FanPost

The Madness of the "Contenders This Year or Blow It All Up" Dichotomy

Does this guy have to go? - Howard Smith-USA TODAY Sports

From time to time, Blazer's Edge will promote interesting contributions from our community. In light of this week's debates, SKK discusses the history behind many NBA Champions, and whether "blow it up!" has been the most successful pathway to a title. -- Tim

In my last fanpost, I analyzed Blazer Drafts going back 20 years to argue that it would be madness, MADNESS, to trade down in the draft. (I'm happy to see we didn't do it in 2013.) In this post I have looked at the arguments that if the team doesn't go beyond making the first round of the playoffs in 2013-2014 and isn't expected to now, we should blow up the team now since it means we're not going to contend with this group. I don't know if this is going to become a theme or not, but after looking at some data, I am going to argue that this too, is madness - MADNESS!

To clarify, I've looked at the NBA Champions going back to 1989 and analyzed their progress going back the few years before that. What I've found is that it's exceedingly rare to have teams move straight from lottery to contention - they almost always have to have a couple first round exits first. In other words, we should expect that getting into the playoffs is going to happen with this group, and we're not going to go that far at first. And that's okay. The data is below, and even below that is some analysis and conclusions.

I've looped together some teams and others not - basically, was it the same era? San Antonio's championships all are - Detroit's in 1989-1990 are, but 2004 is different. The Lakers and Miami were tough, but you'll see how I did it below.

Detroit Pistons (1989 and 1990)
Last out of the playoffs 6 years before title (37-45)
5 years before: 49-33, Lost Round 1
4 years before: 46-36, Lost Round 2 to Boston
3 years before: 46-36, Lost Round 1
2 years before: 52-30, Lost Round 3 to Boston
1 year before: 54-28, Lost in Finals to the Lakers
1989: 63-19, won it all
1990: 59-23, won it all

Chicago Bulls (1991-1993 and 1996-1998)
Last out of the playoffs 7 years before title (27-55, Jordan's first year)
6 years before: 38-44, Lost Round 1
5 years before: 30-52, Lost Round 1
4 years before: 40-42, Lost Round 1
3 years before: 50-32, Lost Round 2 to Detroit
2 years before: 47-35, Lost Round 3 to Detroit
1 year before: 55-27, Lost Round 3 to Detroit
1991: 61-21, won it all
1992: 67-15, won it all
1993: 57-25, won it all
Intermediate year 1 (93-94): 55-27, Lost Round 2
Intermediate year 2 (94-95): 47-35, Lost Round 2
1996: 72-10, won it all
1997: 69-13, won it all
1998: 62-20, won it all

Houston Rockets (1994 and 1995)
Last out of the playoffs 2 years before title, BUT with a 42-40 record. Last a "bad team" 10 years before title. For purposes of comparison to last year's Portland team, I'm going to look at it from that year.
9 years before: 48-34, Lost Round 1
8 years before: 51-31, Lost in Finals
7 years before: 42-40, Lost Round 2
6 years before: 46-36, Lost Round 1
5 years before: 45-37, Lost Round 1
4 years before: 41-41, Lost Round 1
3 years before: 52-30, Lost Round 1
2 years before: 42-40, 9th seed & 1 game out of playoffs
1 year before: 55-27, Lost Round 2
1994: 58-24, won it all
1995: 47-35, won it all

San Antonio Spurs (1999, 2003, 2005, 2007)
Last out of the playoffs 2 years before title - 1997, but this is somewhat of a special case I'll come to in a second. Last out of the playoffs other than that - 1988-89, 10 years before title (also the last year before David Robinson joined the team following his Naval commitment)
9 years before: 56-26, Lost Round 2
8 years before: 55-27, Lost Round 1
7 years before: 47-35, Lost Round 1 to Phoenix
6 years before: 49-33, Lost Round 2 to Phoenix
5 years before: 55-27, Lost Round 1
4 years before: 62-20, Lost Round 3
3 years before: 59-23, Lost Round 2 to Utah
2 years before: 20-62, missed playoffs. This is a special case because other than Avery Johnson, everyone was injured, notably David Robinson who only played 6 games, and only Greg Anderson played all 82 games. Also, this was Gregg Popovich's first year as coach.
1 year before: 56-26, Lost Round 2
1999: 37-13 (equivalent of 60-22 in a regular year), won it all
3 years before (next title): 53-29, Lost Round 1
2 years before: 58-24, Lost Round 3 to Lakers
1 year before: 58-25, Lost Round 2 to Lakers
2003: 60-22, won it all
1 year before next title: 57-25, Lost Round 2 to Lakers
2005: 59-23, won it all
1 year before next title: 63-19, Lost Round 2
2007: 58-24, won it all

LA Lakers (2000-2002)
Last out of the playoffs 6 years before title (33-49)
5 years before: 48-34, Lost Round 2
4 years before: 53-29, Lost Round 1
3 years before: 56-26, Lost Round 2 to Utah
2 years before: 61-21, Lost Round 3 to Utah
1 year before: 31-19, Lost Round 2 to San Antonio
2000: 67-15, won it all
2001: 56-26, won it all
2002: 58-24, won it all

Detroit Pistons (2004)
Last out of the playoffs 3 years before title (32-50), last year before they hired Rick Carlisle
2 years before: 50-32, Lost Round 2
1 year before: 50-32, Lost Round 3 to New Jersey
2004: 54-28, won it all

Miami Heat (2006)
Last out of the playoffs 3 years before title (25-57) - this is the last season pre-Dwyane Wade
2 years before: 42-40, Lost Round 2
1 year before: 59-23, Lost Round 3 to Detroit (also this is the year they got Shaq)
2006: 52-30, won it all

Boston Celtics (2008)
Last out of the playoffs 1 year before title (24-58), then Ainge springs the trades for Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett
2008: 66-16, won it all

Los Angeles Lakers (2009 & 2010)
Last out of the playoffs 4 years before title (34-48)
3 years before title: 45-37, Lost Round 1
2 years before title: 42-40, Lost Round 1
1 year before title: 57-25, Lost in Finals to Boston (this is the year they got Pau Gasol)
2009: 65-17, won it all
2010: 57-25, won it all

Dallas Mavericks (2011)
Last out of the playoffs 11 years before title (40-42, 9th seed and Dirk's second season)
10 years before: 53-29, Lost Round 2
9 years before: 57-25, Lost Round 2
8 years before: 60-22, Lost Round 3 to San Antonio
7 years before: 52-30, Lost Round 1
6 years before: 58-24, Lost Round 2
5 years before: 60-22, Lost in Finals to Miami
4 years before: 67-15, Lost Round 1 (to Golden State! 1-8 upset!)
3 years before: 51-31, Lost Round 1
2 years before: 50-32, Lost Round 1
1 year before: 55-27, Lost Round 1
2011: 57-25, won it all

Miami Heat (2012 and 2013)
Last out of the playoffs 4 years before title (15-67, Dwyane Wade massively injured that year and they were I think the worst in the league)
3 years before: 43-39, Lost Round 1
2 years before: 47-35, Lost Round 1
1 year before: 58-25, Lost in Finals to Dallas (first year of The Heatles)
2012: 46-20 (equivalent to 57-26), won it all
2013: 66-16, won it all

So, what have we learned?

1) Functionally, there have been 11 championship-winning "eras" in the last 24 years: 2 from Detroit, 1 from Chicago, 1 from Houston, 1 from San Antonio, 2 from the Lakers, 2 from Miami, 1 from Boston, and 1 from Dallas.

2) Only 1 of them, Boston, went straight into the Finals (and won) after not making the playoffs the year before.

3) If you take out special cases like injuries, the breakdown is as follows:
- 1 year away (1)
- 2 years away (1)
- 3 years away (2)
- 4 years away (2)
- 6 years away (2)
- 7 years away (1)
- 10 years away (1)
- 11 years away (1)
This means that of the 11 eras, the average was 5.18 years removed from their last year missing the playoffs. This is skewed a bit, but we can reasonably expect that if we are to win a championship, it's 3-4 years away.

4) Detroit 2004, Miami 2006, and Boston 2008 are the only ones who didn't have a first-round exit in the time between not making the playoffs and winning it all. 8 of the 11 (72.7%) lost in the first round en route to winning a championship.

5) Many of them had their core in place and bumped up against an older, stronger team that hadn't yet given way. These are the named teams above, ie saying that Chicago lost "to Detroit". All of those teams that are named either won the conference or won the championship that year. 9 of the 11 eras involved bumping up against someone dominant in the previous era (81.8%). This is to say, teams have to learn how to win in the postseason by making it part of the way there and losing to someone who got there first and haven't faded away yet, at least in most cases.

6) For many teams, there was a significant jump in the regular season record a few years before, but that significant jump isn't always huge. They often have another one during their title window.
Detroit had it 2 years before, 6 games
Chicago had it 3 years before, 10 games
Houston had it 3 years before, 11 games
San Antonio had it 4 years before, 7 games
Lakers had it 2 years before, 5 games
Detroit had it 2 years before, 18 games
Miami had it 1 year before, 17 games
Lakers had it 1 year before, 13 games
Dallas had it 10 years before, 13 games, and 4 years before, 7 games
Miami had it 1 year before, 11 games

You may think, these are huge jumps. And they are. But coming from Portland's 2012-2013 record of 33-49, they're not enough to get us into contention. But they are enough to get us into the playoffs, and get us some experience and some time to grow. Expecting anything else, well - that'd be madness.

--- Addendum ---

One other thing to note. I was wondering why it was that people seem to expect that the Blazers need to go straight from the lottery to the Finals or it's worth blowing the team up. New fans may not remember how the Blazers made the playoffs every year for 22 seasons and contended at two different points (2000 and 1990-92) during that without going into the lottery in between, much like Dallas from 2000-present. Fans like me, who started in the early 90s, may just be desperate to win after so long of being a fan without any banners going up. And the old fans may be remembering the 1977 Blazers, who won without being in the playoffs the year before. Or ever, in the franchise's HISTORY.

But I think it might have to do with the Celtics, who managed to find a team imploding (Sonics) and a team whose star was ready to walk (Minnesota), or the Heat, who managed to find two teams whose stars were ready to walk (Cleveland and Toronto), and get Ray Allen, Kevin Garnett, LeBron James and Chris Bosh respectively. To people who think this way, I will draw your attention to the roster last year, which had basically only Wesley Matthews as a cheap, tradeable asset that wasn't part of a core. Maybe Meyers Leonard. The rest either weren't enough to trade, as Neil Olshey said when he talked about "restocking the talent pool," or they're the sort of people you want to get people to pair with, like Aldridge and Lillard. I guess Batum could have been moved too.

Maybe if a team is imploding at some point, Batum + Matthews could be traded for an all-star. But this season, with a starless draft class, insufficient money for a max offer, no real top-tier FAs available even if we had the money for a max offer, and contracted players (that we could trade for) either too old or a bad fit or both, those options aren't going to happen. Also, we're not Miami, with Pat Riley. We're not Boston, with 16 banners. Teams aren't going to cut us a deal. We're going to need to look at the other models - San Antonio, even Detroit - and find the way this works for us, and stop expecting 1977 or Boston in 2008 to happen here in 2014. These things take time. Chill out, stop talking about trading LaMarcus, and let us progress even if it means a first-round exit or two en route to eventual glory.

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