Okay, this much is obvious, although I like writing about the entirety of the NBA, I’m a Chicago Bulls fan. This means I root for the team with the reigning MVP and a team who will probably always be synonymous with Michael Jordan’s extraordinary feats. Despite that impressive superstar lineage in red and black, I’m a big fan of ensemble teams, superstar-less ensembles who win with air tight defense and well organized balanced offense.
Some of my love for ensemble teams owes to my age. I’m in my 50’s, so I grew up on the early ’70s Knicks, mid ’70s Celtics, and the ’76-’77 Blazers, some of the greatest ensemble teams of all time, and I particularly loved the Van Lier/Sloan/Love/Walker Bulls who were just a notch below those units. But I also love ensemble teams because the survival of the NBA depends on them.
The current NBA has teams in Charlotte, Indianapolis, Salt Lake City, Denver, Minneapolis and some other places that are neither major media centers nor glamorous. Due to the rules of the NBA Collective Bargaining Agreement, a superstar player will inevitably have a choice between playing a glamorous major media center or in well, Cleveland. For an incredibly rich, incredibly athletic, celebrity, is it really a choice? (Kevin Durant staying in Oklahoma City is the exception to this rule.) The answer to this dilemma isn’t to bring back the Reserve Clause, but to prove that championship caliber teams can be built without having a SportsCenter Sunday Conversation candidate heading your roster.
It’s been done in the past. The Larry Brown coached Detroit Pistons were just a blown defensive assignment in Game 5 of the Finals from posting back to back titles, and they won one in ’04 over the Shaq/Kobe/Karl Malone/Gary Payton Lakers, one of the most superstar laden lineups of all time. Portland and Indiana routinely win big without a brand name.
Thus, this season, its compressed nature and sloppy fundamentals notwithstanding, makes me very happy. Teams like Denver, Philadelphia, Atlanta, Houston, and yes, Portland and Indiana are wining with depth rather star power. I’d be delighted if one of them went all the way (as all the way until they play Chicago). It would provide a stellar role model to a host of teams with little chance of being a long term destination for a superstar. Otherwise, teams may begin to cluster in major markets out of necessity, and the NBA will become the MMBA, the Major Market Basketball Association.