Winning can’t be everything in the NBA

by Andrew Kennedy

Is winning everything in the NBA? This question will be as relevant as ever if we have a Miami Heat-Dallas Mavericks NBA Finals matchup. In terms of winning and as it relates to success, two franchises could not be more opposite.

You have the city of Miami that has three championships since 1997, two for the Marlins and one for the Heat. Other than those three seasons where they won it all, both the Marlins and Heat have been pretty awful teams. They each have had their stars but overall, not a lot of success outside of three rings.

Then there’s the Mavericks who have no championships ever yet have won at least 50 games in 11 straight seasons and have come so close to hoisting a championship trophy, most notably when they lost to Miami in 2006.

What would you take as a sports fan? What would you take as an owner? It’s nice to win it all three times but it must also be nice to be able to go see a great product on the court for 11 straight years with the best owner in sports and one of the greatest players in NBA history right?

As a sports fan and basketball fan that has never had one team that I have rooted for in my lifetime (I like basketball so I make decisions on who I root for based on which brand of basketball I enjoy the most, it’s an advanced approach to watching sports I’m convinced), I have to take the Dallas franchise over Miami.

Sidenote: If Miami turns into a dynasty with LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh for the next 5-7 years, this changes the question. I’m talking about the last 11 years now.

Think of how pointless the entire sport of basketball must be if winning a championship is the only thing that matters in the NBA. So many players should then simply be looked at as completely pointless. All of the All Stars through the years that weren’t good enough to be elite enough during their careers are then of zero value whatsoever. This can’t be the reality.

If all that matter was winning titles, then no team should have ever showed up for a game since 1980 unless they had Magic Johnson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Moses Malone, Larry Bird, Isiah Thomas, Michael Jordan, Hakeem Olajuwon, Tim Duncan, Shaquille O’neal or Kobe Bryant. That’s 10 players in the last 30 years that if you didn’t have, you had a 6 percent chance of winning the title (only in 2004 and 2008 were titles won without those players).

If winning a title is everything then every team in the NBA should be tanking except for maybe two or three every season. Right now in the NBA, I’d say there are only four maybe five players that could fit this mold: LeBron James, Dwight Howard, Kevin Durant, Derrick Rose and possibly Blake Griffin. If you don’t have either of them, just give up.

I’m not even totally confident in Durant, Rose and Griffin for winning a title in the future. It’s not very often that a team wins the title when their best player is a point guard, pure shooter or power forward. If you don’t count Magic as a point guard since he was so unique and Duncan was more of a center than forward, only twice times did a team win the title where their best player was this type of player (Isiah Thomas in 88-89 and 89-90 with the Detroit Pistons).

Those who failed that are like Rose, Durant and Griffin: Charles Barkley, Karl Malone, John Stockton, Reggie Miller, Allen Iverson, Steve Nash, Dirk Nowitzki. So if winning a title was everything, these franchises should have wasted no time with these guys and immediately started trying to package them for draft picks or Michael Jordan or Kobe Bryant.

I don’t know how to feel about all of this yet. I feel like it devalues everything except the NBA Finals. The regular season seems like it doesn’t mean as much, the first few rounds of the playoffs as well and especially the NBA Draft once the top three picks have been made.

It’s not fair to say this though because all of this obviously matters at least a little, only if you look at the big picture does all this not seem to matter.

The regular season means so much to every team in terms of building chemistry and learning how to play with each other and experiencing 82 different games and seeing how everyone reacts to the different challenges that present itself. The records and head-to-head records may not mean as much but everything that goes into it certainly does.

Losing in the first few rounds of the playoffs then coming back the next year with more experience also matters. Look at the Oklahoma City Thunder last year taking the Lakers to six games in the opening round and then this year making it to the West Finals. If they come back next year and win 60-plus games in the regular season and make it to the NBA Finals, the entire process and journey of the team is going to feel so good and rewarding. Watching them grow into a championship contender is one thing that makes this league so great.

Most championship teams have to go through the growing pains. Really only the Celtics in 2008 didn’t have these and the Heat won’t this year if they win it (although I don’t really classify the Heat as a franchise, they are simply a team with LeBron on it and teams with LeBron on it certainly have gone through growing pains).

To conclude the scattered thoughts of this blog, winning a title can’t be the only thing that matters in the NBA, at least not to hardcore basketball fans. To the common sports fan, maybe.

Watching Nash over the past 10 years will always be one of my favorite memories as a sports fan whether he wins a title or not. I’m still going to go to next year to see what kind of plays the Celtics are running out of timeouts even though their window of winning a title is probably over.

Essentially, I’m trying as hard as I can to train my mind and think of things that won’t make me so disgusted when Miami beats Dallas in the Finals. Poor Dirk, top five unguardable shooter and top five mismatch of all-time counts for nothing these days.