Coach: Don’t Rush to Change Rosters
No Moves Can Be Good Moves
As the offseason drags on, the only thing saving NBA fans from a relatively consistent chorus of complaints from fans of teams that haven’t changed their roster is the Olympics. In most summers, the single biggest theme is anxiety over a lack of movement for one team or another.
In times like these, however, it is critical not to confuse activity for achievement. Change for change’s sake is rarely successful, and often detrimental to the overall health of an organization. Fans (and many an analyst alike) beg for changes, and will sometimes applaud them and say things like, “At least my team is doing something.”
This attitude is certainly not related to success, and might be dangerous in that it encourages this kind of decision making in the future.
In reality, making roster moves should be about doing one of two things: (1) putting a team in contention for a championship in the short-term or (2) managing assets for the future.
Most can identify easily with a team’s roster machinations that are directly related to winning a championship in the near future. The Boston Celtics a few years ago and the Miami HEAT both showed direct examples of this type of move, and both moves paid off. The teams gave up some sense of long-term security or pieces with value in order to acquire personnel that could result in a championship.
Managing assets for the future can be a bit more amorphous, but it typically involves moving out high-dollar contracts that lock up maneuvering space in later years, and acquiring personnel or rights that are younger and less burdensome. It can also be when a team acquires one or a few players in the final year of a contract, and shows no interest in re-signing those players: they are simply allowing their contract to expire so they can utilize new cap space.
The absolute best kind of moves do both. In these cases, teams are able to either maintain a championship contender or add just a single piece to a near contender, all the while keeping their long-term future bright through strong asset management. The San Antonio Spurs have been absolute masters at this skill over the last ten years, and it shows both in the win column and on their payroll.
If you can’t articulate how a move does at least one of these two things clearly, the team is often better off not making it. Typically, these moves should be tied together into a general strategy that fits a set of long-term or a short-term goals.
This is another piece to the puzzle. If a team has a good reason for doing a move, because they feel it will help them win a championship, and they make the change, but in the same week they make moves to increase asset flexibility that changes their makeup so much that they are no longer able to win a championship, then their goals are in conflict and this needs to be fixed before anything else.
The Philadelphia 76ers might be accused of having conflicting goals this offseason. Their move to amnesty Elton Brand made sense as it provided them with the necessary cap space to be aggressive in free agency and trade scenarios, knowing they could land a higher priced (and presumably more valuable) asset. However, Philly seemed to get a little shy after amnestying Brand, and their moves to acquire Nick Young and Kwame Brown are certainly not championship-caliber. They are also not long-term roster moves, which would have dictated holding onto Brand in the final year of his contract and attacking free agency next offseason with a bang.
This leads us to the dangers of not really defining an overall plan and being able to clearly identify what the purpose is of a given roster change.
Undefined moves tend to produce results that fall in one of three major groups:
Short-term volatility – Occasionally, moves without a clear purpose do surprisingly well. However, this success is typically short-lived and often inconsistent, almost like a gimmick or a situation where the move coincides with a player achieving beyond his talent. This volatility is essentially bad information, and prevents a front office from making the moves they need to put the team on the right track.
Perpetual building cycles – We have all seen teams that are constantly re-tooling rosters, never really able to make a leap into contention, and basically locked in from a roster management standpoint from landing a big score. This situation can be tantalizing to a fan, it actually looks like a team is getting somewhere, or is always on the verge of success, but in reality they are more like a hamster spinning his wheel.
Handcuff future decision-making – The New York Knicks have a long and colorful history of sabotage when it comes to their ability to make future decisions. Sometimes, a team does this recognizing that it is a path to short-term success; they mortgage the future against the present opportunity. A calculated gamble is one thing, and when it doesn’t work, it looks bad. However, that isn’t this situation. Here, a move is made that does not give a team a legitimate chance at a title, but does tie them into a player long-term for too high a price.
For some teams, the lure of making moves and looking busy in the offseason is just too attractive. Their roster manipulations cause avoidable harm, and make it a lot harder to fix issues down the line. As the saying says, “Don’t confuse activity for achievement.” Sometimes the best move is no move at all.
Have questions for Coach Macri? Be sure and drop by HOOPSWORLD on Tuesdays at 10 a.m. EST for the Coach’s weekly basketball chat! You can also follow Coach Macri on Twitter @AnthonyLMacri.
Each week, HOOPSWORLD NBA analyst Anthony Macri will open his notebook and offer an assortment of observations on games, players, and teams from throughout the league. Macri is the newly appointed Chief Executive Officer of the ASEAN Basketball League (the first regional pro sports league in Southeast Asia), setting and executing a strategic vision for basketball and business development, league operations, and marketing. Previously, Macri served as a player development consultant for the Pro Training Center and Coach David Thorpe, as the business manager at the IMG Basketball Academy, and has coached at two nationally ranked high school programs. The Coach’s Notebook is a weekly feature on HOOPSWORLD.