Jake's Take: 9/3/10
Finding that Elusive Perfect Mixture
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Contrary to what Ron Burgundy may believe, there are a select few people in this world that actually understand the basic concepts of science. I am, in no way, shape or form, one of them. Far from it. I thought I was done with centrifugal forces and periodic tables once I graduated high school, but lo and behold, 11 credits awaited me in college. And it wasn't pretty. Plant Biology and Physics 101 were complete and utter disasters. I thought Astronomy might actually come in handy as I could dazzle the female contingency with my infinite knowledge of constellations. It turns out the Big Dipper and its nighttime cohorts weren't the aphrodisiacs I hoped they'd be.
The one, and only, brand of science that I have the slightest knowledge of is chemistry. More specifically, team chemistry. I'm not going to pretend that I know what it's like in a professional locker room. I have played within a team concept since I was a wee 5-year-old, though, so I'm not a complete novice. I've experienced the glory that comes with playing on a team in which all members are on the same page. I've also been subjected to the seemingly insurmountable adversity that comes with mismatched teammates. I can only imagine what a locker room filled with million dollar talents, and the occasional billion dollar ego, can do to the stability of a team.
One of the major questions surrounding the Bucks this season will be how the new blood -- Milwaukee has added eight new players to its roster -- meshes with the old guard. A big part of last year's team success was that the entire roster, from top to bottom, bought into what Scott Skiles was preaching. The Bucks were a "team" in the truest sense of the word. They won as a team, and they lost as a team. Every player gave everything he had every night for every one of his teammates. The Bucks were the only playoff team last year that didn't have a single All-Star. That doesn't happen without a strong group dynamic.
If I'm remembering my high school chemistry class accurately, adding an outside element into a stable concoction can have some extremely adverse effects. Not all additions will cause such a reaction, but if the wrong ones are added, the whole school could burn down. That's the worse-case scenario, and in the case of the Bucks, the equivalent of missing the playoffs this season. It's up to the team to make sure that doesn't happen.
All early signs imply little to no change in the team chemistry. The younger crowd, namely Brandon Jennings, Larry Sanders and Tiny Gallon, have already shown that they'll have no problem getting along this season. If their in-person friendships are as tight as their twitter friendships, they could grow as teammates throughout the foreseeable future.
On the veteran front, stories have abounded this summer detailing the numerous calls being placed between incumbent captain Andrew Bogut and newcomers Corey Maggette, Drew Gooden and Chris Douglas-Roberts. Establishing an early trust between your in-house talent and your incoming vets can go a long way toward building a seamless transition from one season to the next. If that trust isn't developed early on, it will become more difficult to foster as the season progresses.
While my initial instinct is to believe that team chemistry is of the utmost important in building a winning team, a look back at past champions questions the validity of that instinct. In playing devil's advocate to my own contention, maybe teammates don't necessarily need to get along. Maybe individual players just need to know their roles.
Two of the greatest championship teams of the last 20 years are the Bulls of the 1990s and the Lakers of the early 2000s. One read of The Jordan Rules, Sam Smith's in-depth look at the 1991 Chicago Bulls, made it was clear that Michael Jordan was far from being the most-liked teammate known to man. He routinely cut down teammates with personal jabs. While guys like Luc Longley, John Paxson and Toni Kukoc may have secretly despised Jordan, that didn't deter them from doing what needed to be done for the good of the team.
It was a slightly different story in Hollywood. In Chicago, Jordan was the undeniable top dog while Scottie Pippen played the role of sidekick to perfection. In Los Angeles, there was a distinct power struggle between alpha dogs Shaquille O'Neal and Kobe Bryant. Shaq was the leader of the pack in the early going, but as Kobe grew as a player, so did his desire to be the team leader. A mutual disdain for one another developed and it hasn't subsided since they went their separate ways, either. But like Chicago, the beef in L.A. didn't have a negative impact on the success of the team. Shaq, Kobe and the Lakers won three straight championships despite the bad blood, and almost won a fourth together before the disconnect finally became too much.
At the other end of the spectrum, teams seemingly overflowing with friendship love haven't necessarily enjoyed the greatest success. The most recent example is the Cleveland Cavaliers of the last two seasons. All of their pregame shenanigans suggested that the Cavs were one big, happy family, and that this, along with LeBron James, would be what propelled them to numerous championships. Unfortunately for the city of Cleveland, amazing team chemistry wasn't nearly enough to either win a title or keep LeBron in tow.
A significant burden falls on Skiles' ability to channel his inner salesman and re-up last year's customers while selling his new customers on the Bucks brand of basketball. The rapid turnover within the NBA coaching ranks over the last decade is a blatant indication that it's becoming more and more difficult to get players tuned in to the coach's philosophies year after year. That's not likely to change any time soon. Having Bogut and Jennings on board will no doubt make Skiles' job easier. When the faces of a franchise are behind the coaching staff, it becomes considerably easier to get everyone else to fall in line.
At the end of the day, though, it's up to the players to except the roles they've been given. If they can excel in those roles, team success is sure to follow. But that's no easy formulation to conjure up. It takes a lot of beakers with the perfect amount of each ingredient to find that ideal blend of team cohesiveness and team success. That's far from basic science.
Note: These are the views of the 6th Fan Blogger. Thoughts and opinions expressed in this articles are not necessarily the views of the Milwaukee Bucks.