The NBA Bubble
At some point, you have probably asked yourself why a team made a particular move or decision, or why a team seemed to not know about something that seemed so glaringly obvious. The truth of the matter is life in the NBA is really a big bubble. Teams go from game to game, city to city. Game to practice, practice to shootaround and unless someone really wants to know, it’s very easy to get lost in the chaos that is the NBA season.
From a player’s perspective, there is a lot more going on in a given NBA day than just the game and for many players, staying out of the noise is the only way to survive the grind.
To sort of paint the example, a player’s day at home usually starts around 9 a.m. They have to be at shootaround, which is an informal sort of walk through that includes getting some shots up, working with coaches, possibly reviewing game film. This usually lasts about 90 minutes. As the season grinds on, treatment for injury or nagging wear and tear consumes the next part of the day. From there, players usually get some lunch, then try to get in a nap before the game. Most players need to be in the building at 4:30-5 p.m. for a 7 p.m. start. There are routines here too. Sometimes it’s more treatment. Most players have a pretty intense pre-game shooting and practice routine that starts roughly two hours prior to a game. After that routine there is a little down-time that includes media availability and an informal Chapel service for those that want it.
Coaches address the team about 45 minutes prior to tip off, that’s when the game plan and the details are discussed and then players take the floor about 20 minutes prior to tip off.
After the game guys shower, get treatment for injuries and for those that do not play, many have to log a certain amount of cardio work to keep them in game shape.
After players address the media, most are usually headed to the airport to get on a plane to fly to the next game in the next city. A lot of flights get in around 1:00am and it’s a night in the hotel.
Rinse and repeat.
There are not a lot of off-days in the NBA schedule, some teams have gotten more generous with off-days, understanding the recovery process matters more and more as the season drags on.
The NBA regular schedule is 170 days long, and for most of that time players and coaches are pretty isolated from the outside world. It’s not at all uncommon for a player not to know about a major trade or change on another team because of the focus required on the task in front of them.
Coaches are even worse than players, because not only are they keeping the same hours the players do, they have work to prepare both before and after games that the players don’t take part in.
It’s easy to believe that in the 24-hour digital news world that players and coaches would be exposed to more, the truth is the grind of the NBA season keeps most guys in a very insolated bubble.
So the next time you wonder why a player, a coach or a team didn’t seem to know something so glaringly obvious, keep in mind the task at hand each day is a bit overwhelming and if you want to be really good in the NBA, you do have to keep your eye on the ball.
Buy It or Build It
If you think about how some of the elite teams in the NBA right now were constructed, the question surfaces: is it better to build a team or to buy a team?
In the case of the Golden State Warriors and San Antonio Spurs – the unquestioned two best teams in basketball, those teams were grown together. Sure they were augmented with a few good free agent signings, but the core of those teams have been together for some time. They have fought the battles together. They have learned to play together and to be a unit. That’s what’s made them great.
Conversely, the Cleveland Cavaliers were not grown together, they were thrown together and when you watch them play, there isn’t that same connection that the grown together teams have. Maybe that comes in time, but in the case of the Cavs their issues have a lot to do with the fact that parts were assembled together and not all of them work great every game.
The Cavs have won 50 games, so the thrown together model isn’t all bad, but for the other teams that are trying to get where the Cavs, Warriors and Spurs are the question becomes is it better to be patient and grow your team, or is it smarter to go all in and try and buy your team through trades and free agency?
The Portland Trail Blazers have been a bright spot this year because they opted to try and grow something together, and while a lot of their roster was brought in in free agency, there is something special brewing because of how close those guys are in age and experience.
Like many teams the Blazers will be looking at a mountain of free agent money this summer. Is it smarter for the Blazers to stay the course and seek out those like aged players to keep growing or is it time to go big game hunting and try and land a major player?
Conventional wisdom says go get the talent when you can get the talent, but if what’s happened in the West is an indicator, growing up together might be the better answer long-term. The problem with growing up together is that it can be a painfully slow process.
Thing change so quickly in basketball, it’s easy to get caught up in the desire for instant gratification, but isn’t sustainability a better long-term goal than a run through the post-season once or twice?
The other part in trying to buy a team, is its generally the worst value for the salary cap dollar. Free agents tend to run on the expensive side and usually have chewed up a large chunk of their career getting to the point where they can be free to choose. If you factor in that older players are more likely to see injury is buying the best answer?
There is no question that the Warriors owe their 2015 NBA Championship to the play of Finals MVP Andre Iguodala, who was a free agent signing. LaMarcus Aldridge is going to be a big part of the Spurs future, and he too was a free agent signing.
So at some point even the best grown situations require some free agent talent.
Which brings back the original question – is it better to build a good core together and augment it slightly through free agency, or is it better to load up in free agency and hope it gels together?
Both philosophies will be on display this post-season and how these teams come together when the games matter much more will be telling in a league that is very copy-cat in its process.
Right now the smart money says grow your team and build a sustainable winner, but that’s not always as easy as it seems especially if you can buy a shiny new part in July.
Grown together. Thrown together.
The playoffs may tell us which way is really better.
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