Early indications are that Draymond Green and LeBron James will continue trading potshots into the foreseeable future. Well, everybody’s got to have something to do over a long, hot summer.
But the project for every front office outside of Golden State is: How to get within arm’s length -- or just shouting distance -- of the champion Warriors?
Everybody wants a super team. What’s not to like? You plug in four extraordinary talents that fit like fingers inside a custom-sewn glove and it’s off to as many Larry O’Brien trophies as you can carry.
Prior to Game 4 of The Finals, James made known which path he would walk down: “If I become an owner, I’m going to try to sign everybody.”
Why not? It’s like window shopping on Rodeo Drive. If you have to ask how much it costs, you can’t afford it.
The truth is not everybody’s pockets are deep enough for the Daddy Warbucks approach and there is the niggling problem of that bothersome salary cap.
But that’s not to say there’s only one way to skin those Golden State cats before they stock up enough championship rings to open a jewelry store:
Strip it down and go for broke
That was Pat Riley’s plan in the summer of 2010 when he got rid of virtually every part of the Miami Heat franchise except the keys to the gym in order to lure elite-level free agents James and Chris Bosh to take their talents to Miami to play alongside resident star Dwyane Wade. While it seemed that every other NBA franchise was trying to lure one of the top names in free agency, Riley practically peeled the paint off the walls of the practice gym in other to squeeze the trio of stars together on a roster and figured that names of the peripheral pieces hardly mattered at all. Of course, he was right as the Heat went to four straight Finals and won a pair of championships. It is an option that could still be done if a front office had the daring and the nerve to hold a fire sale and then the persuasiveness to land the top free agents of the summer of 2017. But even then, would a possible $100-million combination of, oh, Chris Paul, Gordon Hayward and Kyle Lowry be enough to take down the Warriors?
Juggle, juggle the veterans
It looks perfectly logical, a flawless plan and quite easy in the hindsight of nearly a decade. Boston Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge worked like a guy juggling chainsaws to make the 2007-08 squad of Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen a reality. It began with the post-draft trade of Delonte West, Wally Szczerbiak and the rights to the No. 5 (Jeff Green) to land Allen. He also picked up key role player in Glen “Big Baby” Robinson. Then Ainge turned around and shipped Al Jefferson, Gerald Green, Theo Ratliff, Ryan Gomes and Sebastian Telfair and a pair of draft picks to the Timberwolves to get the unfulfilled superstar Garnett. And the rest, as they say, is history as championship banner No. 17 as soon hanging from the rafters in Boston. Who says it couldn’t happen again this offseason as Ainge is (for now)sitting on the top pick in Thursday’s Draft and another No. 1 the Celtics have coming in 2018 from the lowly Nets to dangle along with parts of current roster as potential trade bait? A couple of the right moves and Boston could move past James’ Cavaliers as the beast in the East immediately.
Trust the process
Sam Hinkie’s stint in Philadelphia might have birthed the phrase “trust the process,” but it was actually LeBron’s own Cavaliers who got to the top of the championship mountain by stinking up Quicken Loans Arena so much and so often to make it all pay off in a big, big way. When James took his talents to South Beach in 2010, Cleveland fell like a piano off a rooftop the following season, won the draft lottery and plucked a budding superstar in Kyrie Irving with the No. 1 pick. The Cavs then selected Dion Waiters at No. 4 in 2012, Anthony Bennett at No. 1 in 2013 and Andrew Wiggins at No. 1 in 2014. That collection of assets paved the way for James’ return to Cleveland and the deal that eventually landed Kevin Love as the third piece of the super team triangle that won the NBA crown in 2016. Now the Sixers are blending the process with a deal for the No. 1 pick in the Draft, reportedly to take point guard Markelle Fultz, and move everything along.
The old-fashioned way
After they benefitted from the stroke of lottery luck that plopped Tim Duncan into their laps in 1997 and produced their first ever NBA title in 1999, the San Antonio Spus filled out the core of the lineup that produced four more championships through the Draft. They shrewdly took Manu Ginobili in the second round (57th pick) in 1999 and then made a 19-year-old from France (Tony Parker) their top pick in 2001. They even won their most recent title in 2014 a young Finals MVP after they made a draft night that landed the No. 15 pick and they gambled on a raw Kawhi Leonard.
For all the talk and all the complaining about the Warriors “buying” a title with the signing of free agent Kevin Durant, the foundation of what could be an enduring dynasty was laid through the draft. They got Stephen Curry with the No. 7 pick in 2009 and stuck with him through early ankle injuries. The Warriors picked up the other half of the “Splash Brothers” Klay Thompson with the No. 11 choice in 2011 and then mined the second round (No. 35) for Green in 2012.
With the 2017 Draft approaching on Thursday, the different paths are there to catch up to the Warriors. It just takes planning, smarts and time.
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