When a great player is drafted by a team that endures hardships and failures year in and year out, it always makes for a heart-warming ending when the team finally wins a Championship.
The problem now is that people expect that ending. Players like LeBron James and Dwayne Wade both have received far too much criticism for essentially holding their team’s management over a barrel in their quest to secure a Championship.
In LeBron’s case, turning down management’s contract extension has done wonders to make GM Danny Ferry share his sense of urgency. You hear it in Ferry’s voice whenever he talks about keeping LeBron, you see it in the way he chases down free agents like a hound would a mailman, almost as if to say “look at us LeBron, we’re really, really trying. Please don’t leave…We’re nothing without you.”
Dwayne Wade already won a Championship in 2006, but the NBA, like any other professional sports league is predicated on a what-have-you-done-for-me-lately basis and ever since Shaq essentially quit on the Heat in 2007, Wade’s been surrounded by nothing but mediocrity.
There’s an old adage in dating that says “The one most willing to leave holds the most power”.
Don’t believe it? Look at Steve Nash. Though he’s not close to LeBron or Wade in either stature or talent, he’s clearly the main catalyst for Phoenix’s status as a semi-relevant team, but how urgent does his front office look?
When Nash elected to sign an extension with Phoenix during the previous off-eason (after the Suns failed to even make the playoffs), he essentially condoned his team’s failures and probably ended any chance he’ll ever have of contending for a title.
Players who don’t show the willingness to leave often lose out. Sometimes even the players that do walk take too long to do so and they lose out as well.
Take Kevin Garnett. He remained loyal to the Timberwolves for the lion’s share of his career and although he finally found a Championship team in Boston, age and mileage have caught up with him. Had he left for Boston earlier the Celtics may have been a dynasty, now the Celtics’ roster may have already run its course; think back to the Pistons.
Expecting players to stick through thick and thin with the teams that drafted them and simply be content with whatever outcome their dealt with isn’t practical.
The Spurs are really the only exception in the post-Jordan era.
The Lakers dynasty of the early 2000s was anchored by Kobe and Shaq and neither was drafted by the Lakers.
Three of the five players in the 2004 Pistons’ starting lineup were actually drafted by Washington. Chauncey Billups was actually drafted by the Boston Celtics and played for four different teams before winning the Finals MVP award in Detroit. Only Tayshaun Prince was drafted by the Pistons.
When Shaq was traded to Miami, they instantly became contenders and Shaq proved to be a valuable second option when the Heat won in 2006.
The Celtics got KG and Ray in 2008, the Lakers weren’t even contenders until Kobe demanded a trade and GM Mitch Kupchak finally supplied Kobe with Pau Gasol. The list goes on and on.
The reality is that nice guys finish last in the NBA, and that’s if they’re lucky to finish at all.
Don’t fault LeBron or Wade for inching towards the doorway. Right now they’re on top of the world, but no one stays there forever. The NBA is a business and in the business world you look out for yourself first and everything else second, if at all.
Vince Lombardi said it best: “Winning isn’t everything. It’s the only thing.”