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To win a championship, stars need to align

“So how do you win a championship?” Sam Smith asks. “This is obviously the eternal question and debate in all sports. You need stars and more stars. Though the issue also may whether you really do because either you have him/them or you don’t.”

Does San Antonio have enough star power to win it all this season? "Tony Parker is a star, though secondary to Derrick Rose before Rose was hurt," writes Sam Smith. "Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili were stars, but it would be difficult to consider them at that level now."
(Harry How/NBAE/Getty Images)

The contents of this page have not been reviewed or endorsed by the Chicago Bulls. All opinions expressed by Sam Smith are solely his own and do not reflect the opinions of the Chicago Bulls or its Basketball Operations staff, parent company, partners, or sponsors. His sources are not known to the Bulls and he has no special access to information beyond the access and privileges that go along with being an NBA accredited member of the media.

Sam Smith Mailbag

So how do you win a championship?

This is obviously the eternal question and debate in all sports, though it took on another life again last week with the comments of Derrick Rose’s brother, which actually merely mirrored the views of many fans and various managements over the years. You need stars and more stars.

Though the issue also may whether you really do because either you have him/them or you don’t.

So take a look at the teams this year believed to have a chance to win the NBA title:

Miami Heat: Of course with LeBron James, the likely MVP, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, the latter not exactly a star until the Heat won a title.

Oklahoma City Thunder: Kevin Durant, the probable MVP runner up and Russell Westbrook, who is sort of a star, though there are doubts given many now say the Thunder would have been better off trading Westbrook and keeping James Harden, assuming they had to offload one for financial reasons.

San Antonio Spurs: Tony Parker is a star, though secondary to Derrick Rose before Rose was hurt. Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili were stars, but it would be difficult to consider them at that level now.

Los Angeles Lakers: Kobe Bryant, Dwight Howard and Steve Nash, though they still remain outside the playoffs. Their excuse remains age and injury for now.

New York Knicks: Carmelo Anthony is a star talent, though perhaps not player. Tyson Chandler? Star role player. Jason Kidd? Star that has set.

Los Angeles Clippers: Chris Paul is a star point guard. Though he needs more and Blake Griffin still is a bigger star in his commercials.

Brooklyn Nets: Deron Williams and Joe Johnson used to be considered at least close. Used to be.

Memphis Grizzlies: Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol have been All-Stars, which is somewhat different than stars.

Indiana Pacers: One of the league’s hottest teams with wins in nine of their last 11, most blowouts victories and 11 of 16 with four of those losses in overtime or by one point. They’ve beaten the Knicks, Hawks and Heat this month and are second in the East. Paul George just became an All-Star while Danny Granger just played his first game of the season. David West is good, but no so called star. Roy Hibbert was an All-Star last season, and maybe that’s why they took the center position off the ballot. George Hill at point guard?

The Pacers actually are a good example of potential success in the NBA. They’ve basically never had a star, though Reggie Miller eventually was considered one. But Miller never was all-NBA first or second team player in 18 years in the NBA. The Pacers went to the Finals and lost to Shaq and Kobe in six, played the champion Bulls to seven games and lost in the last minute. It’s not that they didn’t have a great star or two. It’s that sometimes there’s one guy you just can’t beat unless things fall your way, and LeBron James could be that guy now.

For Wilt, who played with stars like Paul Arizin, Guy Rodgers, Hal Greer and Chet Walker there was Russell. For everyone in the Western Conference in the 1980s there was Magic. James Worthy was a good player, but no star without Magic. Not unlike Bosh without LeBron. There was Larry Bird in the 1980s in the East, which is why Julius Erving got just one title. And there was Jordan in the 1990s, which is why Charles Barkley, Patrick Ewing and Karl Malone, among the greatest players ever, have no titles.

Sometimes there’s someone too good, but he also has to make the big plays and have the big games at the big times, like Jordan did against the Jazz and Pacers and Knicks and Suns. LeBron has yet to prove that often enough, so we’ll see. What if Jordan’s shot in Game 6 doesn’t go against the Jazz? Or so many other games those two years. Or the big games against the Suns or Knicks? They were good enough. It took an exceptional, generational player. There aren’t many around. It may not be about loading up with so called “stars” because there really are few.

The Pistons won a title without one in 2004; the Mavericks won with just one in 2011. Wade and Shaq in 2006 weren’t anything like Shaq and Kobe in 2000. And who knows if Robert Horry doesn’t make that lucky one in 2001.

“These (Pacers) guys have played so well without Danny (Granger) it amazed me,” said Pacers president Donnie Walsh. “We’ve got Miami and then Chicago with the makeup game for three in three nights, and I say there’s no way we’re getting through that and we win them all. These guys are better than you think.

“Larry (Bird) did a great job building this,” said Walsh, who initially hired Bird to coach and then run the team. “(Paul) George will be a legacy for him. Sticking with (Roy) Hibbert. He’s up and down, but he means a lot to what the team does, protects the rim, makes you go around. The coach has done a heck of a job. David West is a quiet guy, but he’s a no [nonsense] leader, the kind of guy a team needs, protects his teammates and lets them know he won’t put up with (not being serious). This thing about having to load up with stars is [nonsense]. The team I had here with Reggie played together. They weren’t big stars until Reggie was hitting a last second shot every five minutes. They fit together. (Mark) Jackson was a good point guard, Reggie made shots, Derrick McKey could do it all, Rik Smits, if you didn’t have a center he’d dominate, the two Davises. It was a team. We got to a certain point. We just couldn’t beat Jordan and Shaq and Kobe together. But we played seven games and it took the players considered the greatest to make great plays. I believe you can win (a title) with a team good team and coach. You don’t have to have all stars. Guys usually become stars after you win.

“You used to declare a guy a star after he did something; now it’s before the season,” laughed Walsh. “What you are doing is trying to put a team together with players who fit. Then you have a chance. I feel a good team can compete with any team of these stars. Maybe only if they have a guy like Jordan (you won’t). But how many are there? The Bulls are very good with that kid (Derrick Rose). They have a star. We feel we’re very good. You don’t want to succumb to the pressure that you have to go out for a high profile superstar and break up your team. I believe a good team can win it and compete at the highest levels.

“I love being back here (Indiana),” says Walsh, who spent three seasons running the Knicks before returning to the Pacers and only has supportive comments for his time in New York. “You can be under the radar. Larry did a great job here in also getting good kids, guys who want to win, play hard as a team and care about one another. They all want to be great and score points, but not to the detriment of one another. It’s a great fit and when you have that you have a chance.”

NBA news and notes

-- Though the Timberwolves lost to the Warriors Sunday, Ricky Rubio looked lively and just now seems to be rounding into shape similar to before his injury with 16 points, 11 assists, eight rebounds and six steals. It is 11 months since his ACL surgery. ... Derrick Williams had his second game of at least 23 points and 12 rebounds in the last four and is averaging 17 points and nine rebounds the last five at power forward ... Apparently the Free Alec Burks petitions worked as Tyrone Corbin finally began to play him and Burks is averaging 14 points on 51 percent shooting the last five games. Though why the Jazz continue to start Marvin Williams (hint: Worst offseason trade owed $7.5 million next season) remains a mystery. Williams Saturday had his second scoreless game of the week and has scored three points or fewer in five of the last seven. Even Keith Bogans can’t believe it. ... In the latest Tale of the Aching Andrews, Andrew Bynum practiced and 76ers coach Doug Collins agreed it appeared to be a player who hadn’t played in a year. Bynum said he’ll play this season but isn’t rushing. The 76ers, in Chicago Thursday, should be out of the playoff race by then. The Warriors Andrew Bogut came up with a back problem and is out indefinitely again. Zydrunas Ilgauskas was an exception. Usually when guys are hurt early in their careers they always get hurt. Go at your own risk. Though the Warriors have been exceptionally resilient and should hang onto a playoff spot with the Rockets. If the Lakers pass anyone to get in, it should be the Jazz.

-- The Celtics, probably stuck with riding it down to the end with Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce, opened up their halfway house to the much traveled and suspended Terrence Williams. They also took a shot last year with Sean Williams, which didn’t go far as well. But, hey, it doesn’t cost much. As Doc Rivers told Boston writers about trying to improve your team after the trade deadline: “You have the two groups left: The guys who don’t like their team anymore or their team doesn’t like them, the buyout group, and then you have the D-League.” The Celtics also picked up Jordan Crawford, who I originally thought his first name was “Disgruntled” for as many times Washington media referred to him that way. Seems he had a little issue with suffering fools, whom he was said to believe included most NBA rosters. Crawford is a prolific scorer, though he makes Jamal Crawford’s shot selection look conservative. He’s the guy who started at Indiana and left there in the Kelvin Sampson stuff and was the guy who dunked on LeBron in 2009 in that secret Nike game. ... Latest available include former Bull Hakim Warrick. ... The Knicks added Kenyon Martin on a 10-day deal. Martin said everyone has it wrong about his attitude and he’ll prove it, “If people get to know me and know who I am and know what I’m about, I love basketball, I love winning, I love competing. Does it come out wrong sometimes? Yeah. I’m the first to admit. My timing and tact sometimes is not the best. Though he did tell the New York Post about starting late, “Who practices really during the season?” ... It’s part of being a star and they can’t always say nice things about you. After the comments from his brother last week, the New York Daily News wrote that Derrick Rose, “If you’re awaiting Derrick’s reaction, he only talks to the national media these days. He’s got no use for the Chicago guys who cover him (or try to) on a daily basis.” That’s not true. Sure, Rose gave an interview to USA Today, but Michael Jordan routinely did major stories with national publications and TV and famously Ahmad Rashad instead of local media. Rose quickly spoke with Chicago reporters soon after and seems no different in attitude to me than he was when he came to the NBA ... Shocking, just shocking. Knicks coach Mike Woodson suggested he’s tiring of J.R. Smith’s behavior after Smith tried to provoke a fight against the Pacers and then blew off Woodson and staff members. Geez, J.R. Smith. Who’d figure?

-- Now being booed at home, Andrea Bargnani was scoreless the last two games in 35 minutes and now has 15 points in his last 91 minutes played and has not shot a free throw in the last nine games he has played. No wonder the Raptors were pretending there was so much interest. “We still firmly believe in Andrea’s talent,” said GM Bryan Colangelo, who made no secret he would trade him for most anything. But Rudy Gay has revived the Raptors in one of the better trades, averaging 21.4 points and 6.8 rebounds this month. Grizzlies ownership declared the team better without Gay, so Gay told the Memphis Commercial Appeal: “Well, good luck. Of course they want to make their stuff looks good. They’ve got rookie GMs and owners trying to justify what they’re doing and I’ve moved on. That’s the only thing that’s surprised me is even after a trade my name is still being brought up with ownership. It’s crazy. That’s what’s really crazy. Y’all forced me to move on so why don’t y’all move on. Live with your decision. I’ve already moved on. I’m thinking about the Toronto Raptors. That’s what I am now. Those guys (in Memphis) are my boys. I talked to Zach (Randolph) and I’ve talked to Mike (Conley). That relationship isn’t something that just ends. But I’m not thinking about the Grizzlies on a I never forced their hand. I know it’s a business. Everybody in the whole league knew they were going to have to make a move. We at least thought it was going to be over the summer.” That is the question also with the Thunder and James Harden. Why not take a shot? You couldn’t make that same deal in the summer? ... With a solid pickup in J.J. Redick it would be a surprise to see either the 76ers or Raptors pass Milwaukee for the final playoff spot. Though the Bucks have their eyes on Boston to move up and avoid a first round matchup with Miami. ... Charlie Villanueva announced he’s opting in for $8.5 million next season. Expect to see more players doing that instead of opting out for longer deals with teams cutting back. Monta Ellis is expected to opt in for his $11 million next season in Milwaukee.

-- James Harden justifiably gets a lot of credit for the Rockets’ improved play and being perhaps the league’s most exciting team with their spread and shooting game. I happened to be with (warning: name drop coming) Charles Barkley during the conference finals in 2011 when Barkley was hanging out in the hotel lobby warning Kevin McHale about taking a job with a poor team. McHale, who quietly did an excellent job as an interim coach in Minnesota when he had to fire coaches, was saying how he was ready for a challenge and took the Houston job. The roster has undergone a major overhaul with not one player who was in the opener last season still on the roster. But McHale has been impressive turning Omer Asik into a near All-Star and putting together one of the best offenses in the game. Said P.J. Carlesimo after a Houston win over the Nets: “Their offense is just beautifully conceived. They have a one, two and three that can all bring it up. They can all run pick-and-roll. They can all shoot the ball from deep. We defended them a lot better than we did in Houston, and they still got 106 points.” ... Took some nerve for Eric Gordon to question his teammates down the stretch in a loss to Dallas last week as Gordon was one of nine in the second half with four turnovers. Gordon also fumbled the inbounds pass on the final possession with the team’s last chance to win the game. Gordon said: "It takes maybe a year or two for these young guys to really understand these late-game situations." The Hornets tried to trade Gordon to the Warriors for Klay Thompson, but Golden State passed. Coaches around the league have privately said you could see in games and pregame workouts that Gordon has little enthusiasm for the team that just paid him $56 million. He’s a talent, but given injuries and that attitude and the collegiate issues we knew about when he bailed out on Illinois you’d certainly be warned trading for him.

-- Remember Robert Swift, a 2004 first round pick of the then Supersonics straight from high school who was regarded as top talent? Turns out a Seattle TV station last week reported a Seattle woman cannot move into a foreclosed house she purchased because Swift won’t leave the place strewn with beer cans and bullet holes. ... Did you enjoy all those stories about the teams talking trade that ended up with these guys being traded last week: Eric Maynor, Ronnie Brewer, J.J. Redick, Gustavo Ayon, Ish Smith, Tobias Harris, Beno Udrih, Doron Lamb, Jordan Crawford, Leandro Barbosa, Jason Collins, Josh McRoberts, Hakim Warrick, Anthony Morrow, Dahntay Jones, Charles Jenkins,Jeremy Tyler, Sebastian Telfair, Hamed Haddadi, Dexter Pittman, Thomas Robinson, Francisco Garcia, Tyler Honeycutt, Patrick Patterson, Cole Aldrich, and Marcus Morris. ... Mark Cuban called his comments “hypothetical” that the Lakers should use amnesty on Kobe Bryant, though one might not want to follow Cuban’s cost saving advice after he broke up his 2011 title team to get well below the salary cap and seems about to miss the playoffs with little likelihood this summer of adding any major free agent ... With the Suns acquiring Marcus Morris to team with twin brother Markieff, the Suns complete the pairing as they did in 1977 when they finally united the Van Ardsdale twins and the Suns finished last in the Pacific Division. It’s a franchise tradition. Though it does give them an excuse now to bench Michael Beasley, shooting 30 percent the last five games and being yanked repeatedly by interim Lindsey Hunter. ... Mark Jackson continues to inspire the Warriors, who rebounded after a tough pre-All-Star losing streak. Jarrett Jack came up big again in wins this past weekend over the Spurs and Timberwolves and said he loved a Jackson talk that TV caught late in the Spurs game. “He said something really profound,” Jack said. “He said, ‘I relish these moments because they are the times when you find out who’s really with you.’” Actually, Jackson, who also is a preacher, told the players in an impromptu huddle how he regularly was substituted late for defense and was insulted and he was sticking with them to pull out the game against the Spurs. He and Tom Thibodeau should battle it out for Coach of the Year.

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