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The Big Fix

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(This is highly unscientific, which is basically what you've come to expect when the name 'Ziller' is involved.)

Look at the four conference finalists from 2008. How'd they get there?

  • The Lakers had a playoff roster (with Kobe, Odom and Bynum) and pulled a trade for a second franchise player, giving up (what amounts to) middling draft picks and a large expiring contract.
  • The Spurs have a top-5 player at three positions: power forward, two-guard, and point guard. All three were drafted by the team.
  • The Pistons feature a top-5 point guard originally lured by the mid-level, a top-10 two-guard acquired in a non-groundshaking trade; a great defender and able scorer at small forward, acquired in the draft; a midlevel, veteran power forward; and a repeat All-Star at center, acquired in a fairly serious deadline trade.
  • The Celtics parlayed one great draft decision (Al Jefferson) and one high draft pick (#5 in 2007), plus some bit youngsters and a very large expiring contract into Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett. They also had a homegrown All-Star small forward in tow.

Except for the Spurs, all these teams got to the peak via trades. Detroit's trades for Hamilton and Wallace aren't considered to be on the level of the acquisitions of Gasol or Garnett, but they were still important. San Antonio's the only "homegrown" elite team.

Let's look at 2007:

  • San Antonio: ditto.
  • The Jazz drafted Andrei Kirilenko (#24) and Deron Williams (#3), and signed Carlos Boozer and Mehmet Okur as free agents.
  • Detroit: ditto.
  • The Cavaliers drafted LeBron James (#1) and Zydrunas Ilgauskas (#20), and signed Drew Gooden as a free agent.

Again, the Spurs did it through the draft. Cleveland, also, got the central piece through the draft. Give half Utah's credit to free agency and half to the draft -- note that they did make a trade to get the #3 pick in 2005.

And finally, 2006:

  • Detroit: ditto.
  • The Heat traded two All-Star caliber players and expiring contracts for a Hall-of-Fame center just past his peak, and drafted an All-Star two-guard (#5) and signed an undrafted power forward (Haslem).
  • The Suns signed a 30-year-old point guard in free agency, drafted an All-NBA center (#9), and drafted an All-Star power forward (#9).
  • The Mavericks drafted an MVP-caliber power forward (#9) and an All-Star small forward (#30), and signed or traded for everyone else.

What's the lesson, if there is one? It's very hard to create a championship team relying on just one part of the game: only the Spurs have done it. And the draft is pretty damn important: only the Celtics and Pistons can say none of their top-3 players were drafted by the team ... and teach team's fourth best player was a hometown draftee.