When The Stars Don’t Align

Over the past few seasons the NBA has seen an increase in its star power; the national media has given the league the moniker of the “Star Driven League”. It has been assumed for years now that without at least two to three star players in your grasp you have no shot of being a winning franchise in the NBA. During the Free Agency period of 2010 that notion was given even more emphasis as Lebron James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh, etc. took their destiny into their own hands (which they have the right to do as NBA players) and tested the Free Agent Market.

After Miami’s big three formed there was a pressing need for every franchise to try to get their hands on a star player. Whether that was through the draft or through the market of NBA players didn’t matter. Players, i.e. Joe Johnson, were vastly overpaid as they chose a destination, old or new, to take their talents to. It didn’t matter. If a player is an All-Star caliber talent in the NBA he is going to get paid and rightfully so. They’ve earned that contract and they deserve it.

There has been seemingly no end to the star-search trend that the Boston Celtics created back in 2008 when Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett were brought into the fold to team up with Paul Pierce. That team won a championship using that method; the rest of the league is doing their best to follow suit. As I said earlier in the piece, Miami has their big three. The Nuggets lost their star in Carmelo Anthony to the New York Knicks through a different fashion than the Cavaliers or Raptors. Anthony forced his way out of his situation into New York with current teammate and friend Amare Stoudamire. Since the Melo extend and trade we’ve seen very similar situations with the free agent class of 2012. Chris Paul has already made his move out of New Orleans, after being traded to the New Jersey Nets from the Utah Jazz all eyes are on Deron Williams, and we all know what’s going on with Dwight Howard in Orlando.

It seems that as the league grows star power becomes greater. There is a pressing demand for stars that the league just does not have. There are 30 teams in the league but there may not be close to 20 true star players that can win you a championship. If you’re a small market team it has been proven that you’re usually out of luck when chasing these “Star Children” of the NBA. If they are all trying to join forces on a few select teams, how are all of the teams in the NBA going to compete? The answer seems simple; they can’t. The thing is, there are a few teams in the league right now that are proving to us that they can. They are beating the best of the best without the help of any star talent. They are emphasizing team ball and playing the game the way they know how; everyone contributing one thing that makes the unit a collective juggernaut.

The Denver Nuggets and the Portland Trail Blazers are clear playoff teams in the NBA right now. They are both playing superb basketball after losing their own beacon’s of hope for their respective franchises. They are giving small market teams hope that they can eventually build a team of players who love the game of basketball. They use players who know their roles and play them well; they never play outside themselves or try to exactly “take over a game.” These guys play basketball with the word “We” constantly on their minds and that leads them to victories.

In both situations teams are being coached by guys who are marquee coaches in the NBA. Their players just love playing for them and they know how to motivate their teams. They play to their teams strengths and know exactly the right buttons to push. George Karl, the coach of the Denver Nuggets, has been through it all. He and his son have gone through Cancer and the players love the fight that he brings to the team every day. If he can get through that, why can’t they play a game of basketball for him? They’d go through the wire for him and rightfully so.

Nate McMillan, the Trail Blazer’s coach, has played in the NBA before. The players love a guy who has been through what they’ve gone through as players; he understands what they go through in practice and all of the troubles that could come upon them as players. They trust in him that he knows what he is doing and the results don’t disappoint the players. The trust factor is key in all of this.

There is no substitution for team basketball. You will almost always make the right play when thinking team first; hero ball is out of the question. There is no me, there is only we. The results will do the talking themselves. Per Basketball Reference, Portland Trail Blazers are 13th in offensive rating and 4th in defensive rating out of the entire NBA. They are also the 3rd fastest team in the league which is a contradiction to the style that the Blazers have played in recent years. They played a more slow-paced game for Brandon Roy, Andre Miller, and Greg Oden when healthy. Now that these guys are out of the fold the Blazers have gone from being the 30th team in pace to being the 4th. This is because the Star player doesn’t have to hold the ball to find a shot to bail the team out. This team feels that they don’t need to be bailed out because they play within themselves each and every possession. Their new “Big Three” as the media would usually call it is Gerald Wallace, Lamarcus Aldridge, and Raymond Felton. Neither guy eats up clock when they possess the ball. They can create but they don’t feel the need to have to. Felton would be the only one really creating and when he does that it’s mainly to keep the ball movement going. Jamal Crawford is somewhat of a ball stopper from off of the bench but he doesn’t really go to far outside of the team philosophy either. That is limited because he only is playing 24 minutes a game according to Basketball Reference. He’s taking the shots for the 2nd unit which is at times offensively challenged; the players fit together like thoroughly allocated pieces of a puzzle.

These guys have knocked off teams like Oklahoma City and Los Angeles; the argument that their schedule has been weak is thrown out of the window. Those are teams that are expected to make a run at the Western Conference title. The Blazers handled them easily; the same can be said for the Nuggets.

Denver, since losing their star, has lost the stigma of a team that never played defense. Back then, and even to this day, Carmelo Anthony has never been known as a defender around the NBA. His defense has always been lack luster. George Karl couldn’t coach around his Star’s playing style so he had to adapt. The Nuggets were known as a run and gun team that liked to put shots up early in the clock. That isn’t always a bad thing until you start putting up bad shots early in the clock. This is one reason why the Nuggets were eliminated in the first round all of those years during their Carmelo days. Now, according to basketball reference, The Nuggets are the 7th team in defensive rating and the 9th team in offensive rating. This team is very well-balanced and it shows in their play. They work together to get a shot, playing within themselves just as the Blazers do. Both teams are playoff teams and possibly even title contenders.

It seems like these teams have been better off losing their stars in the short-term than the long-term. They give hope to teams like Orlando and New Orleans; they show that if you play your cards right and bring in talented players who love the game of basketball you can still be successful. By love, I mean players who eat, sleep, breathe, and live basketball. They have the ultimate respect for the game and because of that the teams play better. Maybe the Blazers will stumble upon a new age Tim Duncan in Lamarcus Aldridge, or the Nuggets may find a budding great point guard in Ty Lawson. The way that those guys play still won’t change. They’ll always play within themselves and not make the bad play or take the bad shot to hurt their teams. Great coaching goes a long way in the NBA; remember that.

These teams give hope to franchises like the Indiana Pacers, and the Philadelphia 76ers. You don’t need to find top 20 players to win in the NBA all the time. When you invest time and effort into building a team patiently and you make sure your guys play the game the right way you’ll be just fine. Sure, a star is always nice to have, but everyone can’t get one. There aren’t that many to go around and they don’t come cheap either. Building a team the hard way can pay off also. It just takes time and effort.

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About Michael D. Sykes, II
Hoops writer, I've come to terms with it. I love Basketball and it loves me back. Check me out at Baselinehoops.com and my own creation, "Whats Left on the Floor" at http://ballahollicsonly.wordpress.com.

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