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The Championship Entree: How do you build a contender?

Hawk Str8Talk digs into the crates to rank the ways by which you can obtain Hall of Fame talent and whether it's possible to win a title without one. What does history tell us?

Lots of goodness here...
Lots of goodness here...

In what is sure to be a theme throughout this year at Peachtree Hoops and NBA message boards worldwide, the path to a title has been debated pretty vigorously. In an earlier blog, I made the assertion that the Hawks cannot begin to honestly consider themselves working toward contender status until they have a Hall of Fame foundation to build upon. In essence, until we have a future Hall of Famer on the roster, we're spinning our wheels. With Thanksgiving on deck, I'd never be one to tell you that the appetizers, sides, desserts, and drinks are not important, but if you don't have a turkey or a ham - you don't actually have a Thanksgiving dinner.

From that backdrop, the argument of whether the Hawks need to draft their Hall of Fame talent from the lottery to even consider ourselves a future title contender has ensued. Instead of continuing to debate opinions, it's time to pull out some facts to support what we thought was a simple and fairly irrefutable thought. So in the season of Hawks Str8Talk’s commitment to research, I thought it important to ask some legitimate questions and provide some support for this contention.

Q: Can You Win A Title Without A Hall of Famer?

A: History would suggest NO. In 63 years, only two teams have won a championship without the fortune of a (future) Hall of Famer residing on the roster. In the lottery era, there have only been two teams that have won a championship without at least two future Hall of Famers on the roster (Houston 1994 and Detroit 2004). While anything is possible, it’s impossible to escape the fact that the NBA is the most dependent on star power to win a title and this makes sense since with best of seven series and only five players on the court at a time - the best player and best team will invariably win almost every time.

Which would leave us with the question - if there is a belief that a team can win without a Hall of Famer, what have you seen from the Hawks organization, personnel, and coaching that would suggest that the Hawks would be able to buck this trend?

Q: Assuming you are siding with history, do the Hawks have a future Hall of Famer on the roster?

A: History would suggest NO. The numbers normally necessary that must be amassed and the level of talent that makes the Hall are not evident from any current Hawk on paper or by the eye test. That said, if we were to make the leap of faith that there is one, the obvious answer would be Al Horford and even my Hawk colored eyes would be hard to say that it’s possible to see that kind of growth in Al’s game.

Now, if you have gotten past these two questions in agreement that you can’t win a chip without a Hall of Famer and that the Hawks don’t have one, then we have to move to the key element in our championship run – which is "How Do The Hawks Acquire a Hall of Fame Talent?"

Before we start down this path, let’s preface this discussion first. It is incredibly difficult to win a NBA Title. You have to get lucky (ping pong balls, desperate teams, stupid GM-ship, draftee motivation/will/work ethic). It requires a great locker room, great coaching, great role players, great… (fill in the blank). So simply that to even start to consider winning a title – you have to have the talent. You can change the coach, change the system, change the mix, but you can’t go without the talent. So, let’s get to how this happens:

Via Lottery Draft Picks: In the lottery era, there have been eight franchises out of 32 that have won titles. Those franchises collectively had 16 current or future Hall of Famers that were on the teams that won titles. (Note: I’ll also note the Hall of Famers that were selected prior to the lottery era). They are:

  • BOS (’86, ’08) – Pierce, Garnett, Allen [Bird, Parish, McHale, D. Johnson and B. Walton were all selected prior to ’85.]
  • LAL (’87-88, ’00-02, ’09-10) – O’Neal, Bryant, P. Gasol* [Johnson, Abdul-Jabbar and Worthy were all selected prior to ‘85]
  • DET (’89-90, ’04) – None [Note: Dantley, Thomas, and Laimbeer were all selected prior to ’85.]
  • CHI (’91-93, ’96-98) – Pippen, Rodman (Detroit pick) [Jordan was selected in ‘84]
  • HOU (’94-’95) – None [Drexler and Olajuwon were both selected prior to ‘85}
  • SAS (’99, 03, 05, 07) – Robinson, Duncan
  • MIA (’06, ’12-13) – O’Neal, Mourning, Payton, Wade, James, Bosh
  • DAL (11) – Nowitski, Kidd

Additionally, the 2004 Detroit team was led by 3 players (R. Wallace, Billups, Hamilton) who were all lottery picks. Despite the discontentment some have with a reliance on ping pong balls to acquire a talent, the numbers suggest there’s no better way to acquire a Hall of Fame talent. As much as some people detest tanking, this is the reason teams consider doing it.

Via Trade: There have been 6 current or future Hall of Famers who have been traded to a team that won a title. They are:

  • Clyde Drexler
  • Dennis Rodman
  • Shaquille O’Neal
  • Jason Kidd
  • Kevin Garnett
  • Ray Allen

An interesting footnote to this avenue for getting Hall of Fame talent is that in each instance – you already knew that these were potential Hall of Famers (save Rodman) and therefore, that’s why it’s much more unlikely to pull these trades off – GMs know that these are the kinds of talents that your franchise can win a title with.

Via Non-Lottery Draft Pick: There have been 4 current or future Hall of Famers who have been selected outside of the lottery and went on to win a title. They are:

  • Joe Dumars
  • Dennis Rodman
  • Manu Ginobili
  • Tony Parker

The interesting footnote here is that it wouldn’t be a stretch to say that for each of these 4 players – none of them would be Hall of Famers if it was simply about their own abilities.

Via Free Agency: There are 3 current or future Hall of Famers who have signed with another team through free agency and went on to win a title.

  • Shaquille O’Neal
  • LeBron James
  • Chris Bosh

This is the hardest way to get a Hall of Famer to join your team. You have to compete with cap space, other teams and cities, tax-free states, and timing. Those are the kinds of elements that are hard to bet on, particularly if you are a small to medium market teams.

And there you have it – the numbers are in and if it’s the odds that you want to play (and we know many don’t), then it’s time to get a lottery pick and let the luck be our guide. As always, see you in the comments…