Gone is the era of 'super teams' that was headed by the Warriors. Nowadays you need a good dealer to win
NBA game at the Eastern Conference / Reference image / Pixabay
LatinAmerican Post | Pedro Bernal
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The last 15 years of NBA professional basketball were dominated by the so-called 'super teams'. From Garnett, Pierce and Allen's Boston Celtics to Curry, Durant and Thompson's Warriors, three or four superstars were needed to win. The Raptors' triumph in the past season, as well as the player movements that have taken place in the most recent free agency, show that things have changed.
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Toronto won the championship with only one superstar, Kawhi Leonard, surrounded by excellent support staff. However, outside the court, there was an equally important figure to bring the first NBA trophy to Toronto: the general manager or GM, Masai Ujiri.
Ujiri was born in Nigeria, son of English parents, and worked as a youth basketball coach until some Orlando Magic executives offered him a position as a scout, but without financial compensation. From there he went to Toronto for the first time, where he worked for a time as a global talent recruiter. It was in Denver, with the Nuggets, that he got fame after he won the 2013 executive of the year award for his work on rebuilding and getting them to participate int the playoffs.
Business is the key to the Raptors' succes
That same year, Ujiri came to the Raptors again under the title of executive vice president and GM, with a salary of US $ 15 million for his services and with the mission of winning an NBA title. It took time, but under his leadership began the most prosperous years of the Raptors' short life so far.
During Ujiri's first years in this position, Toronto had only two minor stars on its team, DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry. Even at disadvantage against league contenders, Toronto reached the playoffs in six consecutive seasons, something they had only done five times in history before Ujiri's arrival.
The only Canadian team in the league achieved this by radically different means than those of other dominant teams of the moment such as the Golden State Warriors or the Oklahoma City Thunder, which lined up three or more superstars to crush the competition. Ujiri proved that that was not his style.
“You have to find the balance between young and veteran players, between stars and All-Stars, it is actually a team work. And then, you will also need luck, ”said Ujiri for the Fortune portal.
In 2018, with DeMar DeRozan, Toronto was good, yes, but a title was missing. To achieve this, other sports directors or GM would have coupled DeRozan with another star. At that time, they could have place a bigger bet for players like Paul George or DeMarcus Cousins, but what they did took the league by surprise.
Sending DeRozan to San Antonio in exchange for Kawhi Leonard was atypical, but it fit Ujiri's style, who was convinced he needed only one star, only that it had to be the right one. Leonard has more defensive skills than DeRozany and can neutralize great players pressuring them, something he did perfectly against the most valuable player in the league, Giannis Antetokounmpo, at the end of the conference.
If we add to Ujiri's success as a dealer and strategist Toronto's decision to ally with Canadian rapper Drake, who advanced successful marketing work, in addition to getting the media attention to keep players out of the spotlight, it is clear Toronto's succes last season was born in the offices and boardrooms, but manifested on the court.
Breaking the hegemony
For the coming season, the Raptors' dyspruptive success changed the way to achieve success. Cunning during free agency must be key, one must think beyond filling a team of stars and rather forming a unit with chemistry and balance. In addition, it is necessary to have the financial discipline to play with the rules of the NBA salary cap to assemble the best possible team without exceeding the allowed quota.
Also read: How does the NBA financial system work?
Now it is time for Los Angeles Clippers and their new owner Steve Ballmer. The Clippers have never won a championship and come from a few years of disappointment since the departure of their star Blake Griffin. Ballmer and the team's GM, Michael Winger, knew that they had to bet hard for some great players, among them was again Kawhi Leonard, already contemplated as a candidate for best player in the world.
In the same city, the Lakers were putting together a super team following the Warriors's model. They hoped to secure Leonard in order to join him with LeBron James and newcomer Anthony Davis. This would have meant that three players in contention for being the best in the world would have been in a single team, with the possibility of crushing the competition.
To break Golden State hegemony and to avoid a new one of the Lakers, they promised Leonard that he would not be alone, so they brought Paul George from Oklahoma City, who comes from several seasons in a row as one of the best in the league, and convinced Leonard to join this new project.
Now, top-notch talent is not concentrated in a handful of teams like a couple of years ago. Realistically, you can see about eight or ten candidates for the title, something that had not happened in this decade. Ballmer continued what Ujiri started: a new business era in the NBA, one with more parity in which a team can aspire to the title with just a couple of cunning moves in free agency.