In theory, Washington was built to win over time. In theory, the Wizards were operating under the "Thunder model" and building a juggernaut from the ground up. At least, that was the spiel Wizards owner Ted Leonsis was spitting at The Sports Guy, Bill Simmons, in a 2010 podcast.
Leonsis expressed dismay over past "win now" moves like trading the No. 5 pick for Mike Miller and Randy Foye (via SBN). The message was clear: We used to be shortsighted, but now we're looking long-term.
Roughly two years later, it's fair to wonder how long-term the Wizards have been looking. Right now, they're an abject lesson in how the "Thunder model," a strategy of building exclusively through the draft, is easier praised than followed.
Though built to "win later," Washington quickly pursued a culture change, jettisoning the frequently maddening JaVale McGee and Nick Young. Now, it's clear why they did this, especially in regards to young JaVale.
But when talented players like McGee and Young don't develop proper playing habits, it could reflect on an organization that's built to "win never." In order to win over time, a franchise must be excellent at grooming young talent. Draft picks must eventually be molded into tomorrow's veterans for this strategy to work.
With this trade, the Wizards were essentially admitting to giving up on the Thunder model, as they'd found it too difficult. The results have been terrible thus far. Washington is floundering amid injuries and curious lineup decisions.
Meanwhile, McGee has been an excellent citizen with the Denver Nuggets. He plays far fewer minutes for coach George Karl, but he also makes far fewer mistakes. One wonders how his career would have progressed inside the Washington bubble.
Speaking of Denver, this team is a good example of how one wins over time. The Nuggets collected a bevy of talented players in their early to mid-20s, maintained cap flexibility and handed the operation to a coach known for player development. A few years later, Kenneth Faried and Ty Lawson are exceeding expectations on a probable playoff team.
The ultimate "win now" operation has a Nuggets connection, as the New York Knicks permanently altered their franchise by trading with Denver for Carmelo Anthony's services. The Knicks have been a slap-dash, get-rich-quick scheme from the very beginning, but it's finally starting to pay dividends.
Right now, the Knicks are serving as a reminder that, to win now, you must build around your star.
It wasn't simply good enough to get Anthony in a trade. While a renowned scorer, Melo was never particularly efficient. So suddenly—and probably due to the eventually ousted Mike D'Antoni's demands—the Knicks surrounded Anthony with three-point shooters.
This roster build combined with an odd circumstance: Injuries to Amar'e Stoudemire caused New York to start playing Melo at the power forward position. This spread the floor far around center Tyson Chandler, enabling Melo some easy driving lanes. This combination of star and strategy would seem to place the Knicks in an excellent position to win now.
This is the object lesson for teams looking to get rich quick: If you want to profit off a superstar, you must build accordingly. The Miami Heat have spread the floor about the slashing LeBron James with three-point shooters. The Lakers are looking to involve pick-and-roll beast Dwight Howard in more PnR action. The Rockets are still searching for the right mix of talent by which to surround James Harden's special brand of combo off-guard play.
As for teams looking to take their time, this must also be done carefully and deliberately. It's not enough to simply draft guys and wait for them to become great. Teams must work hard to hone these talents; athletes don't simply arrive as stars or "busts."
A team culture goes a long way in determining the former label or the latter. If you want a squad that's build on pingpong balls, you had better boast the means to make it happen. The same goes for a star that's built on quick trades and lofty salaries.