This past week, Bethlehem Shoals wrote a great article at Fanhouse examining a potentially new model of franchise building that’s taking place in Oklahoma City and Atlanta. Shoals:
Monday’s Thunder-Hawks tilt featured two organizations on the cutting edge. The approach? Stockpile athletic, versatile lottery talent, fill in the gaps with vets and find a way to make the pieces fit. Simply put, it’s the first sustainable model for Future Team since Shaq killed the SSOL Suns. […]
In Oklahoma City, the Hawks see a team that’s followed their template — one which, it should be added, we once all sedulously doubted — and like them, now loom large in the future of the NBA. Ladies and gentleman, these are your Future Teams. Not “rising stars” — this is the new model for building might and right.
But he left out Memphis! Sure, his message was delivered through the prism of Hawks-Thunder matchup, so it could be forgiven. But still. MEMPHIS!
This is a team that’s enormously compelling, but not for the reasons everyone (or me, at least) expected. Preseason, in my bloated NBA preview, I had the following thoughts on Memphis:
If any team could be said to be dancing with the devil, it’d have to be Memphis, right? They signed, traded for , and continue to juggle OJ Mayo and , two shot-happy youngsters, in an attempt to cobble together a coherent offense. By adding Randolph and Iverson, it’s almost as if the Griz are trying recreate the ’04 -Pacers brawl among their own team.
They had the exact same approach as the Hawks and Thunder, but with a bunch of caustic personalities and little to no institutional control, almost like they were purposefully tempting fate to see what’d happen. And what’s happened? They’re one of the bettter teams in the league, and easily the most entertaining Grizzlies team that Memphis has ever seen. By any measure of traditional NBA logic, the Grizzlies should be hilariously dysfunctional, but instead, they’ve been downright dominant at times this year.
Last night against the Hornets, there were about four different points when the Grizzlies could have given up on the game. The Memphis team we expected this season would have quit on the game. When Chris Paul led the Hornets back in the fourth quarter, and New Orleans took a 3 point lead with under a minute left, a less disciplined, determined team would have said, “screw it, let’s go party in New Orleans.”
But instead, Memphis stayed patient, cut the lead to one, and then Rudy Gay nailed a three to tie the game with seven seconds left. Sure, the Grizzlies eventually lost after some late heroics by James Posey(!), but that’s beside the point. The Grizzlies team we expected never would have gotten that far. This team was supposed to win 20 games this whole year, but even with last night’s loss, their sitting three games above .500 at 22-19. Not bad.
And again, this is the same model that Atlanta and the Thunder have used. Just draft, sign, and trade for talented players, then try to make it work. But while Shoals might call this a new “model” of team building, I think we should probably pause before going that far. To some degree, this is just blind luck, and maybe a little bit of laziness. Keep in mind, the teams we’re talking about here are Atlanta, Memphis, and Oklahoma City.
While OKC has Sam Presti masterminding everything, it’s not a stretch to say that the other two franchises have been by fools for the past decade. Chris Wallace and Billy Knight were the architects of this strange, successful mix; while Rick Sund may wind up faring better as Atlanta’s GM since Knight stepped down in 2008, he can’t really get credit for assembling the pieces that currently have Atlanta looking like the league’s next up-and-comer. And even with Presti, you could argue that he’s stumbled upon this mix while biding his time waiting for Kevin Durant to mature and another superstar to matriculate. Just because it works doesn’t mean they planned it.
So, maybe it’s not a model, insofar as the word “model” implies a blueprint that can be applied by others, and it’s impossible to replicate the reasoning of a fool. But either way, have you been watching Memphis this season? Foolish or not, it sure is cool to look at.