Forever Young: Failing Rebuilding Teams Can Learn From the Blazers

Josh BAnalyst INovember 4, 2009

HOUSTON - APRIL 30:  Guard Brandon Roy #7 of the Portland Trail Blazers in Game Six of the Western Conference Quarterfinals during the 2009 NBA Playoffs at Toyota Center on April 30, 2009 in Houston, Texas. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

A 118-90 loss to the Celtics spawned a potentially embarrassing season for the Bulls.

Last year, the Bulls looked like they were on the right track. They made the playoffs, won eight more games than the previous season, and they gave the Celtics a run for their money in a seven game thrill-a-minute series.

Looks like rebuilding could pay off for the Bulls...since they started rebuilding in 1998.

Chicago has a lot to look forward to. Second-year point guard Derrick Rose is great at getting to the hoop, and he shows occasional glimpses of great passing in traffic. He's the future superstar the Bulls were lacking when they won 49 games in 2007.

Rose leads an explosive offense, helped out by the smooth-scoring John Salmons and the talented Luol Deng. But there's a lot the Bulls need to do in order to get where they want to be.

First off, there's very little defensive intensity. Tyrus Thomas has the potential to make the all-defensive team, but too often he goes for the offensive board rather than transitioning down the court.

Joakim Noah is a big body, but he's too slow on the pick and roll. Rose is big for a point guard at 6'3", but he takes plays off on defense. Poor defense has made the Bulls inconsistent. It could make the Bulls a losing team, but coach Vinny Del Negro has allowed it since he started a year ago.

More teams than ever before are rebuilding. In a league where rookies at the top of the draft can make a team into a contender and when cap space is necessary for a big signing, rebuilding is sometimes more beneficial than winning (even more so when only six teams have won it all since 1984).

Teams usually get to this point with a combination of bad drafting, poor management, and piss-poor luck. Few teams are elite, so there's a deep hole to dig out of.

The Trailblazers are an example of a team which is out of that hole, but not all teams have the same basis of direction. In the Bulls' case, the rebuilding process can seem eternal. Here's a look at how some teams have dug themselves into the same hole as the Bulls.

The Bulls are used as an example only because I saw their game last Friday. You can take away the Bulls and replace them with any team that's not contending for a title right now.

Another example is the Bucks, who haven't won more than 42 games since 2000-2001. They also haven't had a winning season since they drafted Andrew Bogut first overall in 2005.

When they drafted Bogut, they left players such as Chris Paul and Deron Williams on the board. They've drafted poorly, and they're paying for it. They've only drafted six players on their roster.

Since 2005, in the first round they've selected David Noel, Yi Jianlian, Joe Alexander, and Brandon Jennings in the first round. Only two are in the starting five for a team that could finish close to last in the conference.

Perhaps the best drafting team in recent history has been the Trail Blazers. Nine of their current players were drafted by them, only three more than the Bucks, however the quality of their draft picks is top-notch.

Portland only has a 57.6 million dollar payroll, 26th in the NBA. Yet they were tied for the second best record in the Western Conference last year.

They've succeeded with their early picks: LaMarcus Aldridge (second overall) and Brandon Roy (sixth overall) are leading the team. Despite being drafted in 2006, they could lead the Trail Blazers to a championship as soon as this year.

But there are other rebuilding teams who have succeeded early in the draft who sit at the bottom of the league as of now. Kevin Durant, Jeff Green, and Russell Westbrook are all top five picks who are living up to the hype, but the Thunder won 23 games last year because they lack a supporting cast.

It's too early to call them a failure, but in the second year of Roy's career, the Blazers almost made the playoffs. In the second year or Durant's career, the Thunder were the worst team in the NBA at times.

Portland has created depth with its picks. Travis Outlaw (23rd overall) is one of the league's best players off the bench. He's a clutch shooter with the versatility to guard both power forwards and small forwards. Rudy Fernandez (24th) moved without the ball very well in his rookie year, a skill many rookies on good teams lack, which prevents success throughout their career.

But the reason why Portland is so good is not because of smart drafting but their young talent peaking at the same time. Other teams are in the same situation, and as a result, they're among the league's elite.

The last time the Lakers drafted a key player on their championship team was in 2005, when they drafted Andrew Bynum. However, Bynum has become a solid interior presence who can dunk against any defender and block shots. He has room to grow, but he became an important player during the primes of Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol, which helped make the Lakers a championship team.

The Celtics traded away most of the draft picks they were building around. In return they received Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett. Although these moves made them an aging team, youngsters such as Rajon Rondo and Kendrick Perkins peeked in time for a title run in the season the Big Three were united.

A young core of talent is helping to lead the Magic, starting with Dwight Howard, Jameer Nelson, and perhaps Ryan Anderson and JJ Redick this year (look at the numbers for both). All those players are close to their peaks, along with Rashard Lewis, who will return soon from a suspension. Vince Carter is a key component as well. He's past him prime, but still an above average swing-man.

Those are only three examples. But the same value applies to any team in the league: all the talent must be at their peak at the same time.

This can be hard for rebuilding teams. Money is a problem for some teams (Bobcats, Grizzlies). Others just don't have moveable parts (Kings, Knicks).

But the fact is that the Trail Blazers are a model franchise. In three years they went from the league's worst team to the second best record in their conference, all while maintaining a low salary for the players they've built around.

The Blazers were smart enough to gather players who are all reaching their peaks around now through intelligent drafting. Because most of their players still have their rookie contracts, the payroll is the fifth lowest in the NBA.

They created a plan when they were in the bottom of the hole, and they got out of it with commitment towards that plan. Other rebuilding teams need to take notes.

Please note: Teams mentioned in this article such as the Bucks, Bulls, and Thunder are only examples of rebuilding team. There are other teams you can replace them with.