Parity is a myth in the NBA. Some teams are so poorly run and so poorly managed — not to mention unlucky — that it is a long prospect for them to reach a championship. Owners in the NBA want some guarantee of at least a chance at competitive balance. They want every team to have a shot at winning a championship through free agency — and only sometimes the draft.
Rarely do we see NBA champions built the home grown way.
The Oklahoma City Thunder are really the only example that still exists of the home-grown elite team. The Thunder/Sonics drafted Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and James Harden. They have decided to build through the draft and add low cost players to their roster. Oklahoma City has a bright future.
The way the NBA is set up though, teams like the Celtics and the Lakers seem to just find the best players in the league and group them together. The Detroit Pistons of the early 2000s do not happen as much any more. Neither do what the Thunder are working on or what the Spurs and Mavericks did. Yet those are always the teams that we end up talking about as title contenders.
And that is the point. No matter the league, no matter the champion, the teams that have true staying power are the ones that are smart with their money and home-grow their talent. Look at the Tampa Bay Rays completing a miracle comeback and toppling the high-priced Boston Red Sox for the American League Wild Card playoff spot in baseball earlier this week.
Finally, if there is any hope that this is the method that can be successful in any league and in basketball particularly, look at your two finalists competing for the WNBA Championship. If ever there is a universal truth about champions in sports, you can find them in the Atlanta Dream and Minnesota Lynx, who will square off in the best-of-five championship series beginning Sunday.
Three years ago, both the Dream and the Lynx were seemingly at rock bottom.
Atlanta, an expansion franchise in 2008, finished its first season at 4-31 but slowly improved. Now the Dream are back-to-back Eastern Conference champions and making their second Finals appearance.
The Dream feature a balanced attack led by Angel McCoughtry, a defensive and low post ace from her days in college hwo has translated that bullish style to the professional ranks. Adding in veteran players like Lindsay Harding and Iziane Marques-Castro, and the Dream have numerous offensive weapons and a point guard that can run the team in a precise manner.
Minnesota has had a WNBA team for a long time now, but has not met any type of success. Before this season, the Lynx had never won a playoff series and had been to the postseason just twice in the team’s 12-year history. There was no clue that Minnesota was on the doorstep to something special, including the league’s best record.
The Lynx won or acquired the top pick in the last two drafts, but high draft picks had betrayed the franchise before.
Seimone Augustus, who plays very much like a healthy Tracy McGrady with a little more defensive tenacity, is one of the great scorers in the league. But an ACL injury derailed her three years ago. Only now, it seems, is she finally getting back to her superstar form. Candice Wiggins and Charde Houston got off to solid starts on their careers, but the two have accepted reduced roles on this championship-caliber team. Wiggins has become a 3-point specialist and defensive ace off the bench. While Houston, who was an All Star in 2009, has seen limited minutes but has provided energy when she comes in.
For the Lynx, rookie Maya Moore and veteran and Minnesota native Lindsay Whalen drive the team forward with big help from two of the league’s best rebounders — Taj McWilliams-Franklin and Rebbekah Brunson. Quietly through developing some talent it already had, finding a superstar in Whalen through trades, getting players to accept their roles and finding the right pieces, the Lynx have astonishingly turned their franchise around.
This is going to be a competitive series with the players going at each other at the highest level.
But the point is these WNBA Finals are everything the NBA is not.
We see incredibly balanced scoring and deft passing and fewer one-on-one isolations that many criticize the NBA for. These are not players playing for greed or just showing up for a paycheck. Many of them play year-round in Europe during the WNBA’s offseason and many get paid more for those efforts than they do in the WNBA. Playing in the WNBA is purely for the competition of playing in the best overall league in the world.
What everyone complains about players in the NBA, these players seem to defy.
Even more, the owners and those running the teams seem to go against their NBA counterparts. The Dream are an expansion franchise owned by three local women and hardly resemble the squabbling group of owners who used to own the Hawks. Everyone laughs at the way David Kahn has run the Timberwolves seemingly further into the ground. But the Lynx have built themselves form the bottom up with some smart drafting and strategic acquisitions. Yes, these two general managers share adjacent offices in the Target Center.
The WNBA is not for everyone. The game is played below the rim and sometimes resembles a lower level of basketball. But if there is a time to watch it is with the two best teams in the league playing for the ultimate prize.