...San Antonio's organization, to its never-ending credit, values chemistry and goodguymanship (I just made that word up) over everything else.
Here's the defining why-the-Spurs-win-and-keep-winning story: They gave away Luis Scola this summer not just for luxury tax reasons, but because they were afraid that Scola, a No. 1 scoring option for Argentina's national team as well as the Euro leagues, wouldn't be able to adjust to playing 20-25 minutes a game as a supporting guy on a great team. They didn't even want to take the chance that he'd mess them up. So they shipped him out. What's even more fascinating is the Spurs have won four titles (and counting) with a specific strategy that nobody else emulated until Boston voyaged down the same defense-character-chemistry path this season. And the Celtics are 20-2 right now. Hmmmm.
It seems that having some great basketball in Boston for a change has enlightened Simmons because he started off the New Year with an entire article on this same subject while also coining a new word...Chemacterility.
Here's the new mantra for savvy NBA teams: "Chemacterility." Why haven't you heard the term before? Because I just made it up. But it's an amalgam of three concepts that have formed the foundation of the Duncan era in San Antonio: chemistry, character and (cap) flexibility. As soon as Duncan arrived, in 1997, Popovich and Buford began to avoid bad guys and bad contracts, preferring role players, quality guys and short-term deals. They're so fanatic about chemistry that when Luis Scola jumped to the NBA this summer, they traded his rights, partly because they weren't sure he could adjust from being a star in Spain to being a supporting player here. They didn't even want to take the chance he'd screw them up!
Just like Simmons, some things should be obvious for an NBA GM getting a million dollar plus salary to try and build a champion. Either NBA owners are not fans of the game or they just real stupid. If every media outlet, blog and fan message board are screaming that a draft pick or contract is horrible the second it scrolls across ESPN then what is the point of being a 'former player' or having a scouting department?
There are four assets available to NBA GMs in building a roster: draft picks, salary exceptions, cap space, and roster slots. Every NBA team has equal access to all four assets and NBA GMs that mismanage even one of the four usually send their teams into a tailspin eventually. Now this usually leads to the GM being fired but unfortunately, the problems the fired GM created remain after he is long gone (and working in the league office...Stu Jackson). This is what Memphis Grizzlies GM Chris Wallace is about to have to deal with in the 2008 trade deadline and offseason.
The first thing a new GM needs to do is reset the four assets back to neutrality or as close to possible. Unfortunately, sometimes this requires making some hard decisions. This is why I liked the Darko Milicic signing. It followed one of my NBA GM RULES: Never sign a marginal talent to a contract for more than three years. So regardless of if Darko develops or not, the Grizzlies are not saddled down with an untradeable player which hampers you in any and all trade discussions by limiting your options.
The mismanagement of the four assets is what turned the Grizzlies from an up and coming playoff team, back into a bottom of the barrel lottery team. Draft picks were wasted, salary cap exemptions were given to bad players, and roster slots were filled with players that couldn't contribute in the present or the future. Mismanagement of the four assets is the first sign that the walls are coming down. It is what is happening in Phoenix right now but is masked because the have so much talent at the top of that roster. However, the Suns will be a lottery team by the 2011 draft. They have wasted draft picks, given out bad contracts and they lack salary cap flexibility. The smart move for them is to start the rebuilding process this summer especially if Shawn Marion is foolish enough to opt out of his contract.
Back to the Grizzlies...
What will Chris Wallace do? Regardless of what we want to say to fool ourselves, the Grizzlies are a bad team with a poor roster makeup. We lack defensive minded players, we have a lot of money tied into players in suits (your inactive list shouldn't equate to a near MAX contract), and our two highest paid players are Pau Gasol and Mike Miller. If his response is to wait three years until all those contracts roll of the cap, he will spend a lot of time in the forum alone. It is not possible to build a contender with the Grizzlies roster and salary structure unless Rudy Gay and Michael Conley become All NBA level players on their rookie contracts. Possible but not bloody likely.
I know most will counter with the fact that in Portland; Steve Francis, Raef LaFrentz, Darius Miles and Joe Przyzbilla are their four highest paid players. However, Portland GM Kevin Pritchard (former San Antonio Spurs scout) took over prior to the 2006 draft (plus LaMarcus Aldridge and Brandon Roy minus Sebastian Telfair). The cost for turning Telfair into Brandon Roy was taking on Raef LaFrentz's contract. Steve Francis is a result of sending Zach Randolph to purgatory and due to injuries Miles and Przyzbilla remain on the pay roll. After next season, I am betting that all four well be gone even if it does mean buying out Miles.
If Wallace truly is interested in bringing a parade to Beale Street then some tough decisions have to be made that go beyond talent. The Grizzlies have to get back to a state in which they are maximizing all four of their assets. Until then, we will continue our annual trip through mediocrity...or worse.