Draft Is Crucial To A Team's Success, Or Is It?
By Brian Wheeler
Some of you a bit younger than I might not have heard the name, George Allen. He was a very successful head football coach in the NFL with the L.A. Rams and Washington Redskins. In his best season, he led the Redskins to Super Bowl VII, only to lose to the Miami Dolphins, who were completing their unbeaten season. His motto was “the future is now” and his Redskins’ teams were nicknamed “the over the hill gang” since the majority were 30 or older. He never believed in building a team through the draft. If he had a draft pick, it was always up for sale.
Imagine if every organization in sports thought like Allen did. Rookies would never get a chance and the leagues would be made up of familiar names, but we’d never get to see those guys develop from their formative days.
In the storied history of the Trail Blazers there have been many solid draft choices that turned out to be terrific NBA career players. Four have even been named as the NBA’s Rookie of the Year, including last season’s winner, Damian Lillard. So the Blazers have had many great teams built around home grown talent they drafted. Every member of the starting five on the Blazers’ 1977 World Championship team were all drafted by the team, if you could Maurice Lucas being taken in the ABA’s dispersal draft.
But the Blazers have also had other winning teams that weren’t centered around the draft. The last club to seriously challenge for a championship was the 1999-2000 team that lost that tragic game 7 of the Western Conference Finals to the Lakers. That team had only one homegrown product in its starting five, that being Arvydas Sabonis. Trades and free agent signings made up most of the team’s roster.
The Blazers have found success in a season using both formulas—grow your own talent or find a way to acquire guys from other teams that are already molded into the players they’re going to be.
By looking at the NBA Finals just completed, we can see two different approaches to building a team. The Spurs have had years of success with homegrown talent as their base. Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobli were all San Antonio draft choices. They have been consistent winners for 16 years now and even though they’ve sprinkled in some other key personnel over the years that were acquired via trade or free agency, the core group of the club has remained home grown.
Then look at the Heat. They’ve got one draft choice of their own amongst their big three, but LeBron James and Chris Bosh had their initial success in the league with other clubs. Obviously, this formula has proven to work with back-to-back championships.
The reality of the situation is this: the Blazers have more in common with the Spurs than they ever will with the Heat. And since Portland isn’t the media and entertainment mecca that Miami is, or any other really big city for that matter, following in the path of the Spurs wouldn’t be a bad idea for any team, especially one coming from a smaller market like Portland. To me it will always be wise for the Blazers to look for some help from the draft, those players provide you with a core group to build around. Last season’s selection of Lillard was the first step of the process, and now we wait to see who’ll be joining the team to continue to establish a winning and championship habit.
After all, draft day wouldn’t be as much as fun if nobody put any value on young players by selecting them to develop their games. George Allen would be smiling from heaven maybe, but other than him, who’d be enjoying themselves? Probably no one, which is why it’s good that we do still have a yearly NBA draft where a young man’s future will be altered forever. And as fans, we can debate whether our team’s newest draft choice will help lead us to a championship. Youth fosters optimism and after draft day is over every team that’s added talent thinks they’ve had the most productive day of all. We won’t really know who’s right about that until a few years later, but for that one day, every NBA team thinks they’re a winner, and we have the fast paced excitement of the draft to thank for that!