How to Build the NBA's Most Dysfunctional Team
Let's say you want to go about securing a top-five lottery pick, maybe even looking to do so for several years in a row. How might you go about doing that?
Ask Michael Jordan, for starters.
He seems to have it down to a science. Except the 2009-10 season, in which the Charlotte Bobcats put together a reasonably competitive .537 winning percentage, the team has won fewer than 40 percent of its games in four of its eight seasons. It's never finished better than fourth in the Southeast Division.
Of course, MJ didn't take over until 2010, so he can't be blamed entirely. The decision to start from scratch and rebuild was probably a good one at the end of the day. This franchise was headed nowhere fast otherwise.
And one man certainly can't do it alone. Losing is every bit the team effort that is winning. From the top down, struggling organizations suffer from a range of hazards, some systemic and others fueled by especially bad apples.
Here's a look at the anatomy of the worst team ever.
Let James Dolan Run Things
In addition to looking like an even more washed-up version of Eastbound & Down's Kenny Powers, James Dolan is a world-class ruiner of franchises.
Dolan has spent the kind of money you'd expect a New York organization to spend, but the results have been nothing short of depressing. His most spectacular mistake was hiring Isiah Thomas as team president of basketball operations and general manager in 2003.
There's no doubt that Thomas inherited a mess, but the Knicks made matters much worse by attempting to throw money at the problem and orchestrate an immediate turnaround. The list of overpriced signings (Eddy Curry, Jerome James, etc.), ill-conceived trades and wasted draft picks is long and overwhelming.
Though the Knicks finally have some reason for hope after signing Amar'e Stoudemire and Tyson Chandler and trading a handful of young assets for Carmelo Anthony, it comes after a decade of disappointment.
Someone has to answer for the constant flux and overly ambitious personnel decisions that caused that disappointment, and the buck stops with Dolan.
He meddled in Donnie Walsh's otherwise impressive work, and he'll never be forgiven if the current roster never lives up to the expectations of a fanbase that's already been let down a few times too many.
Make Paul Silas Your Head Coach
Despite some successful campaigns with the Hornets, Paul Silas' career hasn't gone as he might have hoped.
You can certainly place some blame on the rosters with which he's had to work. They've been pretty bad. He was fired after one-and-a-half seasons with the Cleveland Cavaliers, which shouldn't be too surprising given that he handled situations with well-regarded players like Eric Snow with less control and discretion that one would have liked.
And the catastrophe he oversaw last season with the Charlotte Bobcats can't be blamed on the roster alone. Tyrus Thomas had an inexplicably bad year, and Boris Diaw was languishing before the team waived him.
The San Antonio Spurs later signed Diaw, and he started for the team through a postseason run that ended in the Western Conference finals.
For some reason, Silas wasn't able to bring the same kind of play out Diaw. Maybe it had something to do with the public and antagonistic posture he adopted.
Via the Charlotte Observer's Rick Bonnell, Silas said:
I like a player who is really committed to not only the team but to himself and then doing the best he can as a player. Some of the things that would go on, like not shooting the ball (and) passing all of the time… I needed hoops and he could put the ball in the hoop. When that wouldn’t happen it was very disturbing.
It's one thing to hold players accountable, but it's another to air dirty laundry, and that's the kind of thing that will absolutely wreck a locker room.
Ideally, coaches prevent that kind of thing from happening. World-class coaches like Gregg Popovich, Doc Rivers and Tom Thibodeau will hold their players to high standards, but they also respect their players and treat them professionally.
There's a reason their teams always bring out the best in guys.
Indulge Your Superstar
What would you do to keep your superstar happy? The Cleveland Cavaliers and Orlando Magic know all too well, and they're in the midst of what will be somewhat lengthy rebuilding projects because of it.
In both cases, front offices crammed veteran talent into their cap space while making little effort to stockpile young assets that would pay dividends in time.
Impatience was their undoing, and futures were mortgaged by decisions to acquire the aging likes of Antawn Jamison, Shaquille O'Neal, Hedo Turkoglu, Jason Richardson or ill-fitting guys like Glen Davis.
Instead of saving the cap space to make runs at younger stars, the franchises surrounded LeBron James and Dwight Howard with the kind of talent that would make an unsuccessful run to the NBA Finals at the expense of longer-term opportunities.
The short-sightedness was costly, but it wasn't surprising.
After all, Orlando was willing to can a coach, ostensibly in a bid to retain Howard, and Cleveland reportedly did the same when it fired former Coach of the Year Mike Brown.
The bourgeois attempt of smaller-market franchises to instantaneously assemble Lakers-like contenders predictably led to rosters that were past their primes and sorely lacking in the up-and-coming department.
Ironically, the rush to placate James and Howard may have ultimately guaranteed their departures.
Build Around a Flashy Dunker Who Doesn't Defend
Blake Griffin still has time to save himself, but he's perilously close to becoming the next Amar'e Stoudemire.
The bulk of Stoudemire's criticism only emerged more recently in his two seasons with the increased scrutiny surrounding him and the New York Knicks, but let's be honest about his heyday with the Phoenix Suns.
They never won a title for a reason.
Despite an offensive genius coaching from the bench and a roster including guys like Steve Nash, Joe Johnson and Shawn Marion, Stoudemire's team never had a chance at that title because two of its best players didn't play defense.
The tone that sets for the rest of the team isn't promising. It forced the Knicks to take on another huge contract when they signed last season's Defensive Player of the Year, Tyson Chandler, and the organization hopes head coach Mike Woodson can similarly change the defensive culture.
The Los Angeles Clippers could be headed down a similar road if Griffin doesn't approach the defensive end with the same kind of enthusiasm with which he approaches his alley-oops.
Such is the double-edged sword of explosive young scorers. You can't live without them, but living with them can be incredibly frustrating.
Keep Making Trades
Yes, Mark Cuban finally got his title in 2011, but you can't help but wonder how many more he could have won during the Dirk Nowitzki era.
The biggest mistake was obviously letting Steve Nash walk in 2004, saving money instead to splurge on center Erick Dampier. But the Nowitzki years have been fraught with constant turnover on account of countless trades and free-agent decisions.
Rather than allowing a nucleus to play out over time, Cuban's team has undergone seemingly perpetual overhaul.
Its regular playoff appearances are a testament to the talent that's consistently been there, but the lone title shows how rarely that talent remained constant from one season to the next. We've seen the same kind of flux (in even more egregious forms) in the Knicks' decade of struggle, the Portland Trail Blazers' revolving-door roster and the Orlando Magic's inability to remain a contender.
Instant change is often tempting, but it can become a dangerous cycle.
In contrast, the most successful teams in recent memory (namely the Los Angeles Lakers, San Antonio Spurs and Boston Celtics) have attempted to maintain the same nucleus over the course of several years. In turn, they build a surplus of institutional knowledge and benefit from the shared chemistry and familiarity that grows between players over time.
The understanding that organizations don't succeed based on their on-paper qualifications alone has a lot to do with what separates the good franchises from the great ones.