Wednesday, March 9, 2011

With a little bit of luck...

There are three elements, I think, that go into the making of an NBA champion. We got to experience that first hand here in Chicago, and may be experiencing it again.

The first is good coaching. Phil Jackson has a whole bunch of rings, and yes, he's done it with arguably the best players in the NBA at that given time, but he's still done it. He's a great coach. There are other great coaches out there. We in Chicago are hoping we have a great one in Tom Thibideaux. He's looking pretty good.

The second element is player acquisition. For all the abuse Jerry Krause took (and still takes) in Chicago from the fans, he did a great job of putting players around Michael Jordan who could complement their star and who could play together as a team. These guys were not slouches by themselves; Scottie Pippen is in the Hall of Fame, and Dennis Rodman should be. Horace Grant was a great power forward, too. But it was also about acquiring second team talent who could do what was needed to win games. Guys like Jud Buechler, Steve Kerr, Bill Wennington, John Paxson and Bill Cartwright were not winning championships starting but by being role players who could play their role consistently.

John Paxson has done a good job surrounding his very own star, Derrick Rose, with talented players who complement his game well. Carlos Boozer and Joakim Noah are very talented players on their own, as is Luol Deng, but it's the way they fit together that's making this Bulls team a force to contend with. And second teamers like Kurt Thomas, Taj Gibson, Kyle Korver, and Ronnie Brewer are guys who are playing their roles to perfection so far.

But the third, and perhaps the most important, is luck. Let's face it: The Bulls lucked into Michael Jordan when the Trailblazers took Sam Bowie instead of him. To be fair, I think they already had Clyde "The Glide" Drexler at the two guard, and they badly needed a big man, and Sam Bowie was a 7'1" post player who had a ton of talent. But had they taken Jordan, things would have been a lot different.

And this Bulls team lucked into the number 1 pick at the point in time where Derrick Rose was available for them to select. Even so, there was a bit of disagreement on whether they should take Rose, the point guard destined for stardom, or Michael Beasley, the 6'10" front court force that they had lacked for so many years.

(Krause was poor at drafting this position back in the old days - who can forget guys like Jason Caffey and Dickie Simpkins? Not that they were bad players - just not guys who you could plug into the starting lineup and not guys who were ever going to be stars in this league.)

Paxson had a bit of luck at the PF position, coming up with Gibson near the end of the first round a couple years ago. A decent role player for a very good team. An average starter on an average team. For this team, he's a role player.

Paxson also had the good fortune to be positioned well for the 2010 free agent class, which contained luminaries Lebron James, Dwayne Wade, Amare Stoudamire, Chris Bosh and the guy Pax actually got, Carlos Boozer. (He might like to have Hinrich back, having dealt him to clear space in case Lebron or Wade actually decided to come to Chicago instead of trying to form a super team in Miami.)

Other teams have been lucky. How lucky were the Lakers to have been able to trade for Kobe Bryant? I want to say that Kobe was selected at the end of the lottery by the Hornets (13th, maybe) and then didn't play much as a player who came straight out of high school. That the Lakers were able to deal for him was a lucky stroke for them.

The Celtics were lucky to be in a position to surround Paul Pierce with Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen when both were available. And if an injury could be lucky, how lucky was it that David Robinson got injured and had to sit out a year, putting the Spurs in position to draft Tim Duncan number 1 overall then pair him with a healthy Robinson almost immediately?

The Cavaliers were lucky, too, to get the number 1 pick in a year where LeBron came out of high school. Local boy gets drafted by hometown team...what a great story. They weren't good enough at the player acquisition part, nor at the coaching part, to allow them to win with LeBron there. The Heat were lucky that they could get far enough down in salary to sign both James and Bosh in one year but it remains to be seen if they have the other two parts intact.

It remains to be seen whether the Bulls, or Knicks, or Hawks or Magic or any of the other up and coming teams, can sustain it; whether they've done a good enough job of putting the other guys around their stars and whether their coaches can make things work ala Phil Jackson. But it should be fun watching to find out...


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