The dominoes have continued falling down revealing interesting decisions as to what directions players and teams would go. I will serialize some teams and how they are establishing their identity this year.
The One Who Endures
This week, here are three franchises that have different philosophies in setting up a team, the Spurs, the Lakers and the Celtics.
Starting from the Tim Duncan Era, The San Antonio Spurs became a model franchise as to building a championship team and making sure they remain to be playoff bound and be always in the mix for the championship. Aside from that, they know how to take care of their franchise players! This organization is so good that it has insured that the current Spurs team will again be a playoff bound team and a perennial championship contender even beyond the Tim Duncan Era while actually retaining him for another shot at a title.
They got an equally talented but younger Center/Power Forward to continue the trend and an early Christmas gift just landed on their lap last week to get back into the championship discussions this year. Several reports confirmed that the Spurs signed 29-year old La Marcus Aldridge to tune of a $20M dollar annual salary for 4 years to take over Duncan’s role. Aldridge was the starting forward for the Blazers last year. They should be back to the discussion forums about who will dethrone the Golden State Warriors. He will have solid back-ups as Duncan also announced his return to play for another 2 years for $5.425 a year and David West came aboard to give realization to his personal championship quest via a league veteran minimum contract of $1.5M for 1 year.
Just compare this group with the strategy of the current Lakers. The injury to Kobe Bryant exposed the Lakers’ inability to sustain a playoff bound team while being loyal to Bryant. Sure, they showed a ton of loyalty to their superstar by giving him a humongous contract last year but failed to come up with a plan on how a Laker team led by an aging Kobe be still relevant in the NBA leaderboard. Sure, they tried to grab Dwight Howard but failed to build a dependable bench. They are now trying to rectify the error now by getting Roy Hibbert to go along with Bryant and Rookie Julius Randall. Still, there is a visible lack of the addition of a few solid players on the bench. A lot of us are hoping Fil-Am Jordan Clarkson may just do the trick at point guard.
The thing in this delay of player acquisition, however, is Kobe’s time might just be up and Hibbert, as seen in Indiana, is not really a fine franchise cornerstone. It was totally different during the previous times when they pulled surprises such as the signing of Shaquille O’neal and the trade acquisition of Pau Gasol to go along with the likes of Eddie Jones, Kobe himself, Robert Horry, Derek Fisher, Andrew Bynum in his solid state, among others. If no drastic moves are made this year, expect a lot of rough times after the Kobe era before the Lakers can become truly relevant championship contenders again.
Back to the Spurs. In additional moves, they locked-in old realiables Kawhi Leonard for the next 5 years at $18M a year, Danny Green for the next 4 years at $11.25M a year, and Manu Ginobili for $2.85M a year. This organization know how to take care one of their own and their own know how to blend with the organization’s mission and vision.
They are the anti-Danny Ainge Celtics of the Paul Pierce era. The current Celtics seem not to know how to blend Oldies with Newbies. Ainge, in all his wisdom, seem to not care about how to enter to championship discussions while retaining their aging veterans. He even insinuated that he would have traded Celtic legend Larry Bird earlier in his career. It is never a good basketball decision to dump an aging superstar when a team can actually still win with him when all he has to do is go along with some new blood as the Spurs are showing us now.
After their success in 2008, the Celtics let defense specialists Tony Allen and James Posey walk away, which became a critical reason in their failure to retain the crown. The Lebron James led Cavaliers eliminated the Celtics that year and with T. Allen and Posey, the result should have been different. In 2011, the Celtics traded a vital rotation member Kendrick Perkins when they are in position to take a second championship in the 2000’s for supposed future Pierce substitute Jeff Green. They lost that chance when the O’neals, Shaquille and Jermaine, broke down towards the playoff stretch without any viable back-up and they eventually shipped out Green last year.
Then they let Ray Allen walk away in after the 2011 season supposedly to please their Point Guard of the future, Rajon Rondo. Allen became instrumental in Miami’s championship run (who could forget his key triple in Game Six against San Antonio) while Rondo is not anymore in Celtic green. He is now having trouble finding a new home as his ability to lead a team is in shambles. Finally, they emptied the bucket by trading cornerstones, The Truth and Kevin Garnett, to the Nets for absolutely nothing last 2013. Both players, though aging, still showed they can play. They lead the Nets to a second round playoffs appearance via an upset of favored Toronto in the first round. Pierce just gutted the better seeded Raptors a second time in a row during the first round this year by virtue of leading his Wizards over the Raptors.
Both players got fresh contracts, Garnett, a two year $8.25M a year with the Timberwolves and Pierce, a 3 year, $3.53M per year deal with the Clippers to play starting along with the possibility a second championship trophy.
The disloyal Celtics, on the other hand, stayed true in their premature rebuilding of their team through the draft, although they recently got undersized centers Amir Johnson and 2015 champion David Lee. Their season last year seems to reveal that they are one or two good trades away from becoming relevant again.
That being said, Spurs fans absolutely got the elation this week as San Antonio is not going anywhere for a long, long time.