Good luck finding that scouting report that predicts a player "will be a member of a new kind of team." Not even post-Shane Battier do you get this kind of language. With all the talk about rebuilding, and nation-building, and how to put together a dynasty for LeBron, it seems high time for a chance. The Celtics and Lakers lucked into those teams, and the Cavs' acquisition of Shaquille O'Neal squelched any hopes they had of letting Bron dictate their identity. Suggestions that James join Mike D'Antoni's Knicks have never really been taken seriously; their sole credibility comes from the possibility of another superstar joining him.
And yet Monday's Thunder-Hawks tilt featured two organizations on the cutting edge. The approach? Stockpile athletic, versatile lottery talent, fill in the gaps with vets and find a way to make the pieces fit. Simply put, it's the first sustainable model for Future Team since Shaq killed the SSOL Suns.
The Hawks lost Monday, on a gonzo Jeff Green dunk that would've posterized Josh Smith if they made posters that deep and wide. Green practically took up the entire right side of the court as he extended to reach up and over Smith, then twisted to shield the ball. Then came some missed Durant free throws, and a missed Crawford three at the buzzer, but 'twas all a blur. Jeff Green, nominally a power forward, made the play that sealed the game and sent the message: We are somebody.
Atlanta may have gotten the L, but they won the war. Or something. In Oklahoma City, the Hawks see a team that's followed their template -- one which, it should be added, we once all sedulously doubted -- and like them, now loom large in the future of the NBA. Ladies and gentleman, these are your Future Teams. Not "rising stars" -- this is the new model for building might and right. Honorary mention to the Rockets, who could unleash all sorts of Daryl Morey madness once Tracy McGrady and possibly Yao Ming disappear from sight.
From The Atlanta Journal-Constitution:
OK, so this strategy isn't iron-clad. Later in the piece, it's described as "Accumulate young talent and hope it coalesces." Plus the Hawks, unlike the Thunder, have been a running joke, then a glorious mess, until Principal Mike Woodson finally succeeded in instilling some common sense in the kids. But now, there's no way around it: These two teams, despite some notable differences (OKC drafted its superstar, ATL signed its; OKC front office and coaching is top-notch, ATL still questionable), these two teams are the closest I'm seeing to real ... I don't know, change, adaptation, even progress.Even in losing, the Hawks felt flattered. What they've done is what Oklahoma City is endeavoring to do. "A mirror of our team," Mike Woodson said afterward, and when was the last time anyone else in the NBA regarded the local franchise as anything to be emulated? [...]
"That's a great young team over there," said the ancient Josh Smith, who's all of 24 and who nearly generated a triple double. "They've been able to have a lottery pick and get a marquee guy every year."
Fine, point guards are routinely projected to play well with others, and centers, anchors of winning teams for years to come. And come on, LeBron is so good, the Cavs can be as unimaginative as they want and still contend. Yet herein lies the beauty of Kevin Durant, and to some degree, Josh Smith. When you get uber-talented, versatile players who defy position, they practically demand a team reconsider its structure and strategy. And with that, comes freedom, the freedom to throw out the blueprint, smush lottery picks together and try to make sense of it all. After all, it would be nuts to waste either of them at their best or force them into a slot they don't fit.
That's not to say the Durant or Smith is better than LeBron. They're not. But to get the most out of them, and thus give a team the best shot at winning, front offices and coaches might need to rip up the standard operating procedure and go all rogue on the NBA's conventional wisdom.