NBA

NBA AM: Understanding When You Can Win

Not every team in the NBA is ready to win. Understanding your team’s window is important to the process… Some NBA teams are working the system.

Steve Kyler profile picture
Updated 12 months ago on
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Understanding Your Window:  In life we often talk about being in the right place at the right time. Success usually happens when those two thing converge. In pro sports, especially in the NBA, that idea is truer than some want to admit.

For teams like the San Antonio Spurs, Los Angeles Clippers, Oklahoma City Thunder, Chicago Bulls and Cleveland Cavaliers, they have a real chance at something special. There are six or seven teams this season that have a real shot at getting to the NBA Finals and winning the 2014-15 NBA Championship. This is their window.

Understanding and planning for your window is becoming more and more prevalent in the NBA. The days of assembling the best team you can and taking a run at seeing how it works out is being replaced with mindful and strategic rebuilds.

Teams are thinking two and three years out and are making roster decisions that are often not about success today but for creating that window for tomorrow.

Fans don’t like that; it’s not fun to know your team is setting up to fail, but the truth is that in the salary cap era, teams have two options: compete or rebuild. The middle ground is an ugly and disappointing place to be in the NBA. It’s a hole that’s incredibly hard to dig out of.

For teams like the Philadelphia 76ers, this season isn’t going to be a lot of fun in terms of competing and winning basketball games. Some will accuse them of tanking for draft picks. Some will accuse them of manipulating the cap system to avoid paying out salary and all of those things may be true on the surface, but the truth of the matter is that Philadelphia’s window is not open. It’s not going to be forced open by a trade. It wouldn’t have been forced open by landing the top six picks in this past draft.

The 76ers, much like the Milwaukee Bucks and to a lesser extent the Orlando Magic are not ready to win. What all three franchises are doing is setting themselves up to be next.

Understanding that at some point San Antonio will come apart for a few seasons. That the Miami HEAT will take steps backwards and someone else’s window will open. They want to be ready for that opportunity.

Last year the New York Knicks stumbled massively. Toronto was ready and won the division.

The Indiana Pacers likely won’t be as good as they have been in the past after losing Paul George for the year and Lance Stephenson to free agency. That will create an opportunity for someone else, most likely the Cavaliers.

Will some of these bottom teams play better? Sure. Will they be scrappier and more cohesive? That’s the plan. But the thing to know is that understanding when you “can” win and being ready to capitalize is a bigger part of the process.

The 76ers could spend every penny of their cap space and they still wouldn’t be an elite team in the East. So, when you wonder why teams like the Sixers or the Bucks don’t try and sign this player or make that trade, a lot of times it comes down to understanding that even after such traction, their window won’t be any closer to being open than it is without, and that’s why teams make some of the decisions they make. It’s just not their time.

If you look at the Cavaliers, they created the right mix of opportunity and assets that allowed them to get LeBron James back in Cleveland, trade for Kevin Love and then attract the kinds of veterans it takes to win.

The Cavaliers maximized their window. That’s exactly what Philadelphia, Milwaukee, Detroit and Orlando are trying to do – it just may not happen this year. That doesn’t mean they are tanking or tossing away the season, it simply means their window isn’t open yet.

The D-League Convergence:  Over the last few seasons there have been changes made to how NBA teams are allowed to use the D-League, and with more and more teams having single affiliate relationships – they run their own team. More and more teams are using clever loopholes to use guys and the D-League to their advantage.

The Orlando Magic signed Peyton Siva and Seth Curry to training camp deals. Both were at Magic media day yesterday, posing for pictures and answering questions.

The problem is the entire process was really a facade. Nether will play for the Magic. Sure there is a chance they could blow the coaching staff away in practice sessions and earn a spot, but the plan from the beginning has been for them to take part in camp and work with the development coaches. Neither of them are likely to see game time or travel with the team. Both were signed to ultimately be waived and assigned to the Magic’s new D-League team.

The Magic will have to waive both players if they do not keep them on the roster, so there is a chance another team claims them or tries to lure them away with a better offer or opportunity, but assuming both clear the NBA waiver process, both players rights would be allocated to the Magic’s D-League team.

Both players seemed OK with the process. They are coming into the situation with their eyes open. They know they are getting a little cash from the Magic for coming to camp. They’ll get a little more cash in the D-League and when ten day contracts can be signed in January both will likely get a chance for a call up if they play well and stay on the program in the D-League.

Last year current Pacers’ camp invite Adonis Thomas earned $50,000 for going to camp with the Atlanta Hawks. Thomas was released and went to the D-League. He got a ten-day call up from the 76ers worth about $28,000 and two ten-day deals from the Magic totaling roughly $57,000. Add in about $20,000 from the D-League and Thomas earned roughly $155,000 not being on an active roster in the NBA.

Teams are figuring out how to use the system to keep guys they are interested in, in their program without guaranteeing roster spots.

For guys like Siva and Curry, they are bubble NBA guys at best, so agreeing to something like this might be smart for the long-term. While on the surface it may seem like they passed on money, both still could earn a reasonable payday this season by being patient and playing along.

So when these guys don’t log minutes or don’t travel with the team, this is all part of the bigger plan and both agreed to it in advance.

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Steve Kyler is the Editor and Publisher of Basketball Insiders and has covered the NBA and basketball for the last 17 seasons.

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