than in free agency. my strategy hinges on the FACT that ALL stars are drafted, while only a few change teams in their prime. the most logical approach is to build through the draft.
     
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