Is that really what this team should do? Bring everyone back yet again?
That's the question I have for Mike Wise after he penned this column in today's edition of the Post. His central thesis is that "continuity wins in the NBA," and because of that, the Wizards should basically bring back the same team as they had this year.
I'm a big fan of Wise's writing. His preseason column was eerily foreshadowing, and I remember soaking it up and agreeing with practically all of it. That said, he stretched a narrow point (don't break up the BIg 3) way too far here.
I used to be a back-up-the-truck guy who believed blowing up a roster was the best way to improve an NBA franchise. Not only did the Mavericks and Suns prove me wrong, taken out in one round after making blockbuster midseason trades this past season, but the Wizards have made me reconsider that thinking altogether.
Already, we have a problem here. First of all, the Mavericks and the Suns won 50 games in the Western Conference, and just so happened to lose to better teams. Secondly, that makes them no different than the Wizards, who lost in the first round to an inferior club in Cleveland. Finally, you know who's leading both conferences? Boston and the Lakers. The same Celtics who made two blockbuster trades in the offseason. The same Lakers who made the huge midseason trade for Pau Gasol. It's funny how we forget about how they've built their teams.
The thinking is the Wizards' all-stars will be healthier, their youngsters will add muscle and maturity and Grunfeld will find a key acquisition to help Eddie Jordan's cause.
First of all, Utah is an odd example. They completely remodeled their team a few years ago, signing Okur, trading for Boozer, and drafting Williams. That core has only been together for three seasons, and they made the playoffs only twice in that span.
More importantly, did continuity allow San Antonio and Detroit to win, or did winning allow Detroit and San Antonio to maintain continuity? Since 2005, when the two teams played in the Finals, yeah, they've maintained "continuity." San Antonio's top four in 05 was Parker, Ginobili, Bowen, and Duncan, as it arguably is today. Detroit's top four in 05 was Billups, Rip and the two Wallaces, and while Ben is gone, a holdover, Prince, has stepped in. But what about in the years immediately preceeding their championships?
|Pistons 02||Pistons 04||Pistons 08|
|PG: Chucky Atkins||Chauncey Billups||Chauncey Billups|
|SG: Jerry Stackhouse||Richard Hamilton||Richard Hamilton|
|SF: Michael Curry||Tayshaun Prince||Tayshaun Prince|
|PF: Clifford Robinson||Rasheed Wallace||Rasheed Wallace|
|C: Ben Wallace||Ben Wallace||Antonio McDyess|
|Jon Barry||Mehmet Okur||Jason Maxiell|
|Corloss Williamson||Corloss Williamson||Rodney Stuckey|
|Dana Barros||Lindsey Hunter||Jarvis Hayes|
Detroit won 50 games in 2002, but they flamed out to the Celtics in the second round. Two years later, they won the championship, with only two holdovers from their 2002 Top 8 still in the 2004 Top 8 (Ben Wallace and Williamson). Four of the starters in 2004 weren't even on the team in 2002. Billups was signed as a free agent after the season, Hamilton and Stackhouse were traded for each other, Prince was drafted, and Wallace was acquired in a mdiseason trade in 2004. It was only after they won that they maintained "continuity," and even so, they've replaced Ben Wallace and completely remodeled their bench.
How about San Antonio? Their situation is more unique, because they actually won in 2003 and 2005, but let's use 2005 as our example.
|Tony Parker||Tony Parker||Tony Parker|
|Stephen Jackson||Manu Ginobili||Manu Ginobili|
|Bruce Bowen||Bruce Bowen||Bruce Bowen|
|Tim Duncan||Tim Duncan||Tim Duncan|
|David Robinson||Nazr Mohammad||Fabricio Oberto|
|Malik Rose||Rasho Nesterovic||Kurt Thomas|
|Manu Ginobili||Robert Horry||Ime Udoka|
|Speedy Claxton||Brent Barry||Michael Finley|
Here, you see a little more semblance of continuity. Tim Duncan has always been the starting power forward, Bruce Bowen has always been the starting small forward, and Tony Parker has always been the starting point guard. Similarly, Manu Ginobili has always been around. At the same time, though, you see different veterans plugged in around the core guys. What was Stephen Jackson, Malik Rose, David Robinson, and Speedy Claxton in 03 turned into Nazr Mohammad, Rasho Nesterovic, Robert Horry and Brent Barry in 05. In 08, Barry and Horry remain, but they've been buried on the bench, and the new surrounding cast is Oberto, Thomas, Udoka and Finley. So really, there's continuity, but only at the top, and only after titles were won.
Wise seems to advocate the San Antonio model over the Detroit one. Fine. I'm in favor of keeping our Big 3 together, and I can see the argument for keeping Eddie Jordan (I'm on the fence there). But then, he takes his argument a step too far.
A year ago I wrote it would be hard to win a summer-league run, let alone an NBA playoff game, with Brendan Haywood, Antonio Daniels, Roger Mason Jr., Darius Songaila and then-Wizard Michael Ruffin on the court at the same time, which they were in Game 2 against Cleveland in 2007.
A year later, I owe those players an apology -- especially Mason, who I also stupidly mentioned as a player the organization should part ways with.
Not only was he a consummate professional in the locker room, he worked on his game until he became an indispensable role player -- Vinny Johnson in training. Now he's a free agent and there is concern about whether the Wizards are too guard-heavy (Nick Young needs more minutes) and will have enough salary-cap room to re-sign Mason. The Wizards don't need to get any younger; they need veterans off the bench who can fill it up like that.
First of all, to all sportswriters, can we please stop comparing any bench guard that can score to Vinnie Johnson? It's just lazy. Johnson's was all about the midrange game; Mason was all about the three-pointers. Big difference.
But seriously, what's the point of keeping role players when your team is stuck in neutral? That's not how Detroit operated, and that's certainly not how San Antonio operated. It clogs your cap space and prevents you from having the assets necessary to maneuver for role player upgrades. San Antonio would never have been able to trade for Kurt Thomas, Nazr Mohammad, or others if they signed re-signed role players like Mason. Similarly, Detroit's trade for Rasheed in 04, which put them over the top, would never have been possible if they had guys like Williamson and Barry on long-term deals.
Mason had a nice season, but is completely redundant on a healthy roster. We don't need a fifth guard, not when Nick Young needs playing time and Antonio Daniels continues to be effective (and on a long term contract to boot). I don't care about professionalism (AD is plenty professional, as is Jamison), and frankly, Mason isn't really much of a veteran. His big season is going to mean someone will pay him up to 3-4 million dollars a year. Do we really want that for our fifth guard? The luxury tax and salary cap mean this is a zero-sum game, so re-signing Mason takes away money for another free agent that could help us in another area. For example, if we re-signed Mason, we wouldn't have money for another wing defender or a big rebounding machine in the lane.
In closing ...
But who might well meet up in the NBA Finals again in a month?
That's right, the geezers who stayed together in Motown and San Antonio. Months after Jason Kidd flamed out in Dallas, and Phoenix lasted a mere five games against the Spurs, continuity is again proving to be king in the NBA.
... Unless the Lakers or Celtics win, in which case, the theory is shot.