I am new to Peachtree Hoops and have enjoyed the conversations. A lot of the comments on recent posts are about this issue of "Do we tank or do we add assets to contend?" and "Which is more successful?" There are statistics that support either which may be skewed by knowledge of upcoming drafts, but let me offer my practical approach. I think we can all agree that no matter which you choose, the most important strategy is having a well-run franchise. Here is my analysis of the 15 franchises that have been relevant contenders or champions in the last 3 years and how they got there:
1) Spurs: Drafted Duncan after tanking second half of season and winning #1 lottery pick (Note: many teams tried the same strategy that season and only Spurs got a significant piece). They mostly have gone on to win 4 titles by making value picks, adding free agents, and probably making the best 2nd round selection in NBA history (Ginobili). Fundamental piece: The BIG FUNDAMENTAL acquired via TANKING with an assist to building assets.
2) Thunder: The Thunder bottomed out while being the Sonics and landed Durant. A strategy which should be noted only worked because the Blazers selected
Sam Bowie 2.0 Greg Oden. This was furthered by taking Westbrook #4 and followed again by selecting James Harden #3. TANKING or SUCKING moreso really worked here, but also must factor in that I cannot find a historical account of a team getting 3 top-5 picks in a row and hitting jackpot. This is the brilliance of a well-run front office hitting the right drafts at the right time.
3) Heat: The center of the Heat rebuild is clearly acquiring Wade with the #5 pick in the 2003 draft. They won a title after trading multiple assets for Shaq and surrounding Wade with veterans. Also, the NBA was pretty down during the first title run. Wade and Riley would have the influence to bring Bosh and Lebron award. TANKING was a general strategy here, but again they were lucky to get Wade at #5 thanks to the Pistons grabbing Milicic. The only team to mess up in the top 5. Hard to believe that Dumars blew that so badly.
4) Mavericks: Drafted Dirk with #9 pick in '98. This was not a tank, they just were not very good. The Mavs won by having an owner that revolutionized recruiting free agents ranging from buying big towels to simply creating a fun locker room. Added assets, got good coaches, made decent picks, but mostly added pieces in free agency. Even stupidly let Nash go and survived. This was a long ASSET acquiring plan that got the right chemistry. Unfortunately for Mavs, other teams have copied how to "recruit" and larger markets now do it better.
5) Nuggets: Simple-got Carmelo with pick #3. Consistently added pieces around him and built a team that never quite contended by had great regular seasons with early exits to mostly good teams. Interesting thing here is that they dealt away the FRANCHISE in Carmelo and actually improved and still remain relevant as does Carmelo. I will give this to TANKING, but they actually gave up what they tanked for to go the ASSET route.
6) Rockets: Textbook case for ASSET building. Rockets had tanked down to Ming, but that blew up. Morey comes in and tries to build around McGrady. Does not work, so he keeps acquiring assets and lands Gasol before NBA nixes the trade. He does not change strategy or panic. Decided to build around marketing Lin in Summer '12 and then in the fall has best pieces available to acquire Harden which leads to Howard.
7) Pacers: Team bottomed out after the brawl. Rebuilt mostly around picks in the teens (Granger, Paul George, Hibbert, George Hill via Kawhi). Also, got a great coach and hit on Lance Stephenson late. They are set for many years with borderline franchise guys and sensible contracts. Second-best case for acquiring ASSETS.
8) Lakers: Got Kobe from Hornets outside of top-10 and acquired Shaq. They are the Lakers. They just spend a ton and are in LA. Life's not fair. DISQUALIFIED. They are ASSET if you want to count it. I won't.
9) Bulls: Messed up multiple picks, but got the right ping-pong balls and took Rose. Also, were right on Deng and Noah which makes up there nucleus and have drafted well. TANKING worked for them--although they tanked separately 3 different times over a decade before it worked.
10) Celtics: Got Paul Pierce at pick #10, but still sucked. Tanked to get Durant/Oden. Ping-pong balls failed them. Danny Ainge went nuts giving up 1st round picks and assets to land Garnett/Allen. Made bold pick on Rondo late 1st when he could not throw a basketball into circus ring. They used TANKING to acquire Allen, but only because Ainge did not want to tank again due to a weak draft. Pierce was judged for not being franchise player until Garnett/Allen trade brought him back to life. The TANKING does not work without ASSETS, but they are the Celtics so DISQUALIFY them because Lakers/Celtics have their own advantages that really only the Knicks can compare.
11) Knicks: Is CLUSTERF___ a strategy? You spend lots of money on crappy players, then trade all those players for nothing. Make some good draft picks finally and a decent trade. Then sign a player with bad knees, play him a ton of minutes until he breaks down. Then trade all the young guys for a legit star. Sign a bunch of crazy people. Trade random ASSETS for a tall overrated European who shoots 3s. Ok, the Knicks just do not qualify for any analysis in a rational world.
12) Nets: Trade draft picks to acquire Deron Williams with the hopes that you can land Dwight Howard. When you realize that you will not be able to do so, trade for Joe Johnson and bring sunlight back to Atlanta. Follow that up by signing an extension with a center that cannot rebound and relegating your overperforming draft pick (Brooks) back to bench. Then trade all future picks and whatever you can for Pierce/Garnett. Real strategy here is to get a rich Russian to run your team and be willing to pay 75 million in luxury tax for a team that will win a lot of games but not a title. Whatever judgment is passed here, the Nets got here using their ASSETS, not tanking.
14) Grizzlies: Some may not want to see them here, but at end of May some people thought they were best chance to beat Heat. They gave up ASSETS to acquire Mark Gasol after drafting Paul Gasol. They failed on multiple ping pong balls, but eventually got Conley who took a long time to develop and Rudy Gay. At the end of the day, they tanked a lot but they got where they are by moving ASSETS very acutely. This one is probably a push, but I gave the last push to Tanking, so we are going ASSETS here.
15) Warriors: The Warriors TANKED their last 20 games to land Harrison Barnes, but that never happens if Curry does not get hurt. Thompson was a mid-1st round pick and Curry was not a ping pong option pick. The Warriors didnot tank to acquire either. They got the right coach. Made calculated deal for Bogut and then were a blown 4th qtr in game 1 from having 2-0 lead on Spurs. They were mostly there due to ASSETS. Curry was not a franchise player until others came aboard and who knows if he really is (I think he is).
So how do Hawks get to contender status now? There are 12 teams that have won a title or contended above that all have had a better season than Hawks. The Celtics, Lakers, and Knicks seem to be more distant and possibly the Knicks. If you look at those 12, six got where they are by landing a signature player with a ping pong pick--the kind of pick you tank for. The other 6 kept adding pieces.
So given that I am just a fan and know very little, but it seems both strategies show a path to success with either needing a mix of luck and a strong front office--WHAT SHOULD THE ATLANTA HAWKS CHOOSE?
Personally, if the strategies are even--I prefer one that involves 82 competitive games over a year of waiting on ping-pong balls.