As Seen in the 2013 NBA Playoffs, a Stable Front Office Is Needed to Win It All

Marshall ZweigContributor IIMay 17, 2013

Under Pat Riley's keen guidance, the Heat are poised to win their third NBA championship.
Under Pat Riley's keen guidance, the Heat are poised to win their third NBA championship.Win McNamee/Getty Images

It starts at the top.

This generally accepted maxim of business success applies to the NBA as well as any other commercial venture.

The four teams still vying for the 2013 NBA championship have varying levels of stability. Not surprisingly, the more consistent the front office has been, the more successful the franchise has been on the court. See for yourself.

San Antonio Spurs

Is there any more stable organization in sports than the San Antonio Spurs?

So then is it any wonder the Spurs have won four championships since 1999 and are in position to compete for a fifth?

Skeptics can say coach Gregg Popovich's 17-year run as coach—save for his disastrous first year—has coincided with the Hall of Fame career of one Tim Duncan. The argument could be made that Duncan has been the stabilizing force.

News flash: One player does not a dynasty make. Popovich, the general manager and his self-named successor R.C. Buford, surrounded Duncan with a core of stars like Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili, who created the nucleus of a championship dynasty. Buford, who by virtue of his longevity is able to pursue a vision for his roster, is continuing to stock the larder with players like Kawhi Leonard, Danny Green and Tiago Splitter.

The front-office stability has also afforded Popovich the opportunity to masterfully adjust his strategy to compensate for his star players' age and the influx of younger talent.

Every year the Spurs are declared dead, and every year they continue to make sports pundits look like chumps. The common denominator on the court may be Duncan. But the common denominators of Popovich and Buford mean the Spurs will likely be a force for years to come.


Miami Heat

Since 1995, the Heat have had but one general manager: Pat Riley. They've also won two championships and are the presumptive favorite to win their third in short order.

Outside of Dwyane Wade, Riley has been largely unsuccessful in the draft. His consistent approach to winning has instead been to bring in big-time veterans: first Alonzo Mourning and Tim Hardaway, then Shaquille O'Neal, and the current core LeBron James, Chris Bosh and Wade.

Perhaps Riley's real genius, though, has been in the players he brings in to surround his superstars. He continually nabs guys who are not only affordable, but have impact on the floor.

His current crop bears out that notion: Norris Cole plays outstanding defense; Mario Chalmers is certainly competent at the point; Ray Allen is Ray Allen. Shane Battier and longtime Heat mainstay Udonis Haslem continue to contribute major minutes. Even Chris "Birdman" Andersen was a clever late-season signing.

The combination of free-agent superstars and affordable supporting players did not win Riley a championship in its first permutation, but in his two rebuilding efforts since, he's struck Larry O'Brien gold both times.

The multiple championships are a tribute to Riley's unique vision and perhaps the most significant reason why the Heat continue to compete at the league's highest level.


Memphis Grizzlies

Jerry West is quite literally the face of the NBA, being the model for the famous silhouette in the league's logo. It seems fitting that his arrival in Memphis coincided with the team becoming a legitimate NBA franchise for the first time.

In West's first full year as general manager of the Grizzlies, he won Executive of the Year, and the team won a franchise-record 50 games. It would be West's high-water mark, but he brought a lifetime of basketball experience at the highest level to the fledgling franchise.

After several disappointing seasons, West stepped down; to replace him, the franchise brought in Chris Wallace just days before the 2007 draft.

Wallace is a perfect example of vision revealing itself given enough time.

Exhibit A: Wallace's choice at fourth overall in the 2007 draft was Mike Conley, who at the time was not a popular pick. That estimation has radically shifted, as Conley, under the guidance of coach Lionel Hollins, has blossomed into a star.

Exhibit B: Wallace traded star Pau Gasol for his brother Marc. The trade was so reviled, some in the NBA called for reforms to prevent something so one-sided. Many in Memphis called for Wallace's head. Who wouldn't trade Pau for Marc now?

Exhibit C: The trade of Quentin Richardson to obtain Zach Randolph. Hollins' effect on Randolph has been profound as well, as the power forward went from troublesome and disappointing to two All-Star appearances and an All-NBA third team award.

As Wallace has provided a stable and consistent on-court vision, so too has he provided stable coaching. In West's tenure, the Grizzlies went through no fewer than five coaches (including a short stint by Hollins).

Wallace wisely hired back the former Grizzlies assistant. Hollins' calm, intuitive approach are as much a part of this Grizzlies image as their formidable frontcourt of Gasol and Randolph.

Alas, new owner Robert Pera and his new CEO Jason Levien, fans of the statistical approach to basketball pioneered by Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey, appear to think that they know better than Hollins and even Wallace. So upheaval could be on the horizon for this franchise.

Based on the convincing case we're building, methinks that portends a gristly future for the Grizzlies. Which is a shame, because based on their stability, a championship could be right around the corner for this team.


Indiana Pacers

The Pacers might not have broken through to win it all, but they sure have had their share of opportunities. Their stability has resulted in almost yearly trips to the postseason.

When Donnie Walsh became general manager in 1986, the Pacers had made the playoffs just once in the previous nine years. Walsh's team made the postseason in his first year as GM. Despite struggles the following two seasons, Walsh was promoted to team president and CEO in 1988.

The Pacers could not have made a better decision. From the 1989-90 season to the 2005-06 season, they qualified for the postseason every year but one, making 17 out of 18 possible playoffs.

In 1997, Walsh took a chance on the pride of French Lick, an unproven Larry Bird, who promptly won Coach of the Year in his first season. Walsh's one misstep was hiring former Indiana University star Isiah Thomas to man the sidelines after Bird resigned. Under Thomas, the team generally struggled, and it failed to advance past the first round.

After three seasons, Walsh lured Bird back to assume the role of president of basketball operations. One of Bird's first acts was to ax Thomas in favor of Rick Carlisle, who immediately shepherded the team to a 61-win season and the Eastern Conference finals.

The Pacers had just four coaches from 1993-94 to 2006-07. During that time, no coach roamed the sidelines fewer than three seasons.

In 2008, Walsh was lured away for a couple of years to stem the miasma that was the New York Knicks, but when Bird decided to step down for health reasons after winning Executive of the Year, the Pacers reached out to their former leader. Their emphasis on reestablishing stability was richly rewarded, as Indiana notched its best record since the 2003-04 campaign.