Understanding Your Window
With the Golden State Warriors championship parade set to get underway this afternoon, the big question circling the NBA is how anyone can beat them?
Let’s address a few things about the Warriors first… They will pay their free agents.
Steph Curry is going to get a brand new five-year $205 million deal. Kevin Durant will opt-out of his Player Option and sign a new one-and-one deal worth 105 percent of his current $26.540 million deal.
Andre Iguodala will get offered a new contract, maybe not at his current $11.13 million rate but something respectable for the Warriors sixth man; he’ll get a new deal. Shawn Livingston will get an offer, but of the bunch, he might get bigger money elsewhere. The Vets like Zaza Pachulia and David West will be asked to come back. JaVale McGee might cost the Warriors their taxpayer exception, but he’ll get asked to come back.
In short, the core of the Warriors will be back — that’s a pretty safe bet.
So the question of how do you beat the Warriors is not an easy one, especially because all of these guys want to be back and they are all still drinking the “team-first” Kool-Aid.
When you talk to executives in the NBA, most have a sense of the timing of things, often referred to as the “window.” That time when your team should be at its best for a chance to compete for a title. This is unlike, say, the NFL, where a really good single season tied to a favorable schedule could get you in the hunt for a Super Bowl in a single season. The NBA, by way of the best of seven playoff format, makes a Cinderella team in the Final a big fairy tale. In the NFL, two postseason wins could put you in the dance; that’s not the case in the NBA.
Because a team must be sustainably good, knowing and understanding when you have a real chance is important. That’s not to say teams are not trying to build and gain experience towards that goal, but the reality of basketball is not everyone is going to be equipped to compete for a title, even if they drafted a great player or swing an amazing trade.
This concept will drive a lot of the thinking in the NBA this summer, specific to older teams that have less road in front of them and a closing window.
For example, the Toronto Raptors have to decide if spending what could be $300 million on free agents Kyle Lowry, Serge Ibaka, PJ Tucker and Patrick Patterson is really worth it to be the second-best team in the East on paper. Is there enough room for internal growth of that group to move into the top spot in a Conference owned and dominated by LeBron James?
There is value in being the second-best team. Boston proved that this year; they hung around long enough to win the East, and for a young team like Boston that’s was a huge step forward for their franchise, and it will help them this summer in Free Agency.
Washington is well situated going forward; they have a very young core of star talent that in the next two years could be positioned to take over the East if things come unraveled in Cleveland. But there is not a likely combination of trades or free agent additions that are going to push Washington into the top seat in the East, let alone overtake the Warriors, so going all in on this next season likely does not make a ton of sense. The Wizards have one or two more seasons to build their winner.
The same is true of Boston, as much as fans want to see the future mortgaged for instant gratification. The Celtics are well positioned for the future, and with their young core and the addition of the top pick in the 2017 NBA draft, the Celtics should be right there in the next two years, maybe with enough firepower to challenge the Warriors.
There is value to a team to just get to the Finals. Coaches and General Managers get a contract extension and add value to their careers. It’s easier to attract bargain free agents when you have a chance to be on the biggest stage. So even if you can’t win against the Warriors, there is a value in getting there.
But for some teams, there is a harsh reality that no matter how much they do, they won’t be there. As much as people bemoan the 76ers’ rebuilding philosophy over the last six years, they knew that no combination of moves was going to get them into the championship hunt. Why not tear down and reset the clock and give yourself a chance to be in a position when the changing of the guard happens?
The Minnesota Timberwolves are well positioned with their talent. The Lakers could be too if they play this draft class right. The Phoenix Suns could be one of those teams too. So, when you wonder why not just trade and get an All-Star, would that really do anything in the grand scheme of winning a championship, especially given that the Warriors are not going anywhere for maybe four of five years?
There are some teams like the Clippers, Raptors, and Spurs that may have no choice but to go all in because of what they have on their roster right now. Those teams have to decide to double down on what they have or sell it off for pennies on the dollar.
That’s the Chicago Bulls dilemma — they have a promising All-Star in Jimmy Butler, but unless one of their young guys really emerges as a second star, is there a future for the Bulls that’s more than just some playoff games and continuing their sell out streak before Butler’s contract is up?
There is value in the NBA in winning 45 to 50 games and getting into the playoffs. For fans that may seem like treading water, but that’s the consolation prize while a team waits for its chance. General Managers are going to spend countless hours figuring out the right sequence of deals for today and tomorrow to trying and line up to when things in the NBA maybe change. LeBron won’t play forever, and you want to be in a position to strike when his star starts to fade or worse yet when he has his first serious injury.
Loading up now might sound fun to fans, but what’s it mean if all you do is run into the Cavaliers or Warriors? Understanding when you have a chance to win is vital in team building. That does not mean it has to be the two extremes of all-in or all-tank. The Rockets seemed trapped in the middle, and then things changed in one season and they got in the hunt; there is value in being right there if you can get there without mortgaging your future. Getting their organically if how the Warriors assembled this group, then augmented it with trades and free agents.
As the Warriors celebrate their championship with their fans today, there is a reality that not everyone will be in a position to compete for a title next season, and maybe that’s a flaw in the NBA. But the rules are what they are, so now it’s about strategic planning and hoping when your young stars start to bloom that your team will be ready to capitalize on it, and that’s understanding when your team has a real window to win.
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