It has been an old adage in the NBA that you either want to be really good or tank to get really bad so that you don't end up on the "Treadmill of Mediocrity" like the Atlanta Hawks were over the past several seasons.
This season however, we're seeing a perennial "Treadmill Team" make a significant improvement instead of hitting a brick wall. It looks like the Hawks look are poised to be the best team in the Eastern Conference (and maybe the league). In light of this, should other teams try to follow their model?
Currently, the popular team building model in the NBA is the Oklahoma City Thunder's, when the front office makes a conscious decision to be really bad and add elite talent through the draft over several seasons. But were the Thunder just really lucky that they found three MVP level talents in Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, and James Harden? Is it logical to build a plan based on a lot of luck (the luck in getting the high pick and the luck that players of that caliber will be in the draft) or is there a better plan?
The Atlanta Hawks never tanked and aimed for the postseason every year and build a team better than the sum of its parts. They had some really good players and added two good, but not superstar free agents in Kyle Korver and Paul Millsap. Atlanta used the draft to get solid rotation players in Dennis Schroder and Mike Scott. They also took a chance on a young player in Shelvin Mack (a former Wizards by the way) to add to the rotation.
My question: Is it better that some previous "Treadmill Teams," like the Philadelphia 76ers in 2012 and 2013 follow the Atlanta Hawks model instead? And if so would you take it over the current rebuilding process?
Three years ago, the Sixers looked to be on track to be a "Classic Treadmill Team" like the Hawks. They scrapped that team to follow the Thunder's model but here is my opinion on what they could have had if they continued to follow the Atlanta Hawks model:
1.) Adding to an established core: The Hawks added Korver and Millsap to their established core of good players. The 76ers could have added 2 solid free agents to their core of good players in Jrue Holiday, Andre Igoudala, and Thaddeus Young. Think of players like Tony Allen and Al Jefferson. Those are the type of really good, but not superstar free agents they could have added.
2.) Using the draft to make a deep young bench: I mentioned how the Hawks drafted players like Dennis Schroder and Mike Scott. The 76ers could have used either Giannis Antetounmpo (drafted by the 8th seed in the East) or Michael Carter Williams (drafted by the 9th seeded 76ers) off the bench depending on where you think they would have been with Andre Igoudala still on the roster. Players like KJ McDaniels could be rotation players on a playoff team. The Hawks took a chance on Shelvin Mack just like the 76ers took a chance on Tony Wroten who would have been great off the bench.
Personally, I think that the Hawks' model of team building is much more realistic for NBA teams to follow than the Thunder's. Does the recent success of the Atlanta Hawks make you question if the 76ers should have continued to shoot for the playoffs? It certainly would have involved a lot less losing.
*Note: this is a modified repost of a question I asked 76ers fans at Liberty Ballers. You can discuss this debate with them here.