Apr 18, 2014 9:11 PM EDT
A 10-year season-by-season Win Rank snapshot for an NBA franchise creates an insightful visual narrative.
Toronto Raptors: The quick rise of the 06-07 season ended up becoming an aberration of the Bryan Colangelo/Chris Bosh tenure. The Raptors were never able to become a contender with that roster and they have begun their climb all the way up to 11th this season without a franchise superstar, making Masai Ujiri’s job more difficult and more intriguing.
Brooklyn Nets: The Jason Kidd and Vince Carter trades set the Nets rapidly down to the bottom of the NBA and a costly roster around Deron Williams has brought them back into the top half. A continuation of their M-shaped trajectory is probable due to the nature of constructing a roster via trades and free agency instead of the draft.
New York Knicks: The Knicks haven’t had a top-5 finish since 96-97 and only did the arrivals of Amar’e Stoudemire and Carmelo Anthony brought the Knicks out of the twenties, where they’d been in all but one season since 2002. Re-signing Carmelo probably puts them on the M-shaped path of the Nets, while pulling together a better draft pick and multiple max contract slots in 2015 would almost certainly lead to a more sustainable way forward.
Boston Celtics: Since he’s done it before, Danny Ainge appears to again be quickly letting the Celtics get very bad with the hope of getting very good in very quick fashion. The Celtics nearly snuck into The Finals in 2012 despite finishing 10th in the NBA in the lockout-shortened season, but the fairly consistent decline of Pierce/Garnett/Allen is clear in this graph.
Philadelphia 76ers: Sam Hinkie inherited a team visibly on the NBA’s infamous mediocrity treadmill and the decision to begin a full-blown rebuild makes more sense in how badly the previous models were working. The 76ers have had just two top-10 finish since 90-91, as both the Charles Barkley and Allen Iverson eras were unsuccessful in building workable title contenders around future of Hall of Famers.
Indiana Pacers: On the mediocrity treadmill coming out of the Jermaine O’Neal/Ron Artest era, the Pacers very unexpected entered the NBA’s elite with the rise of Paul George and Roy Hibbert, two players not expected to become this good going into the draft.
Chicago Bulls: Squandering their position coming out of the Eddy Curry trade with the Ben Wallace signing and the preference of Tyrus Thomas over LaMarcus Aldridge or Brandon Roy in the short-term, the Bulls shot back up to the NBA’s best with the lottery win for Derrick Rose along with the decision to hire Tom Thibodeau. The Joakim Noah part of the Curry trade is what saved the Bulls from crashing back to the NBA’s bottom third following Rose’s injuries.
Cleveland Cavaliers: The departure of LeBron James in 2010 serves as the first of several L-shaped dives. The Cavaliers’ drop from 7th to 13th after they reached The Finals in 2007 was a stronger indication of the limitations around LeBron in hindsight than we realized when they had the best record in the NBA in 08-09 and 09-10. Despite drafting first overall twice in three seasons and fourth in two of them, there is a lot of work on the roster that needs to be done before they return to the top half of the NBA.
Detroit Pistons: The Pistons were good and then they weren’t very quickly, dropping from 2nd in 07-08 to 17th in 08-09 with the Iverson for Chauncey Billups trading proving disastrous in the short-term that season and the signings of Ben Gordon and Charlie Villanueva with the created cap space mimicking the result in the long-term.
Milwaukee Bucks: The Bucks have been moderately up but mostly down since Don Nelson’s departure in the late eighties. With just one top-10 finish since 1989, the Bucks have been consistently average until this 15-win season.
Miami Heat: The Shaquille O’Neal/Dwyane Wade run was always going to be a short one, but the speed of the fall exceeded expectations. Wade was trapped in mediocrity before the arrivals of LeBron and Bosh in 2010.
Washington Wizards: The supposed glory days of Gilbert Arenas, Antawn Jamison and Caron Butler looks far more modest in hindsight with 12th-15th finishes in those four seasons before injuries hit. The Wizards have been on the Thunder Model since John Wall’s arrival, but they appear to be a James Harden short with Otto Porter being their final high pick before becoming a playoff team.
Charlotte Bobcats: The Bobcats were unable to parlay successive seasons of high picks into more than a team with the 15th best record in the NBA and improving beyond 16th this season will be equally challenging without a pick in this class.
Atlanta Hawks: The Hawks escaped an eight-year run in the NBA’s cellar by jumping onto the mediocrity treadmill. Even as Danny Ferry as stripped significant portions of the roster, the Hawks have remained a playoff team somehow.
Orlando Magic: The Magic climbed steadily as Stan Van Gundy figured out how to construct a system around Dwight Howard, but they didn’t have enough young pieces to make it sustainable. When Howard was traded in 2012, the Magic predictably bottomed out altogether as part of the Thunder Model.
Los Angeles Clippers: The Brand/Cassell/Kaman run was a quick rise and fall for Mike Dunleavy, but winning the lottery in 2009 for Blake Griffin and trading for Chris Paul very quickly propelled the Clippers to the NBA’s elite strata with improvement each of their three seasons together.
Golden State Warriors: The 2007 and 2008 Warriors, built around Baron Davis, Stephen Jackson and a young Monta Ellis, were high on entertainment but just slightly above average in wins. The Warriors missed the playoffs in 2008 and then fell back to the bottom third of the NBA when Davis left for the Clippers. A healthy Stephen Curry and a better overall roster gave the Warriors a quick climb to the NBA’s top-10 in each of the past two seasons.
Phoenix Suns: The first year of the graph coincides with the arrival of Steve Nash in which they had the best record in the NBA. The bounce back season in 09-10 from 13th to 5th was the final chance for Nash, as the departure oStoudemire that offseason sent them down to the bottom half.
Sacramento Kings: The Kings were a top-8 team from 00-01 until 04-05 and this graph shows the quick fall to the bottom of the league where they have been stuck without winning a lottery to draft the type of franchise cornerstone that can turnaround the franchise.
Los Angeles Lakers: The Lakers have the most ‘what goes up must come down’ looking graph in the entire NBA. When Shaquille O’Neal was traded in 2004, they dropped to 21st, but quickly returned to 10th in 05-06 and the Pau Gasol trade/Andrew Bynum development made them elite again.
Oklahoma City Thunder: When the Thunder Model is referred to, this is what it looks like in terms of wins. The Ray Allen/Rashard Lewis Sonics fell swiftly from a great 04-05 season to 21st in 05-06 and Sam Presti put his foot on the drowning core. Three bad seasons followed for Kevin Durant, which is even more remarkably bad in hindsight considering how great he’s become, and then their meteoric rise to a perennial top-5 team.
Portland Trail Blazers: The Blazers shot up from 24th to 16th to 7th with the Brandon Roy/LaMarcus Aldridge core before injuries derailed their chance at joining the elite. The Damian Lillard/Terry Stotts arrival prevented the Blazers from needing to bottom out and trade away Aldridge.
Minnesota Timberwolves: We’re missing the L-shape franchise player departure we have seen from other clubs since this graph doesn’t include the Wolves’ 03-04 season in which they finished 2nd in the NBA in wins. Kevin Love has brought the Wolves out of the very bottom of the NBA, but several bad drafts has the team weighed down to mediocrity.
Denver Nuggets: The departure of Carmelo didn’t hurt the Nuggets in the short-term, but the absence of an All-Star talent in this past injury-filled season exposed some of the roster construction issues.
Utah Jazz: The Jazz executed a quick rebuild out of the Malone/Stockton era around Deron Williams, Carlos Boozer and Andrei Kirilenko, but they were a little short of ever reaching the top-5 despite making the 2007 Western Conference Finals. The Jazz fully embraced the youth movement this season by letting Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap walk.
San Antonio Spurs: Extend this out to 89-90 and the graph is even more impressive. The Spurs have been 10th or better every season except of course 96-97 when David Robinson was injured. The Spurs have been a top-5 team in wins in 18 of those 25 seasons. The gold standard in every way.
Houston Rockets: The Thunder Model will continue to be more frequently imitated, but the Rockets Model will be interesting to study should Dwight Howard and James Harden reach The Finals in one of the next three seasons. The Rockets never dropped below the middle of the NBA coming out of the Yao Ming/Tracy McGrady era, but they were able to construct a well-balanced team around two of the top-10 players in the league.
Memphis Grizzlies: The L-shape appears again with the Gasol trade in 06-07, but the rise back up to the top-10 is quick due to the Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph acquisitions.
Dallas Mavericks: The Dirk Nowitzki/Mark Cuban partnership has only produced one title, but it looks a lot like a slightly lesser version of the Gregg Popovich/Tim Duncan Spurs. The drop from 5th to 14th and 17th following the championship was part of a short-term plan for a long-term rebuilding with the hopes of landing Howard and Williams, but they’ve successively pieced it back together with undervalued assets like Monta Ellis.
New Orleans Pelicans: Chris Paul gave the then-Hornets a rapid turnaround, yet it proved unsustainable with an uncertain ownership and injury issues. Anthony Davis gave the Pelicans the chance to replicate the Thunder Model, but Dell Demps has been instructed to accelerate the timeline with costly moves for Jrue Holiday and Tyreke Evans.
Apr 15, 2014 2:19 PM EDT
The crossroads of a franchise flashed before DeMar DeRozan, a text message punched to Rudy Gay signaling two paths. DeRozan stood inside the Los Angeles locker room in December with his Toronto Raptors teammates, hugging goodbye to Quincy Acy and Aaron Gray and some reaching Gay by phone, and privately many of them wondered: What’s next?
The Raptors could have crumbled under the weight of endless questions about their futures, put Dwane Casey on severe lookout for his job and faltered toward a lottery pick – or bonded inside a tight locker room with stabilizing newcomers from the Sacramento Kings, cleansed the playbook of dense isolation sets and implement a free-flowing style that has given a raucous fan base reason to believe in sacrificing basketball.
Mostly, DeRozan had to prove the organization’s old vision of him as a cornerstone, as an efficient guard and reliable leader. He needed to mature as a two-way, inside and out player. For DeRozan, the departure of Gay had been the precise sign. His stats couldn’t be empty anymore.
Masai Ujiri had entertained a serious reconstruction of the roster before the trade deadline, as he’s publicly stated, but DeRozan had already made clear in his mind: He had to stay – and win – with the Raptors.
“There was no doubt about my future here and I never had a doubt,” DeRozan told RealGM. “It was never a thought of leaving or nothing. I took an onus of myself to step up my game, especially when the trade happened because I understood what it feels like to be in a struggle and be in a tough season. Now, we have great relationships with each other, before it comes to basketball.
“That trade was our cue that everybody has to step up. It could’ve turned real ugly, real fast.”
So now, DeRozan earns his first showing in the postseason, a premiere stage for an All-Star scorer of his ilk. Around him, Casey’s mastered the pedal on this team, cognizant of when to motivate forcefully and subtly, and Kyle Lowry instigates balanced shots and sharp ball movement.
Before a dramatic reversal of a season, Toronto had been a meddling, mediocre group. There was no choice but to jolt the players and coaches with that first trade. They had no identity, no established system – only jump-shooting tendencies, external blame for the coaching staff and a perception across the NBA of me-first attitudes.
“When I got here, I read up on the team and people were talking about how they wanted the team to tank so they could get a good draft pick,” Patrick Patterson said. “They said the ball movement wasn’t there; that players were selfish holding the ball, a lot of isos, and that it wasn’t great basketball. I was unaware of that situation, what was going on, but I’m thankful for when I got here it wasn’t like that at all. People moved the ball, averaged high assists and bought into their roles.”
They started an alluring brand of ball, and it’s in turn made them an appealing franchise with which to remain. Casey admits he owes a tremendous amount to Patterson, Greivis Vasquez, John Salmons and Chuck Hayes for cultivating positivity among younger players, for providing calmness amid the ups and downs of a season and eliminating any locker room divides. With DeRozan locked into his contract potentially until 2017, with a priority to re-sign Lowry and with a firm front office, two pending free agents who are critical to the rotation, Patterson and Vasquez, are immensely open to returning on long-term deals.
Winning does this for any organization. After Chris Bosh left in 2010, the Raptors dwelled toward the bottom of the league, free agents losing sight of the city’s draw and fans’ backing. And now, they’ll be a desired destination.
“I wouldn’t mind staying with the Raptors at all,” Patterson told RealGM. “Toronto is a great city, and it has great basketball fans, which surprised me the most when I got here. I didn’t know the fan support was so great in Toronto.”
“If we stay together for three, four years … woo, this team will be scary,” Vasquez said. “We just got to stay humble.”
DeRozan kept his humility through the losing seasons, but he noticed increasing detractors of his game, his contract. He never implored Gay about his similar judgments, because he said he knew, “Being overlooked comes with [the league], and you use it as motivation. That’s all I did – use negative thoughts, critics as motivation.”
DeMar has some Rudy in him – the exciting athleticism and habit to fall in love with the jumper – and Gay received a maximum contract in 2010 for this blend in his repertoire. As Gay faded farther and farther away from the rim, regaining some of his old propensities with the Kings, DeRozan has shown far more determination to use his leaping ability and strength to attack the basket.
Now, Toronto gets homecourt advantage in the first round of the Eastern Conference playoffs, and DeRozan promises these Raptors have a measured vision of advancing. This season was spiraling in two avenues months ago, uncertainties clouding DeRozan’s future and the standing of his point guard and coach and franchise. Sure, his GM received inquiries from teams searching to pickpocket the 24-year-old.
Every one of these Raptors was on the clock to see how this core would respond and how far these once misfit parts could go, and no one continues to outlast it more than DeMar DeRozan.
Apr 01, 2014 11:21 PM EDT
The Toronto Raptors are headed to the postseason for the first time since 2008, likely with homecourt advantage in the first round.
The Raptors’ improvement is as surprising as the December trade that sent Rudy Gay to the Sacramento Kings, which seemed to signal at the time that Masai Ujiri was waiving the white flag on the 2013-14 season. Toronto is 10 games above .500, but they were 6-12 on the morning of Dec. 8.
When the postseason begins, several new faces will represent the Eastern Conference. We are accustomed to seeing the Miami Heat, Indiana Pacers, Chicago Bulls, Brooklyn Nets and Atlanta Hawks/New York Knicks, but the Raptors, Washington Wizards and Charlotte Bobcats will be looking to advance while learning about spring basketball on the fly.
Late-game execution is vital to success in the playoffs and while you can predict that guys like LeBron James and Kevin Durant will have the ball in their hands with the game on the line, many clubs have had success without an alpha dog.
The Raptors are one of those teams.
“We have different situations where we like to go with different people. I don’t want to give away any trade secrets or anything, but we like different guys in different situations,” Dwane Casey said when asked about how he draws up late-game plays.
“We have multiple guys, we don’t have one guy that we go to all the time.”
Casey can go to DeMar DeRozan, Kyle Lowry, Amir Johnson or even the emerging Terrence Ross in crunch time. Before you discount Johnson as a late-game option, he’s a team-high +34 in the final minute of close games (within five points) this season.
Toronto has taken 82 shots in what I’ve defined as a clutch situation, but not one player accounts for even a third of those attempts.
“That is just the trust that we have in one another on this team, honestly,” DeRozan told RealGM. “Anybody here can hit a big shot for us at any given moment in a late-game situation. That’s big for us to have. Sometimes I’ll use myself as a decoy to free up other guys. That’s just the trust factor we have.”
Lowry leads the Raptors with 27 clutch attempts, scoring a team-high 35 points on 33.3% shooting. DeRozan, a first-time All-Star this February, has scored 27 points on 26 takes (an abysmal 23.1% shooting). He is, however, 15-for-18 from the line.
“Sometimes you have to understand that if teams are coming in on me, double-teaming me, I’ve got to be comfortable as the decoy to help get a better shot for someone else on the team, whether it’s Kyle or someone else,” DeRozan said of the team’s balance.
Johnson averages 10.8 points and 6.8 rebounds per game, but has been very efficient for the Raptors late in games. He’s 10-for-17 from the field with 26 points and 11 rebounds in 29 “clutch” minutes this season. Aside from Jonas Valanciunas, 21, Johnson is Casey’s lone interior threat on the offensive end.
“Whoever has the ball, we’ll believe in him and that he’ll make the right decision,” Ross said. “We believe in whoever is in that position.”
While talking to Ross for this piece, Chuck Hayes joked that he’d like to see the second-year forward take some shots in the final seconds. Ross has made some big shots this season, but he has yet to attempt a shot during the final 60 seconds of a close game.
“It gives us more options and the defense can’t load up on one person,” Ross added. “You don’t know who the ball will go to in the final minutes, it definitely helps.
“We’ve got to play together the whole game. It’d be nice if we had a KD-type closer, but we don’t.”
Defenses may not be able to key in on a specific player when facing the Raptors, but that doesn’t mean they have excelled. They are .500 (24-24) in games that are within five points in the final five minutes, but just 16-19 and in the bottom third of the NBA if you trim that clutch time down to the final minute. The Raptors are 1-6 in overtime games.
On March 25, the Raptors had the ball with a chance to tie the Cleveland Cavaliers in the final moments. Greivis Vasquez lost his footing and turned the ball over with 1.9 seconds remaining. The result was a 102-100 loss to a team with fading playoff hopes and an injured Kyrie Irving.
“He fell down. I thought he turned his ankle, but he slipped and lost his balance,” Casey said when asked about the specific play. “Those are the kind of plays we’ve got to made and find closers in those situations at the end of games. I was telling the coaching staff in Oklahoma City, you wish you had a Kevin Durant. A player that you can throw it to a half court and he’ll give you two points, but we’ve got to learn that. We are a team in the progress of growing, developing. We’ve pulled out some games with our defense, but there’s still a lot of areas that we are growing and improving in.”
Just a few days before the Cleveland loss, they led the Oklahoma City Thunder 118-110 with 49 seconds left in double-overtime. The Thunder scored nine-straight points to win the game, while the Raptors missed two field goals, two free throws and even threw away an inbounds pass.
“We’re going for a bucket. The best bucket available,” Casey said of how he approaches the end of games. “If I had Michael Jordan, or whoever in that situation, who can rise up and shoot a three we’d probably go for that. For us, we have to go for the best bucket available.”
Lowry, one of the few players on the roster with playoff experience, spoke highly of their overall offensive balance, but as a competitor he always wants the ball in his hands.
“We’ve got guys that make big plays and take big shots. As a team, we always count on each other, not just one player,” Lowry said before cracking a smile.
“I’m always ready. I’m going to make a play if I can.”
Mar 17, 2014
While RealGM has an excellent database of the draft picks that have been traded between teams, we wanted to put together a summary more focused on the upcoming draft.
Feb 27, 2014
Only the best of the best can survive 15 seasons in the NBA, a ruthlessly Darwinian league. With a 16.1 PER and the ability to meaningfully impact the game on both sides of the ball at multiple positions, Vince Carter could fit with almost any team in the league at 37.
Feb 13, 2014
Terrence Ross has quickly built his reputation in the NBA as one of the world's most explosive dunkers, but his ceiling and long-term production is dependent on his development as a shooter.
Jan 01, 2014
The Raptors are a versatile team with lineup options on their bench. They can play Lowry and Vasquez together or go big on the perimeter with Vasquez, Ross and Salmons. Toronto 2.0 puts pressure on the opponent for all 48 minutes.
Dec 09, 2013
In trading Rudy Gay, the Raptors get a better look at the young talent that actually matters to their future while gaining more flexibility at a time they can actually use it with the possibility of two more interesting players.
Oct 29, 2013
The goal here is look at overall long-term value of players by considering age, contract, positional scarcity and of course overall quality, without factors like a player’s connection with a franchise or fit within a specific system.
Oct 21, 2013
While the Western Conference has six teams (Clippers, Thunder, Rockets, Grizzlies, Warriors) in its first tier, the Eastern Conference is a tier of one (Heat) with the Bulls, Pacers and Nets vying for the second tier.
Aug 01, 2013
The treadmill is somehow both more and less common than some might think. While teams tend to fall within the 30-49 win range, as would be expected in such a competitive league, the dreaded never-ending stream of late lottery picks is uncommon.
Jul 01, 2013
Andrea Bargnani had been on the trade block for months, bridging the tenures of Bryan Colangelo to Masai Ujiri. In the GM seat for less than a month, Ujiri not only traded Bargnani but managed to pick up a few draft assets in the process to a Knicks' team limited in how to improve.
Jun 27, 2013
Draft day has finally arrived and while everyone pines for the 2014 class already, this one has the chance to be sneaky good in the 'many quality starters' variety.
Jun 26, 2013
In this mock, we include the PER of each player based on the quality of opponent. Even statistics in this context can only go so far, but helps move beyond the possibility of inflation against competition that isn't even close to being NBA caliber.
Jun 23, 2013
Entering draft week in a draft universally labeled as weak preceding the best draft of the decade, few people are talking themselves into falling in love with any specific player as fervently as usual.
Jun 08, 2013
Chris Bosh is the member of the Big 3 who could have the most to lose in a potential Finals collapse: His place as an untouchable on the roster. He had grown up idolizing Duncan, imagining he was hitting jumpers atop Garnett in early workouts in Toronto, and the Heat must believe now that somewhere within Bosh still exists that self-action to match the burden.
Jun 03, 2013
Victor Oladipo, Steven Adams, Rudy Gobert, Otto Porter and Alex Len join Nerlens Noel at the top of our draft board.
Apr 18, 2013
A winning record to reach the playoffs wasn't necessary this season in the Eastern Conference, which demonstrates how far the Raptors, Cavaliers, Magic, 76ers, Wizards, Pistons and Bobcats are from becoming contenders without addressing significant issues this offseason.
Mar 24, 2013
As much as Mickael Pietrus acknowledges the transition phase that the Raptors are undergoing, he still hopes that the team trusts his ability to produce on the court when needed. In his mind, a strong push to close out the season will help players enter the offseason with a more positive outlook.
Mar 22, 2013
There are only a few NBA players averaging at least 10 points, seven rebounds and one block per game while also shooting 55% from the field this season. LeBron James, Al Horford, Serge Ibaka and Amir Johnson.
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