Great teams come and go in the NBA. Very few have the staying power to last for more than a couple seasons, let a lone a decade. It takes skill and luck, but the teams with real longevity typically have an incredible relationship between front office and coaching staff.
The gold standard is clearly the San Antonio Spurs, who have accomplished what seems like the impossible. In their 37 seasons in the NBA, they have made the playoffs an astonishing 33 times. And since Gregg Popovich took over as Spurs head coach in 1996, they have 10 division titles and four NBA Championships.
Popovich is always going to be the guy who gets the acclaim, but what is often lost in the Spurs’ winning ways is the relationship between Popovich and R.C. Buford.
Buford took over the reigns as general manager in 2002. While Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker continue to be the cornerstones of the franchise, Buford has continually found pieces to fit around the trio. Pieces that once again have helped them reach the NBA Finals.
While every team in the league should look to the Spurs for inspiration, small market teams should pay good money for the blueprint.
Is it lightning in a bottle or can the Spurs’ accomplishments be replicated?
The Kings found similar success at the turn of the millenium, albeit in a shorter run. Geoff Petrie picked up two NBA Executive of the Year awards for bringing Vlade Divac, Chris Webber, Peja Stojakovic, Jason Williams and others together.
But once the team was formed, it was Rick Adelman who gained acclaim for his ability to mesh a group of individuals into one of the most entertaining teams in the NBA.
The symbiotic relationship between Petrie and Adelman worked to perfection. Petrie would bring in the talent and Adelman would figure out a way to make the pieces work. Petrie was always ahead of the curve. He collected the style of player that fit Adelman’s system and the coach relied on Petrie’s skill as a talent evaluator. For eight glorious seasons, the cupboard was never bare. Petrie would mine and Adelman would meld.
When Adelman left following the 2005-06 season, the Kings, with Petrie still at the helm, fell apart. In fact, during Petrie’s 19-year tenure as President of Basketball Operations, he made the playoffs only once without Adelman as Kings coach.
Without Petrie, Adelman found moderate success in Houston, but nothing like what we saw in Sacramento’s golden era.
There is clearly a pattern that can be looked at for success. There are no guarantees and of course there are thousands of other variables to consider, like finding great players in Duncan and Webber.
So what is the next step for the Kings in their rebuild?
The list of potential general manager contenders is impressive. Candidates like Buford, Chris Wallace of the Memphis Grizzlies, David Morway, formally of the Indiana Pacers and Troy Weaver of the Oklahoma City Thunder all have a small market pedigree, meaning they have insight on how to run a team in a town like Sacramento.
Being in a small market takes some getting used to. You have to capitalize on every chance you are given. You aren’t allowed to miss in the lottery or overpay for mid-level talent. It is about being calculated and cunning and finding players where others have failed.
There is one more candidate on the list that not only deserves mention, but may show a different path for Vivek Ranadivé and company. Travis Schlenk is the assistant general manager and director of player personnel for the Golden State Warriors. While he doesn’t exactly have the small market bloodlines of the other candidates, he has a very strong working relationship with the reported frontrunner of the Kings’ head coaching position, Warriors assistant Mike Malone.
So where do the Kings go from here? Do they look for a small market genius and hope to pair him with the right coach? Or, do they look for a duo that already has a strong understanding of the other’s wants and needs?
It’s a tough decision and whether the right choice is made or not could take years to figure out. Is it pie in the sky to hope for the second coming of Popovich/Buford or Adelman/Petrie? No, those are the standards that every franchise should strive to achieve every time they bring in a new group.
If you aren’t searching for the next great front office/coaching tandem, you probably shouldn’t own a team.