The San Antonio Spurs drafted Tim Duncan back in 1997 with the hopes that they had acquired the franchise star that had been so widely discussed. Needless to say, they made the right pick, and since then, they have been among the top contending teams.
While Duncan was the Spurs' best player, he was also a centerpiece, a foundation upon which the San Antonio franchise could build with the hopes of constructing a long-term contender.
From there, the team added Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker to the nucleus, marking the arrival of the "Big Three" in San Antonio, as well as a variety of other role players to help support the team's core. These moves spawned the intended result, and the Spurs became a dynasty that has dominated the league for over a decade. The team not only looked good on the court, but it appeared to be a superteam on paper, as well.
However, the true meaning of a superteam has become lost, and the blueprint set by the Spurs has been all but abandoned.
The new era of superteams in the NBA has become the new craze, with artificially built rosters suddenly being labeled as instant contenders.
However, this impulsive description is not wrong, to say the least. Any team that features the likes of multiple All-Stars who are widely considered to be the league's most talented players is guaranteed to be competitive.
Yet, despite the sudden influx of pieced-together superstar teams, there are better ways to produce a championship contender.
Sure, the Boston Celtics received an abundance of hype following their creation of a Big Three in the 2007 offseason, and the Heat seemed to top that off after LeBron James joined Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh in South Beach, where they created Superteam 2.0.
The Los Angeles Lakers are currently the latest fascination, as the arrival of Dwight Howard and Steve Nash—to supplement Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol—seems to dominate every headline in the sports world.
Despite this, the framework set forth by the San Antonio Spurs still remains the superior system for creating a successful franchise.
The first reason is the most obvious, as obtaining stars through the draft not only allows a team to work with younger players, but it lets them do so while paying a rookie contract, even if a player may deserve a traditional NBA maximum deal.
The benefits that come with drafting superstars extend far beyond money. By providing the star with his first NBA home, it's possible to shape his game in a way no future team ever will. Whether it be his work ethic or the dimension of the game that he focuses on, each NBA team has a unique system that it transmits upon its rookies who are searching for an identity.
By signing an already established player, there is no guarantee that he will fit into the system created by the coach, as he will likely already have his own style after beginning his career elsewhere.
This transitions into my next point: team chemistry. The same way a coach molds a rookie's playing style to fit the system, he does so in a way that the player will mesh with the current roster.
Parker and Ginobili were both sculpted to supplement Duncan in a way that would not interfere with his heroics. Instead, it would allow for gains from all three players.
Throwing together a mix of stars who are all used to the spotlight doesn't have the same effect. Each has his own style, and they can often clash.
For a while, we saw this occurring in Miami, as Wade and James originally found it difficult to mesh. While they eventually developed chemistry, after each learned their respective roles within the offense, it still does not emulate the team chemistry displayed by home-grown teams like the Spurs.
The final and perhaps most important benefit of building a contender via draft is loyalty. When Duncan's contract expired over the summer, everybody knew that, should he return, it would be to the city of San Antonio. Manu Ginobili is facing an offseason as a free agent in 2013, yet he too is intending on spending the rest of his career with the Spurs.
On the other hand, the superstars currently headlining their squads have not displayed any sense of loyalty, as they abandoned their original squads when faced with adversity. Who's to say they won't turn around and replicate those movements should they find themselves in an undesired situation with their new team?
The league's upper echelon may be overcrowded with artificially grown squads, but there still are other teams that have remained competitive.
The Oklahoma City Thunder have followed the Spurs' blueprint, largely due to the fact that their general manager, Sam Presti, once was a part of the front office in San Antonio. Through the draft, they turned the once-hopeless Supersonics into a legitimate contender, adding superstars Kevin Durant, James Harden and Russell Westbrook through the drafting process.
Which is the ideal way to build a contender?
They are not alone, however, as the Spurs—despite being faced with an unkind age situation—are still among the top four teams in the league. Their core, even years later, is among the NBA's most talented.
Despite never acquiring a superstar through free agency or trade, the San Antonio Spurs have won four NBA titles and been a top team, even in years when they could not achieve the ultimate goal.
So, while the league obsesses over these newly created superstar teams, it's forgetting that this is only a consolation for teams who failed through the draft.
The superior blueprint is that set by the San Antonio Spurs: obtaining superstars through the draft and building the organization from the ground up. It's time for the league to recognize that once again.