“What’s your favorite sports team?”
A recent high school graduate nearing many first exchanges this autumn, I figured I should at least somewhat flesh out a response to this common inquiry—after all, knowing someone’s name, major and hometown can only sustain a conversation for so long.
So I thought about it. Giants? Too standard. Niners? Too bandwagon. Sharks? Too obscure. Sabercats? Well let’s be honest, nobody actually watches arena football for the football.
This response figures to elicit a certain measure of sympathy from my new acquaintance. Expected responses include “Oh,” coupled with the “sorry I asked” face or an immediate topic switch (note to self: need a backup plan in case the individual comes from Charlotte).
Despite this superficial benefit, I would much prefer an end to the mediocrity—and I’m sure any sports enthusiast can relate. Haven’t we all, on some level, stayed devoted to a franchise which has qualified for the playoffs once in our lifetimes? And isn’t every general management office susceptible to a few draft busts now and then? Cough. Joe Barry Carroll. Cough. Joe Smith. Cough. Patrick O’Bryant. Cough. Ike Diogu. Cough. OK, I’ll stop before I hack up a lung.
In light of the woes of my “favorite sports team,” I set out to demystify the formula for NBA success…
You didn’t have to be a “round mound” reading a teleprompter to have seen the script of the most recent finals—one roster constructed from big-name free-agent acquisitions pitted against another built, by and large, from draft picks and beards. So I suppose that leaves one of two options for the Warriors.
Option 1: hoard free agent superstars. This worked for an injury-ridden Miami team that compiled a worse record (15-67) in 2007-08 than Golden State has experienced in its four decades west of South Beach.
I see this working out. After all, why wouldn’t the league’s top free agents want to join the Warriors? You have the fortune of playing in one of the least volatile cities in America. And just think—if Dwight Howard joined the Warriors, it would be the first (and probably only) time he wouldn’t have the ugliest free throw shot on his team!
Option 2: draft developing superstars. This worked for an Oklahoma City franchise that erupted from four consecutive years of sub-.500 mediocrity (a consistency which hardly rivals Golden State’s) to rapidly ascend into contention. It only made a few haters in the process.
Three consecutive years of top-four lottery picks and voila! Right? Well, perhaps.
The problem? The Warriors have not had a top-four lottery pick since selecting Mike Dunleavy third (over No. 8 Amare Stoudemire) in a particularly weak 2003 draft class. Perennially on the cusp of mediocrity—in other words, bad but not bad enough—Golden State should know by now that mid-lottery picks won’t propel them into contention. I secretly hope Golden State acquired Andrew Bogut last season to solidify an early lottery pick and not, as it claims, to “contend.”
But in all honesty, there’s a better chance that Andris Biedrins shoots over 90 percent from the charity stripe than either of these options occurring.
Perhaps a final, broader insight regarding a commonality among nearly all NBA champions will be of greater value: Every championship contender has a superstar—and usually not its point guard. LeBron’s Heat. Nowitzki’s Mavs. Kobe’s Lakers. The only exception to this rule in the past couple of decades seems to be the 2004 Detroit Pistons. And even more intriguing is that no champion’s superstar has been its point guard since Magic Johnson’s Lakers in 1988 (sorry, Clips, Bulls and Nets). To put this in perspective, there hasn’t even been a point-guard-led team to reach the NBA Finals since Jason Kidd’s Nets in 2002-03.
The Warriors have a difficult task before them. It won’t be David Lee. It won’t be Andrew Bogut. It won’t be Andris Biedrins. It may be Stephen Curry, but it’s never a good idea to place stock in an injury-prone guard—especially given the aforementioned history.
Of course, there’s no sure-fire formula to winning in the NBA; there will always be the intangible events that dictate the course of a team’s season. However, at least for Warriors fans, the future gives us hope.
So yes, I am losing patience. But for now, I still believe.
David Eng might have to wait a lifetime for the Warriors to win the NBA Finals, but in the meantime he’ll soon have a new team to root for as a freshman at Stanford. Welcome him to the Farm at firstname.lastname@example.org.