The recipe to winning in the modern NBA

Screen Shot 2013-09-10 at 9.54.39 PM            The NBA of today is far different from in years past.  Gone are the days when a team could have one player shoulder a majority of the workload and reach the conference finals, sorry Reggie Miller and Target Center Kevin Garnett.

To wrap up the preseason, I’m writing about the most important thing in any fan’s mind: winning and how to go about doing so.  Those of you who happen to grace the kitchen from time to time understand the necessity of a cooking recipe.  It has the steps that need to be followed in order to prepare a dish.

This recipe will be the steps to give yourself the best chance at hoisting the Larry O’Brien Trophy.

1)   Obtain a Large Kitchen or Have Some Good Ones Nearby

Let’s look at the teams that reside in the largest metropolitan areas in the country:  New York Knicks, LA Lakers and Clippers, Chicago Bulls, Houston Rockets,  Philadelphia 76ers,  Boston Celtics, Dallas Mavericks, Golden State (San Francisco-Oakland-San Jose) Warriors, Detroit Pistons, Phoenix Suns.

What do they have in common?  Every team on the list is a legitimate playoff contender, with the exceptions of Boston, currently slumping but historically the sport’s most successful team, and Phoenix and Philly, which probably will be legitimate within three years.

This is not just a coincidence.  We must remember these NBA players are usually in their 20’s throughout their career.  They are looking for lively nightlife, which plays a huge factor in where they choose to take their talents.

I hope I never have to say this again, but I’m going to use Josh Smith to prove my point.  Smith, who was a free agent this off-season, was being sought by the Milwaukee Bucks but just couldn’t imagine having to live in Milwaukee.

In an interview with a local reporter, he commented, “When I’m here I’m lucky to find a restaurant to eat at.  . . . Everyone knows there is nothing to do in Milwaukee.  Even the people who live here are bored.”

So Smith signed with Detroit, presumably because it had restaurants, not just beer halls.  It was the ultimate in farewell insults:  Goodbye, Milwaukee, the city that’s not as attractive as Detroit.

As Milwaukee learned the hard way, which may be how most things are learned, it helps to be a city with things to do.

Miami is not among America’s largest cities, but with its sparkling ocean and powdery beaches it can get away with billing itself, literally, as paradise.  Hence, Miami was fine for LeBron James and, hence again, championships ensued.

Playing in a large city, or a vacation spot like South Beach, is not a requirement, but it certainly helps to attract and keep players.  Essentially, cake doesn’t have to have icing, but it sure makes it taste better.

2)   Save Money to Buy Ingredients (the more the better)

Good players cost money, and therefore in order to have a lot of good players, one needs a lot of free money.

Bad contracts are like 17 quarts of vinegar and 2 cups of pure arsenic to the recipe for a championship.  It is near impossible to obtain the pieces necessary for a quality team if you are paying Chris Duhon superstar money.

So a good way for bad teams to create cap space is to take on bad contracts that are expiring at the end of the year.  Phoenix has employed this technique recently acquiring the nearly useless Emeka Okafor, who has a $14.5 million salary to be lifted off the books at season’s end.

3)   The Superstar is the Most Important Ingredient

Since 2008, every team that has competed in the Finals has had at least one player score 1500 or more points that season.  What does this mean?

A superstar is a requirement for long-term success.  I realize anyone in Colorado reading this might be screaming, “The Nuggets didn’t have an all-star last year, and we were the 3-seed in the playoffs!”

Then what happened?  The Nuggets were dismissed after one round of play. When the competition gets tougher, games get closer.  Teams need to have a player that can be depended on late in games.

Who did the Nuggets have to go to in game-changing situations?  Ty Lawson.  Who did the Warriors have?  Stephen Curry.  The difference is clear.

I don’t care who you are, cooking with I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter never tastes as good as normal butter.  Stephen Curry qualifies as real butter, and Ty Lawson does not.

4)   Place “Big 3” Ingredients in Bowl and Mix Well (for added spice, up to a “Big 5” can be used)

The term “Big 3” has almost become a household term.  All the good teams have one.  But why is this a requirement?  It is expensive.

As mentioned before, teams cannot depend on one player or even two to shoulder the load of the entire offense.  With the exception of the 2009 Lakers, every single NBA champion has had at least 3 players score over 1000 points in the season (The ’09 Lakers team had Kobe Bryant, who scored enough points for 2 members of a “Big 3”).

This plan has proven to be extremely effective except for one hiccup.  It takes time for members of the trio to get used to playing alongside each other.  The first season after LeBron’s union with Wade and Bosh ended up in a loss to the Dallas Mavericks.  The Heat have been a juggernaut since.

Brooklyn is attempting to raise the stakes to a “Big 5” with their prominent starting lineup of Williams, Johnson, Pierce, Garnett, and Lopez.  The problem with this tactic; it is too heavy on offense.

A “Big 3” is enough to carry the offensive workload, but it also leaves room for some defensive players to play a role on the team.  To summarize, a “Big 3” is to perfect spice, whereas a “Big 5” is to attempting to eat lava.

5)   Take Leftover Money (if you have any) and Purchase Garnishes to Better Plate the Dish

With each passing year, the gap between the good and the bad in the league is growing.  These good teams need to find a way to distinguish themselves from the other surrounding company.

The Heat use Ray Allen, the Spurs use Kawhi Leonard, and the Nets will use Jason Terry.  These players are willing to take pay-cuts for the opportunities to play for championship-caliber teams.

Which explains San Antonio, a borderline big-league city that Charles Barkley famously dismissed as boring.   The reigning co-Finalist has some of the sport’s best coaching and a tendency to win championships.  If Gregg Popovich needs depth at any position, he has no trouble finding lower-salaried but capable veterans.

These add-ons can be the players who separate the eventual champion from the rest of the final four.  Presentation is everything when preparing a dish, and these players are the perfect way to plate a championship- caliber team.

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