Opinion Sports Columns

All the Pieces Matter

Terrence Payne

Sports Editor

Detective Lester Freamon, the character from HBO’s hit series The Wire, uttered the words, “All the pieces matter.” Of course, he was talking about the pieces of evidence being put together to bring down a Baltimore drug kingpin.

But somehow, I’ve found myself applying that to today’s version of the NBA and how the idea of creating a “super team” is the correct way to build a championship squad.

Ever since LeBron James took his talents to South Beach, the belief has emerged that, to win in the NBA, you have to pack as many stars as possible onto a roster, sacrificing cap space and forcing the rest of the roster to be filled with below-average talent.

Reserve players are now starting players; bench warmers are now rotation guys. Teams who follow the “super team” mentality overlook critical pieces to a championship team, while history shows that a collection of depth and talent is the way to win.

There is a reason why the Boston Celtics and Los Angeles Lakers have combined to win half of the NBA Championships. It’s because they know how to build a title contender. They get top-notch players and surround them with guys willing to do the dirty work (i.e. rebound and defend).

You can argue all you want about how the Celtics and Lakers sparked this trend, which in a way they did. But both teams never forgot to fill in all the pieces. Both teams had rebounders like Kendrick Perkins, key bench players like Lamar Odom and quality veterans like Derek Fisher.

Do the Knicks and the Heat really resemble those Celtics and Lakers teams?

Both New York and Miami have made an effort to fill those roles by signing Tyson Chandler and Shane Battier, but they are lacking in other departments.

Take the Knicks for example. They mortgaged almost their entire roster (Danilo Gallinari, Wilson Chandler, Raymond Felton and Timofey Mozgov) for Carmelo. And look at where the Knicks and Denver Nuggetts are now.

The Knicks are below .500 at 7-10, while Denver is 12-5, good for second in the Western Conference.

In the NBA, you need at least eight quality players on your roster; two or three great players don’t cut it in this league or any league for that matter.

Look at last year’s NBA Finals. The Mavericks had two future Hall of Famers in Jason Kidd and Dirk Nowitzki. To complement those guys, they had Tyson Chandler, a defensive presence, DeShawn Stevenson and Shawn Marion, guys who could both score and were willing defenders. They also received amazing bench play from J.J. Barea and Jason Terry. Dallas had several other players vital to a playoff run: Brendan Haywood, Peja Stojakovic and Brian Cardinal.

The “super team” idea is a fad and a bad one at that.

These teams stacked with talent are left vulnerable in other spots. The Heat will still be a good team, but do they really have enough to win a title without a reliable center and a consistent point guard? It didn’t appear to work out for them last June.

I just feel that teams were duped into believing that this is the correct way to build a championship club, but they are quickly realizing how big of a misconception it is.

Why am I so confident? Because the team with the brightest future and the best chance to win multiple times is a team built through the draft, with smart trades and signings: the Oklahoma City Thunder.

With stars like Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook and role players such as Kendrick Perkins, Serge Ibaka, James Harden, Nick Collison and Thabo Sefolosha, they have all the tools, all the right pieces to be a player for the NBA Finals in the foreseeable future.

Look at the shortened NBA season so far. Chicago, Denver, Indiana and Philadelphia, all deep teams, are off to better starts than the previous season.

Hopefully, come June, one of these teams will reinforce the idea that filling a roster with all the right pieces is the way to win a title.

Terrence Payne may be reached at tpayne@springfieldcollege.edu

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