What the Cleveland Cavaliers Can Learn from the NBA's Top Teams

Greg Swartz@@CavsGregBRCleveland Cavaliers Lead WriterApril 17, 2012

What the Cleveland Cavaliers Can Learn from the NBA's Top Teams

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    When looking at some of the NBA's top teams today, it's unique to see the different ways they've been assembled and how they've risen to elite status.

    Teams like the Miami Heat and Boston Celtics were built on free agency and trades, while smaller market clubs like the Oklahoma City Thunder and San Antonio Spurs have chosen to build through the draft.

    Cleveland is unique in the way that, while they're considered to be a small market franchise, they have an owner in Dan Gilbert who has shown he's been willing to spend money in order to win.

    So what's the best path for the Cavs? As their season comes to a disappointing end, what can they learn from some of the NBA's best?

    Here are five teams the Cavaliers can learn something from while trying to build a championship contender.

Oklahoma City Thunder

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    Lesson Learned: Build Through the Draft and Balance the Lineup.

    Oklahoma City remains the standard for small market teams while building through the draft, and as well they should be.

    Kevin Durant (2007 first round, second overall), Russell Westbrook (2008 first round, fourth overall), James Harden (2009 first round, third overall) and Serge Ibaka (2008 first round, 24th overall) represent the core of the Thunder franchise and evidence a tremendous job by the OKC front office.

    While it's rare for a franchise to have such luck on draft picks as the Thunder have had, they've shown it's possible to build a championship contender in a small market without a single major free agent signing.

    One significant trade the Thunder made was sending Jeff Green to the Boston Celtics for Kendrick Perkins to anchor their defense.  While Green was the better scorer and athlete, Perkins represented a better fit overall and allowed them to move Ibaka into the starting power forward role, where he's excelled as evidenced by his NBA leading 3.6 blocks per game.

    With Westbrook, Durant and Harden, the Thunder had all the scorers they needed.  Bringing in Perkins provided them with better interior defense, toughness and a player who has championship experience.

    Not only has the franchise drafted extremely well, they also balanced their lineup with scorers, playmakers and defenders.

    The Cavs should be all right in the future with trading a former high draft pick, like OKC did with Green, if it means providing better balance for the team overall.

Los Angeles Clippers

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    Lesson Learned: Always Trade Good Players for One Great One

    The Clippers last year were a good team.  Not great, but a good team. 

    With Blake Griffin, Eric Gordon, Chris Kaman and others, LA appeared to be a young team on the rise.

    Rather than be content with what they had, the Clippers realized they had a chance to become great overnight with a possible acquisition of All-Star point guard Chris Paul.

    In a trade with New Orleans, LA sent Gordon, Kaman, Al Farouq-Aminu and a first round pick for Paul in what has become a franchise-changing move.

    Currently sitting in fourth place in the Western Conference standings, the Clippers now have championship aspirations instead of merely being happy they made the postseason.

    The NBA is a superstar-driven league.  If the Cavaliers have the chance to trade multiple good players for one great one, they would be wise to do it.

Orlando Magic

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    Lesson Learned: Keep a Flexible Payroll and Don't Overpay for a "Star"

    The three ring circus known as the Orlando Magic basketball team has enjoyed success in recent years but have recently fallen prey to the almighty salary cap.

    The reason Dwight Howard won't sign an extension in Orlando is that he knows what executives around the league already know: the Magic are screwed financially for the next couple of years.

    While giving an above-average player like Rashard Lewis a six-year, $118 million contract in 2007 may have seemed like a good idea at the time, it has single-handedly ruined the Magic's chances of adding talent for the foreseeable future.

    Even though Lewis has since been traded to the Washington Wizards, his departure came at the price of Gilbert Arenas (who has since been amnestied) and Hedo Turkoglu (two years, $23 million remaining after this season) in a trade that sent Vince Carter to the Phoenix Suns and also brought in Jason Richardson.

    Such a desperate move was only made by the terrible signing of Lewis five years ago and has put the Magic over the salary cap, even after amnestying Arenas and his $20 million-per-year salary.

    Overpaying for average players like J.J. Redick ($6.5 million), Glenn Davis ($6.4 million) and Jameer Nelson ($7.3 million) hasn't exactly helped the situation either.

    Simply put, Orlando is stuck with the roster they have, one that's not going to win a championship anytime soon.

    The Cavs should learn not to panic and overpay when trying to add talent around their star, as what seems like a good deal today could turn into financial suicide down the road.

San Antonio Spurs

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    Lesson Learned: Do your Scouting Homework and Look International.

    As much as Cavs fans may dislike the Spurs for defeating them in the 2007 NBA Finals, they should have no choice but to respect them and the things they've done for the past fifteen years.

    Looking at San Antonio's roster and the draft positions and colleges of many of their players, it's hard to imagine they're an annual championship contender.

    Tony Parker (France), Manu Ginobili (Argentina) and Tiago Splitter (Brazil) all played overseas before being drafted by the Spurs and were all late-first- or second-round picks in the NBA draft. 

    When consistently picking at the end of the first round every year due to annual sustained success, the Spurs have done an amazing job of scouting and developing little known players into major contributors and, sometimes, stars.

    It should be a few years before Cleveland is consistently picking at the end of the draft instead of the beginning, but when they do, the Spurs franchise is a excellent one to model by the job their scouting department has done with international and small college players.

Chicago Bulls

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    Lesson Learned: Build a Strong Supporting Cast around your Star

    The Bulls are an awesome team to model a franchise after, as they feature a team that has been built both through the draft and free agency.

    Derrick Rose is obviously the building block, but a closer look at Chicago's roster reveals other successful draft picks as well.

    Joakim Noah (2007 first round, ninth overall) and Luol Deng (2004 first round, seventh overall, acquired in draft day trade with Phoenix Suns) are two major reasons Chicago leads the Eastern Conference.

    To go along with draft picks, Chicago sped up the rebuilding process by adding established players in Carlos Boozer and Rip Hamilton.  They have also gotten great value out of lesser known players such as C.J. Watson and Ronnie Brewer.

    Another thing Chicago has done a great job of is establishing a defense-first mentality under head coach Tom Thibodeau.  The Bulls have plenty of scorers, but they hang their hat on defense, ranking second in the NBA at 88.9 points per game allowed.

    What should the Cavaliers learn?  Get your star player the help he needs.