I put a big emphasis on who the team doesn’t re-sign/build around.
There are too many star players, All-Star caliber players but not superstars, that teams give big contracts to. If you give max money to a player, he better be able to be the cornerstone of a championship team, most players that get the big contracts don’t come close to this. So I think teams that don’t automatically give 20ppg scorers big money deals, and not overpaying fan favorites, have a big part of the formula for success down.
Chicago – Ben Gordon, averaging around 20ppg for 3 straight years, wants 10m+, I really think most teams would have given it to him. Same thing with Eddy Curry, the Bulls acted cautiously when it was time to give him a big contract, while the Knicks couldn’t wait to throw money at him. Both smart moves a lot of teams wouldn’t have made.
Boston – Danny Ainge comes in, immediately trades All-Star Antoine Walker, because he doesn’t think you can build a legitimate contender with him. Reacquires Antoine later (for basically nothing), but trades him away again because he doesn’t want to give Antoine the long term contract he wants. Trades fan favorites Eric Williams and Tony Battie during a 5 game winning streak for the notorious Ricky Davis. Traded away beloved Kendrick Perkins. Most GM’s would be scared to make these moves, and though there may be some disagreement on the Perk deal, looking back those were the right moves, and most GM’s wouldn’t have made them.
On the other side, you have teams like Atlanta, giving Joe Johnson that huge contract, and teams like Toronto who did everything they could to re-sign Chris Bosh (so they could win 45 games and get eliminated in the first round of the playoffs every year?). A guy like Danny Ainge, knowing they’re not worth the money and can’t build around them, would have probably traded them before their contracts were up for lesser players and picks, enraged the fan base while doing so, but would be in a much better position now. Joe Dumars in the beginning seemed good at doing this, trading away Jerry Stackhouse, one season removed from averaging 30ppg and hoping for a big contract, for Rip Hamilton. Got Ben Wallace in a sign-and-trade for Grant Hill. Who thought the Pistons won those trades at the time? Did Washington really think they could build a contender around Gilbert Arenas, or is a big reason they gave him a $100m+ contract a season after playing only 13 games due to knee injuries because it would make the fans happy?
Screw the fans, don’t keep players because it will make the fans happy. When your winning they’ll come rushing back.
Also don’t sign/trade for players to appease your stars, talking about you Orlando and Cleveland. Summer of 2007, Kobe urged management to trade 2nd year Andrew Bynum for All-Star Jason Kidd. Orlando or Cleveland probably would have made that trade in an instant to make LeBron or Dwight happy. I bet looking back Kobe’s glad management didn’t listen to him. (Although I do think you should get input from your players, just don’t let them call the shots).
Teams that do this are doing things right. Though it’s not always easy to know which teams are doing this or not, it’s easy to know teams that definitely aren’t: Washington, Orlando, Cleveland, Atlanta, Toronto, New York, Sacramento, Golden State, Charlotte, Philadelphia…