Even during his time as an elite point guard at the University of Utah, Andre Miller could play the role of being quietly opinionated, stubborn, surly, and incredibly blunt. So it's no surprise that the soft-spoken Denver Nugget recently had this to say to J.A. Adande about his team's chances of winning N.B.A Hardware in June:
"I still think you need a star to win in this league," the Nuggets' guard said. "That's how it tends to happen in a high-level game like this.
But can't his team (Nuggets) be the exception?
"It won't be the exception," Miller said. "I'd like to say that, but it's the regular season. Once you get to the playoffs, it's a totally different story. The stars run the league, and the league wants that, for the promotion. I don't know when the last team that didn't have the stars won the championship."
You can't really say that Miller is wrong, but how about lacking in foresight? The Association's history is superstar-studded, there's no debating that. If there's been one constant in N.B.A. lore, it's that stars bring home the rings as proven by players like Bird, Magic, Isaiah, MJ, Hakeem, Duncan, Shaq, Pierce, Kobe, and Dirk; all of whom are/were stars who've contributed to winning 24 of the last 25 N.B.A. championships.
Times are changing, though, changing in a way the N.B.A. has never seen before. The traditional ingredient to team building has always seemed focused on acquiring superstar-level talent. For small-market teams that usually meant finding one in the draft and cultivating a team-player-community relationship aimed at lasting for a decade or more. For big-market teams that couldn't find their own star in the draft, it usually meant luring one away with promises of glitz, and high-end living that small-market teams couldn't provide. Either way you look at it, the objective has always been superstar driven.
Well, LeBron James bucked traditional team-building humdrum for both sides (players and teams) in July 2006. Sure, he signed a five-year extension with the small-market Cavs, but with it, he initiated a revolutionary third-year, opt-out clause to give himself future "options." Dwyane Wade followed suit. So did Chris Bosh. Chris Paul and Deron Williams got in on the opt-out craze too. Those that didn't have found other ways to provide themselves similar luxuries, namely through player-controlled trade demands to destinations of their choice. LeBron's threat of "options," and, more importantly, the fact that he made good on it by leaving Cleveland, signified a seismic change in the league's team-building think tank.
And that's where we get back to Andre Miller. Again, Miller's right. Forever, stars have ruled the N.B.A game. But stars are no longer trustworthy commodities, and teams--particularly those in small-markets--are catching on to the trend. With less and less reason to believe stars will commit long term, more and more teams are designing star-less rosters predicated on stability, affordability, depth, and, ironically, multi-skilled "options." It's hard to name a time when the league had so many teams without prototypical stars winning ball games. The Nuggets, Pacers, and Sixers are currently a combined 48-23, and continue to make shockwaves throughout the league by winning with roster balance rather than 1-2 player superiority.
That's why Miller could be wrong. It's about foresight. While the league has always been driven by superstars, the league has also arguably never seen a time when so many teams are attempting to combat the traditional superstar formula. And so far the results have been impressive. The playoffs will be the ultimate eye test for this new building-team-depth approach, and if success is accomplished, it could only bode well for one such superstar-less team in humble Indiana.