There has been a lot of talk on FTS lately about the need to draft correctly so the team is set with, at least, one other star caliber player to pair with Kyrie Irving. The talk has been about the merits of tanking the rest of the season to improve the teams draft stock and secure a potential stud player via the draft, such as Bradley Beal or Anthony Davis. This is a sound strategy. Small market teams like Oklahoma City have proven that this is an excellent strategy when executed with perfect precision.
But is this the only way? As a counter argument, I present you the curious case of the Denver Nuggets.
Is Denver at the top of the standings out West? No. Is Denver being talked about as a potential championship contender right now? No. So why do I think they present a viable alternative model to consider? Because it has worked before, is working now, and can continue to work.
Name the stars who make the nucleus of that team. I dare you. Please. I'll settle for one. Can you?
I know I can't. Now, this isn't a knock on any of the players on that team. Because, in fact every single player on that team is very good. But none of them are players on par with Kobe, Durant, Westbrook, or any of those unnamed players in Miami. This is a team built not on star players that take over a game and always make the big, game clinching shots. This is a team that is built on an incredibly deep and diverse rotation and bench. That is how they win their games.
And it worked. Last season the Nuggets had the eighth best record in the NBA and won over 60% of their games. They lost their first round match up with, of course, the Thunder, but that didn't mean that their model was ineffective. This was a team that everyone had left for dead after they traded their sole star player, Carmelo Anthony, to New York for a collection of draft picks and players. When in fact, the collection of players is what made this team so effective. By essentially combining the benches of the 2011 Knicks and Nuggets, Denver was able to form that incredibly deep, talented, and diverse rotation. They could go small and run with a collection of skilled guards, wings, and forwards or they could go big and bang with a collection of talented big men. And in the event of an injury, they are able to adapt and simply plug in the next man.
So why still call it a success after a first round playoff loss? Because look at what it has set up the franchise to do. Typically, because they are so deep, Denver plays at a fast and high scoring pace. They aren't the Pheonix Suns of Nash and Amare, but this is a team that likes to push the tempo and put up points in a hurry. Their collection of skilled guards and wings, like Ty Lawson, Aaron Afflalo, Danillo Gallinari, Wilson Chandler, Andre Miller, and Rudy Fernandez allows them to do just that. And they currently have top level defenders in Javale McGee, Kenneth Faried, Chris Anderson, and Timofey Mozgov to dominate down low. Basically this a morphing team that can drop the points and bring the D.
Their loss in the playoffs could be looked at many ways. It could be a sign that you need big stars to win. It could mean that this team is headed for failure. Or, it could mean that this is a team that simply needs more tweaking. And that is what Denver has done this season. They essentially swapped point guards, Andre Miller and Raymond Felton, with Portland in the off-season. And then, if there was a player that could be considered the teams star, it was Nene Hilario. But he was moved a few weeks ago to Washington for the mercurial and talented McGee. And then, in the middle of the season they added Wilson Chandler, back from exile in China.
Will these moves payoff? At this time it is hard to say. This team could fall flat on its face once again in the playoffs. Or they could prove that their deep rotation is a huge advantage and push for a championship. Either is possible. When you have the ability to swap your entire lineup like a line change in hockey, and continue to push the pace and wear out your opponents, anything is possible. Though this is not a popular style in the NBA, numerous college teams have gone far with this style and shown that it can work.
And what if they do fall short again. Then what? Do they keep tinkering and hope for the best? Sure that is a strong possibility. Or, they could decide to blow it all up essentially and use the picks and players they have stockpiled to bring in star players from other teams via trade. The impressive thing about this is that they could do this, and not even drain their roster of talent. They could trade for one, maybe even two superstars and still have a strong, talented bench and role players to support them. Instead of trading for players at positions that they need, they can trade for players that they want. They don't have a gun against their head forcing a move, they have options.
Surprisingly, they aren't the first team in recent years to take on this method of stockpiling talent in multiple players over stars. People seem to forget the deep bench Portland has had in recent years. If it weren't for the bad luck of Brandon Roy's knees that team would have been running in the playoffs on a very similar model. And when things didn't work out, they simple traded away a player or two for draft picks and young talent. Few doubt that they won't be back in the playoffs in a year or two.
So, what does this all mean to the Cavilers? Am I implying that they shouldn't tank and get the best possible player with the best possible pick early in the draft? No. That would do wonders for this team. What I am saying, is that this team shouldn't look at this draft as an all or nothing adventure. Not everything relies on that first pick in the draft. With proper drafting and trading of players, and intelligent free agency moves, this team could position itself to win in other ways besides the big-three, triangle star model. As they say, there is more than one way to skin a cat.