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Building A Winning Basketball Team

I was about to go to bed when I ran through a discussion with Jim Stack in the Pioneer Press's Cav's pre-game article brought about by LeBron's impending free agency:

"There are a lot of variables that play into that (cap space)," general manager Jim Stack said. "It's hard to say there's going be X amount, but I do know we're going to have the cap room to sign players if we decide to go that route. Probably as much as any team. You can't put all your eggs in one basket, but we want to potentially sign one or two max-level free agents to add to our core group."

Jim Stack, you have stated my fears. "Potentially sign one or two max-level free agents to add to our core group?????" That's insane! When has that EVER worked in an NBA team's championship-caliber roster-building?

Not only that, but if we're going to sign these "max-level" free agents in addition to keeping our core together, I hope Taylor Corporation blows their wedding invitation sales projections away these next two years. And these "max-level" free agents will choose to join a franchise in Minnesota that has alienated it's only superstar why?

Enough indignation. The Timberwolves already have a team of youngsters assembled by Kevin McHale, largely of players drafted by a guy I'm about to hold up as an example. But right now they're bad and they're not improving. Maybe they will improve (later this year? next year? five years?), maybe they never will.

Since the team is so bad and the fans feel they've endured enough pain watching KG leave and having no hope in the present, the pressure to put together a winning product is understandably high. The trick, of course, is figuring out how.

When you look at the way Boston, Portland and San Antonio have built their cores , it's clearly through the draft; that's even true for Boston. Not only are Paul Pierce, Rajon Rondo, Kendrick Perkins, Leon Powe and Tony Allen all Celtics picks, but the two players that brought them from terrible to championship were acquired by trading cap filler and the Celtics' own draft picks (save Sebastian Telfair).

The only free agents these teams sign are role players. House, Cassell, O'Bryant, Scalabrine in Boston; Blake and Przybilla in Portland; and Bowen, Finley, Horry, Barry, etc.

I had a whole flow chart of how the Celtics were built, but it turned into too big of a pain to post, so let me give you the Clif's notes:

  1. Team peaks, over time trade away all but their best player for cap space and draft picks.
  2. Decide each year which draft-eligible players are "their guys." Draft them. Acquire more picks to draft "their guys" if they're available at low picks. Buy low on talent that has fallen in the draft.
  3. Let prospects develop, while enduring one disappointing and one painful year.
  4. Trade draft picks and prospects you've discovered aren't really "your guys" for stars stuck on flailing teams.

Sounds a lot easier than it really is, I know. But I think most experts would agree that the draft is the best way to build a consistently successful team. And if so, the next question is who to turn to for execution of the strategy?

The current Wolves front office has proven that it cannot adequately evaluate talent so as to build a contender. It's not about who we could have had, it's about the fact that the players we did take are not the franchise cornerstones we need them to be.

Is the draft essentially a crapshoot? Any GM will tell you it is, right? Sure they will, but they'll be giving you the PR line. The fact of the matter is that some GMs are good evaluators of a player's ability and potential, some aren't, and some are in between. The good evaluators succeed in the draft, regardless of their draft position.

Danny Ainge knows how to evaluate talent (kooky brain wave tests and all), Isaiah Thomas knows how, Donnie Nelson knows, Greg Poppovich knows, Kevin Pritchard apparently knows, and so do plenty of others. But now we're presented with another problem: how do the Wolves choose the appropriate leader? Or, more precisely, how does Glen Taylor choose the appropriate leader.

I must credit Chad Hartman for the solution I like (or Rosen, I can't remember): bring in a known basketball mind to 1) find the new leadership team and 2) step out of the way. The fact that Taylor allowed the chief executive of the previous owners stay on for 14+ years is proof enough that while he may have a great business mind, he does not have a great professional sports mind. (I think this still jives with his appointment to the NBA Board of Directors Chair position, because at that level it's ALL business).

The example they KFAN mentioned was Jerry West, who built a playoff team in Memphis (that, admittedly, never really went anywhere) and contributed to the Lakers success at the turn of the millenium. But to me who is less important, there should be plenty of names that his BoD buddies can give him. Heck, Jerry Colangelo might even do it for free.

So while we'll talk about trades and coaching moves and players all season, the real problem is that the Blueprint isn't working. Hiring the same architects that designed this house to renovate it would be just another step backwards for Glen Taylor's franchise. Rebuilding will mean starting from the very top. We just may have to wait 6 months for it to start.