2010-11 NBA Season Preview: Last 10 Champions Show Talent Does Win Rings
With the 2010-11 NBA season about a month away, an old argument about championship clubs has reared its ugly head—does the ring follow chemistry or talent?
As the sides break down along suspiciously pro-Los Angeles Laker and pro-Miami Heat lines, Phil Jackson—the Zen Master of the back handed compliment—has struck again.
When asked about the Miami Heat's championship aspirations, Jackson had this to say: "There's no question about the talent they have. But, talent doesn't always win. The team that shows the best teamwork will win it."
Now I won't argue with Phil's coaching credentials nor will I argue against the importance of chemistry. But is any coach in a position to downplay the importance of talent?
Especially a guy like Jackson who has been blessed with some of the best players of all time—arguably the two best shooting guards of all time?
He's also probably taking a little shot at Erik Spoelstra. Phil is essentially telling the Heat's head coach that he doesn't have what it takes to get his three superstars to buy into the team concept.
Let's take a look at the past 10 NBA champions. It might be interesting to note that every team, except the 2004 Pistons, had at least one player who was a lock for the Hall of Fame...
2000-02 Los Angeles Lakers
This team was blessed with two future Hall of Famers in Shaq and Kobe. Shaq was the most dominant player of the era and Kobe was an emerging star during the first title run and an All-Star after that.
They had both the best center and shooting guard in the league during this period. Now I know they didn't win the next two seasons with similar lineups, but winning three in a row and reaching the conference semifinals and finals in the subsequent two years is proof enough that talent DOES win championships.
Future Hall of Famers: Kobe Bryant, Shaquille O'Neal
2003, 2005, 2007 San Antonio Spurs
The 2002-03 San Antonio Spurs clawed their way to an NBA Championship on the backs of Tim Duncan, an aging David Robinson, sophomore point guard Tony Parker, and rookie Manu Ginobli.
Duncan, Parker, and Ginobli then went on to win two more championships in 2005 and 2007. Duncan may be the best power forward of all time, while Parker and Ginobli have both made All-Star teams. Make no mistake, the Spurs suffocating defense and methodical style was enabled not only by Gregg Popovich's scheming, but by these three men's immense talent.
Future Hall of Famers: Tim Duncan
2004 Detroit Pistons
This may be the team that derails my theory that talent really does win championship, not just Phil Jackson's coaching and triangle offense.
The Pistons are the only team on this list without a player who is a lock for the Hall of Fame. But with Chauncey Billups, Rasheed Wallace, Rip Hamilton, Tayshaun Prince, and Ben Wallace leading the charge, the Pistons were able to leverage their talent across the board into a championship.
Future Hall of Famers: no locks for the hall
2006 Miami Heat
This was Dwyane Wade's coming out party. Wade carried the team, because of limited regular season minutes for Shaq as a result of an ankle injury, to a No. 2 seed in the playoffs.
Then, with the combination of Wade and Shaq (upon his return), the Heat overwhelmed opponents. Wade's dominance, according to John Hollinger's "PER" ratings, is the best-ever Finals performance, statistically averaging almost 35 points, eight rebounds, and four assists per game on 47 percent shooting.
Talent certainly had an awful lot to do with that championship performance.
Future Hall of Famers: Dwyane Wade, Shaquille O'Neal
2008 Boston Celtics
The Boston Threeparty came together in the summer of 2007 and stormed through the regular season. Aside from an epic series with LeBron James' Cleveland Cavaliers, this immensely talented team was unchallenged in 2008. The healthy Celtics were simply unguardable. On any given evening Allen, Pierce, or Garnett were capable of going off.
Future Hall of Famers: Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce (maybe), Ray Allen (maybe)
2009 and 2010 Los Angeles Lakers
Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol rolled to a championship in 2009, dispatching an over-matched Orlando Magic.
Consider the Lakers' lineup—obviously you have Kobe, and then you have the second-best center in the league in Pau Gasol, a defensive minded sever-footer in Bynum, defensive stopper in Ron Artest (in 2010), a matchup nightmare in Lamar Odom, and a clutch veteran point guard in Derek Fisher.
Had KG been healthy, it certainly is possible the Celtics and Lakers would have faced off three-straight years in the Finals.
Phil's great, but you can't ignore how talented and lanky this lineup has been.
Future Hall of Famers: Kobe Bryant
2011 Miami Heat?
Are the Heat a lock to win the NBA championship next year? Certainly not.
But Phil should know better than anyone that championships are won with talent.
LeBron and Chris Bosh, by coming to Miami, have shown that they are ready to subordinate themselves to a secondary role and win a championship. There will be growing pains, and it will take a little while to work out the pecking order, especially in late-game situations. But, LeBron loves to pass the ball, and with guys like Wade and Bosh on the other end of those passes. Expect to see LeBron play the role of facilitator quite a bit.
They have proven their ability to play together on the national team, and I fully expect this new Big Three to play well together within Erik Spoelstra's (Pat Riley's) system.
Do they have question marks? Yes.
A lack of depth and interior defense is certainly going to hurt this team. But with this kind of talent assembled, the championship is theirs to lose—no matter what Phil says.