The way I see it, there are two types of teams in the NBA: the “bottom ups” and “top downs.” The majority of which belong to the former category. A team that is a bottom up is one that has been built primarily through the draft. A team that is a top-down is one whose roster is a collage of free agent signings and former trades. This is an over-simplification — how all 30 teams derive the 12 names that make up their roster is quite complex and beyond the scope of this article. Rather, I argue that a championship team is best built by drafting wisely, in other words, building from the bottom up. Here are three reasons why:
1) All top down teams require one necessary ingredient: one or more high profile free agent signings. This year, it was the Mavericks’ signing of Wes Matthews and Deron Williams (and almost DeAndre Jordan). Last year, it was Cavaliers’ LeBron James and Kevin Love. Two years before that, it was the Clippers’ Chris Paul. Next year, it may or may not be some lucky team’s Kevin Durant. The point is, as the Dallas Mavericks will tell you, its always a gamble going after a free agent. Not only are other teams vying for the same player, but you also only get one shot to get it right. If you miss out on your guy, it may be several more years before a player of equal or better caliber will be a free agent again. The teams that do nab a top-25 player are then able to revamp the rest of their roster as they see it fit to accommodate their newest talent. Only five of the 16 players that played at least 20 games as a Cavaliers during the 2013-14 season remained the following season after James and Love were brought on.
2) Good teams require chemistry. There are over 150 different combinations of players that a coach can send out on the floor at once. If teammates have not played with each other for very long, good luck believing they have instant chemistry. That’s what makes the team like the San Antonio Spurs so special. Can you fathom how many minutes Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobli, and Tony Parker have played together over the last 13 seasons they have been teammates? Thousands, millions, billions? Okay, maybe just thousands, but still….The longer a team undergoes trials together, the more experience they share, the more chemistry they develop.
3) Finally, the ultimate argument for my case. What kind of teams wins championships? Of all the starting five on the last 15 championship teams, roughly half were drafted by the team they suited up for. The most successful teams over the last two decades, the San Antonio Spurs and Los Angeles Lakers, were both built around their fortunes in the draft by the way of Kobe Bryant and Tim Duncan.