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Vince Thomas

From The Floor

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Out with the old, in with a new definition of 'dynasty'

By Vincent Thomas, for NBA.com
Posted Apr 29 2009 12:29PM

For more than half of this decade, whenever you would get with your crew in mid-April and forecast some possible Finals matchups, I bet there was a consensus on the hook-up you didn't want to see. "Man, I'll really take any Finals other than Spurs-Pistons." Don't front. That happened every spring, ever since the young, insurgent, hungry, swashbuckling Pistons took the squabbling, entitled Lakers' supposed birthright in the 2004 Finals. From that point on, the Spurs and Pistons arguably have been the two most viable contenders in the league. They were consistently excellent powerhouses.

Those days are done. The Cavs swept the Pistons over the weekend. The Spurs are down 3-1 to a Dallas team that could be described, at best, as dangerous. The two squads that dominated the last half of the decade are no longer relevant. Their eras have ended.

The Spurs Era effectively ended when coach Gregg Popovich sat Tim Duncan and Tony Parker for most of the 88-67 gaffling they took in Game 3. That was a white flag. Then Pop joked about it in the postgame press conference. The Spurs are an old, thin squad playing on fumes, bringing what looks like a musket to fights with squads like the younger, deeper, big-gun Lakers, Blazers and Nuggets.

The Pistons Era was done as soon as Chauncey Billups left Motown. I'm sure Joe Dumars thought he could still take a crack at contending with Iverson, but then he watched Iverson try to play for a real team and said, "Yeah. 2010 it is." (That Dumars could have drafted one of those 2010 commodities in 2003, is beside the point ... I guess.)

So here we are, at the close of the decade, with this question: Can we consider the '03-'08 Spurs and/or the '03-'08 Pistons a dynasty? Before you answer, know that during that six-year span, the Spurs averaged 59 wins, won three 'ships and when they were ousted, it was always by the eventual Western Conference champ. Detroit, during that same span, averaged 56 wins, won a title and advanced to the conference finals each year. That, folks, is dogged success ... so long as you don't define success strictly in the sense of winning the whole thing.

Dynasties are tough to gauge. Is a squad that wins back-to-back titles a dynasty, as opposed to a squad that wins three in six years? Do you even have to win multiple titles to be a dynasty? Or can it be a dynasty if a team gets to "the brink" a bunch of times and dominates for an extended period? Can dynasties overlap?

Some dynasties need no discussion. The '70s Steelers, '80s 49ers, '90s Cowboys, '00s Patriots. Dynasties. But what about the '70s Cowboys? They went to the Super Bowl six times and won twice. What about my Buffalo Bills that went to four straight Super Bowls in the early '90s but lost each one? (Damn you, Scott Norwood). The Bills were the AFC's quintessential power for four straight years. That's not a dynasty?

We know the Jeter-Torre Yankees were a dynasty, but what about the '77-'81 Mr. October Yanks? They went to three Series and won back-to-back titles in '77 and '78. What about the '90s Atlanta Braves? The Braves went to five Series in 10 years (not to mention three more NLCSs) and won the whole thing in '95. That's tenured power, right there. Are the '03-'08 Red Sox a dynasty? Two Series wins in five years.

The '60s Celtics and '80s Lakers and '90s Bulls were dynasties. But what about the '80-'88 Celtics? They didn't win back-to-back championships, but they won three 'ships in nine seasons while they averaged 61 wins. They also trotted out the best single-season team of the decade, the '86 champs that went 67-15 and lost only one game at the Garden the whole season. Were the '80s Lakers really a dynasty when the Celtics of that era -- and 76ers, really -- submitted truly dominant and powerful resumes, too? (Uh, yeah, they were.)

You see how precarious this is? So, I'm giving us an out. We can now refer to teams two ways. Some squads are dynasties, other squads are "dynastic." Dynasties are the real thing, dynastic squads are the teams that fall a little short, but exhibit many of the characteristics that identify dynasties. Here are the criteria: A dynasty is a team that wins, at least, three titles with a cast that features, at least, three recurring principal characters (three players or two players and a coach). And if the three titles are spread out, the team has to remain a "power" during the non-title years.

That weeds out the impostors, like the mid-'90s Houston Rockets, who won back-to-back trophies but finished with fewer than 50 wins two seasons. But it also shafts the '87-'91 Zeke-Dumars-Daly Pistons that produced two titles and a five-year Playoff-run where they yanked Eastern dominance from the Celtics, then League preeminence from the Lakers and subdued the upstart Bulls. To reiterate -- the Bad Boys vanquished, at one time or another, the three greatest franchises of the modern era and grabbed back-to-back trophies and -- while they were at it -- changed the way the game was played for a good 15 years. But guess what? Dynastic.

I love my Bills, but they weren't a dynasty. My Bills were dynastic. Reggie Jackon's Yankees? Dynastic. The new millennium Red Sox? Dynastic. '90s Braves? Dynastic. The Young-Rice 49ers? Dynastic. The Doc-Malone-Cunningham 76ers? Dynastic.

But the '80s Celtics? Ahhh. Dynasty. The Staubach-Landry Cowboys? Dynastic.

The Billups-Sheed-Rip Pistons, for all their prolonged excellence, were not a dynasty. They let D-Wade and the Heat sully their 64-win '06 season and a terribly unqualified Cavs squad deebo'd them in '07. But, the Spurs, no matter if they won back-to-back 'ships or not, were a dynasty. That back-to-back rule is arbitrary. If a team wins three championships in five years, that team is a dynasty. Period.

Next spring, in the first postseason of a new decade, the Spurs Dynasty and the Dynastic Pistons will be history and I'll finally be able breath a sigh of relief, assured that the two squads won't slow-ball me to death in June. And that, actually, is probably the greatest testament to just how good they were the decade before. One dynastic, the other a sho 'nuff dynasty. They'll be missed ... just not too much.

Vincent Thomas writes "The Commish" column for SLAM Magazine and is a contributing commentator for ESPN. His "From The Floor" column appears weekly on NBA.com. Vince invites you to email him at vincethomas79@gmail.com or follow him on twitter at twitter.com/VinceCAThomas.

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