Cohen: Team Architecture

By Josh Cohen
December 5, 2011


ORLANDO -- It’s an obsession, a compulsion and perhaps even an inherent human attribute.

Definitely ahead of your commute to work or school, almost certainly before packing your lunch, sometimes prior to your morning shower and shave and occasionally preceding the alarm clock reverberating in your ear, you probably search the Internet for the latest sports trade and free agent gossip.

There are now a myriad of web sites that concentrate exclusively on potential trades, proposals and media reports. Some of you spend three-quarters of your day clicking the refresh button on all of these sites to see if anything new and interesting has developed. We are all guilty of it.

For reasons that perhaps only a psychologist can explain, sports franchise architecture fascinates us. More than examining box scores, reviewing game recaps or reading about how players are trying to improve their skills in the gym, we want to speculate where professional athletes may get traded to or what teams they may decide to sign with as free agents.

The summer of 2010 justifies our mysterious passion for team architecture. We were all infatuated with LeBron James’ decision – leading up to the ESPN special and after the announcement. Months later, we became enthralled by Carmelo Anthony’s drama before he finally was dealt to the New York Knicks around the trade deadline.

It’s possible we are so spellbound by this because it’s completely atypical. Only in pro sports can employees from one organization get traded for employees of another organization.

Imagine it was the same with any job:
  • Sandra, a four-year veteran as a customer service representative for MetLife Bank, gets traded to Wells Fargo for recent college graduates, Michelle, Freddie, Olivia and a future Wells Fargo employee.
  • Paul, a math teacher at a high school in the suburbs, gets traded to an inner city school for a pair of English teachers, a Social Studies teacher and a lunch aide.

It’s imperative, nonetheless, to be extremely careful with all the trade rumors that circulate around the web. While some prospective deals are valid buzz, many are just unfounded and illegitimate.

While sometimes franchises do make convoluted and seemingly unbalanced personnel decisions, generally there has to be some merit and logic to the deal.

My advice to you when reading about trade gossip: Analyze the potential deal and decide for yourself if it makes sense.

Sports fans seem to adore envisioning constant change. There is this puzzling curiosity we all have to picture players in different uniforms and this novelty to project how certain players would coexist with other players.

We, for instance, were all enamored by the thought of Boston’s Big Three competing together when the Celtics united Paul Pierce with Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen in 2007 and when Miami formed its star-studded trio last year.

Aside from our absorption of potential trades and signings and in addition to visualizing overwhelmingly superior tandems, however, it’s essential to analyze sports franchise architecture as it has been constructed.

By inspecting each team’s roster, you can get a greater understanding and appreciation for what it takes to form a good team and recognize what decisions were the right ones and which ones were the wrong ones.

As such, I have analyzed the top five seeds from the Eastern Conference last season to further inspect how they each assembled their current rosters.


MIAMI HEAT


PLAYER
ANALYSIS

Mario Chalmers
After leading Kansas to an NCAA championship, Mario Chalmers was selected by the Timberwolves with the 34th pick before his draft rights were traded to the Heat. In a league with so many elite point guards, it’s hard to assess Chalmers as a legitimate starter. However, considering he was taken in the second round of the draft, Chalmers was a solid pickup for Miami.

Dwyane Wade
In one of the best NBA Drafts in NBA history, the Heat were fortunate to land a player of Dwyane Wade’s caliber with the fifth overall pick in 2003. In many years, it would have been possible for Wade to be the No. 1 selection after his spectacular collegiate career at Marquette. But with can’t-miss talents such as LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony on the docket, Wade slipped to No. 5.

After guiding the Heat to an NBA championship in 2006 and earning Finals MVP honors, Wade evolved into one of the best players in the game. Not only did he choose to stay in Miami when he was a free agent in 2010, Wade managed to help recruit LeBron and Chris Bosh to join him in South Beach.

LeBron James
In easily the most unforgettable free agency announcement in sports history, LeBron James opted to leave Cleveland and unite with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh in Miami in 2010.

Pat Riley’s brilliant front office decisions to free up enough space the previous couple of years allowed the Heat to be in the running for one or more of the marquee free agents available in 2010.

Chris Bosh
Chris Bosh decided to exit from Toronto and unite with Wade and James in 2010 when he was a free agent.

Like the aforementioned analysis in LeBron’s box, Riley did a phenomenal job pitching a winning formula and opening up significant salary cap space to build a championship-caliber team in Miami.

Joel Anthony
The Heat decided to sign the undrafted Joel Anthony after silently impressing scouts while at UNLV. It’s acknowledged that the Heat want to enhance their size up front during free agency this year, but Anthony is a firm defensive presence because of his shot-blocking ability.



BOSTON CELTICS


PLAYER
ANALYSIS

Rajon Rondo
After being selected 21st overall in 2006, the Phoenix Suns traded his draft rights to the Celtics. Though reportedly on the trade block, Rondo has exceeded expectations and has evolved into one of the best playmakers in the NBA.

Ray Allen
Following Boston’s horrific 2006-07 season, in which they finished with the second worst record in the league, GM Danny Ainge decided to make drastic changes. The first major move came on draft night when they acquired perennial All-Star Ray Allen from the Seattle Supersonics along with second round draft pick Glen Davis in exchange for Jeff Green, Wally Szczerbiak and Delonte West. This ultimately proved to be one of the most lopsided trades of the century (Oh yea, and Green still found a way to become a Celtic a few years later).

Kevin Garnett
It was very apparent during the summer of 2007 that the Timberwolves were seriously considering trading Kevin Garnett. While for months there were all kinds of chatter about KG landing in cities such as Chicago, Phoenix, L.A. and Oakland, ultimately it was the appeal of the Celtics that delivered one of the best power forwards ever to Beantown.

Boston had just enough assets, including the young and promising Al Jefferson and the large expiring contract of Theo Ratliff, to allow Minnesota’s GM Kevin McHale to complete the blockbuster trade. With Garnett, Ray Allen and Paul Pierce, the Celtics captured the NBA championship in their first season together.

Paul Pierce
After observing several teams ahead of them in the 1998 NBA Draft make precarious decisions (Examples: Clippers chose Michael Olowakandi, Nuggets opted for Raef LaFrentz, 76ers selected Larry Hughes), the Celtics scooped up Paul Pierce with the 10th overall pick.

An NBA Finals MVP and nine NBA All-Star appearances later, Pierce emerged as one of the best small forwards in league history.

Jermaine O'Neal
Following a splendid career in Indiana, it’s been mostly doctor examinations and sideline-suit-showcasing for Jermaine O’Neal. As a result of the surprising trade of Kendrick Perkins to Oklahoma City last season at the trade deadline and because of Shaquille O’Neal’s retirement, J. O’Neal, who signed with the Celtics prior to last season, is presently considered Boston’s primary big man.



ORLANDO MAGIC


PLAYER
ANALYSIS

Jameer Nelson
It was somewhat surprising that the Naismith College Player of the Year slipped down to No. 20 of the 2004 NBA Draft. But when that happened, the Magic, who were desperate for a point guard of the future, dialed up the phone and called the Nuggets to acquire Jameer Nelson at that spot.

Since then, Nelson has evolved into one of the more reliable scoring point guards in the league and has shown to be one of the more resolute ones as well.

Jason Richardson
Although he is currently an unrestricted free agent, Jason Richardson was sent to Orlando from Phoenix as part of last season’s blockbuster trade. Though an ejection, suspension and foot injury denied him from flourishing in the playoffs, J-Rich proved to be a prolific outside shooter for the Magic.

Dwight Howard
Substantiated over the last few years, the Magic’s decision to draft Dwight Howard over Emeka Okafor with the first overall pick in the 2004 NBA Draft may have been the greatest front office assessment in NBA history.

Prior to the draft, just about everyone who covered basketball at the collegiate or professional level suggested that the Magic select Okafor rather than Howard. But excellent judgment led the Magic to greener pastures and an eventual trip to the NBA Finals in 2009.

Hedo Turkoglu
Hedo Turkoglu returned to Orlando after a year-and-a-half of incompatible performance with both Toronto and Phoenix. After several outstanding years with the Magic prior to his departure in 2009, Turk returned and certainly had mixed results.

Brandon Bass
Brandon Bass signed with the Magic over the summer of 2009 as a free agent. Though generally unproductive in his first year in Orlando, Bass made significant progress in his second year and earned a starting role after the Magic decided to trade Rashard Lewis to Washington.



ATLANTA HAWKS


PLAYER
ANALYSIS

Kirk Hinrich
The Hawks acquired Kirk Hinrich along with Hilton Armstrong from the Washington Wizards at the trade deadline last season for Mike Bibby, Jordan Crawford, Maurice Evans and a first round pick in the 2011 NBA Draft. While at the time it didn’t seem like a move that would be impactful, it certainly was as Hinrich proved in the playoffs to be a significant upgrade from Bibby.

Joe Johnson
The Hawks acquired Joe Johnson in a sign-and-trade after the Phoenix Suns decided not to match an offer sheet when Joe was a restricted free agent in 2005. While Atlanta’s decision to re-sign Johnson to a six-year, $119 million contract in 2010 remains a controversial one, the fact of the matter is that the five-time NBA All-Star has averaged more than 20 points per game thus far during his tenure with the Hawks and has led Atlanta to the conference semifinals in three consecutive seasons.

Al Horford
The Hawks selected Al Horford with the third overall pick in the 2007 NBA Draft. While it appeared that Atlanta was on the short end of the stick when it watched Portland and Seattle land the top two lottery picks, as it turns out, getting the third selection meant grabbing the second best player in the draft that year.

Marvin Williams
The Hawks passed on eventual perennial NBA All-Stars Chris Paul and Deron Williams and instead chose Marvin Williams with the second overall pick in the 2005 NBA Draft. While he is a decent role player, Williams has certainly not lived up to the expectations everyone had for him coming out of North Carolina.

Josh Smith
The Hawks chose hometown star Josh Smith with the 17th overall pick in the 2004 NBA Draft. Smith is one of the most athletic players in the NBA and occasionally dazzles spectators with his ability to stuff the stat sheet because of his versatility. However, sometimes Smith disappears and resorts to experimenting with attributes he just simply doesn’t possess (outside shooting).



CHICAGO BULLS


PLAYER
ANALYSIS

Derrick Rose
The Bulls had just a 1.7 percent chance of landing the No. 1 overall pick in the 2008 NBA Draft. Appropriate considering the clear-cut top choice, Derrick Rose, was from Chicago; the Bulls miraculously earned the first pick and predictably selected the point guard sensation.

Lottery luck allowed Chicago to become a league power for the first time since Michael Jordan retired in 1998. Rose is the reigning NBA MVP and the Bulls are in position to compete for championships for the next several years.

Keith Bogans
Keith Bogans signed as a free agent with the Bulls during the summer of 2010. While not an offensive threat, Bogans proved to be a tenacious defender for Head Coach Tom Thibodeau.

Joakim Noah
As a result of the notorious “Eddy Curry trade” with the Knicks a few years back, the Bulls received the No. 9 pick in the 2007 NBA Draft and selected two-time collegiate champion Joakim Noah.

While he struggled during his rookie season, Noah has gradually transformed into a solid starter in Chicago.

Luol Deng
The Bulls acquired Luol Deng on draft night in 2004 after he was chosen seventh overall by the Suns. Aside from an injury-prone season in 2008-09 and a somewhat controversial six-year contract agreement the same year, Deng has been dependable for the Bulls.

Carlos Boozer
After striking out in the LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh sweepstakes, the Bulls were practically forced to settle for Carlos Boozer during the free agency frenzy of 2010. While the jury is still out on Boozer’s long-term impact in Chicago, injuries and unreliable postseason play has many in the Windy City wondering if the mega six-year deal was a colossal mistake.


Which franchise do you think has done the best job architecting their team over the last several years?
Which franchise do you think has done the best job architecting their team over the last several years?
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