17 April 2013

Build around stars

Sports Illustrated

Lately there's been a lot of discussion about young talent versus experience as they relate to both the BYU football team and the Utah Jazz.

Situation A:

Jake Heaps commits to BYU amid great fanfare. He has a decent freshman season, and experiences a slump in year two, to the extent that the offense looks completely dead with him under center. With only nine touchdowns in five games to his eight interceptions, he was clearly struggling, and the coaching staff made the decision to bring in the more experienced Riley Nelson. Riley wins the 2011 Utah State game thanks to some last-minute heroics, and the short-term benefit is obvious.

Riley starts 16 of the next 17 games and Heaps transfers to Kansas. BYU won about half of these 17 games, though so many were against the likes of Idaho and Weber State it's hard to say the team was even that good.

The Riley Years turn out to be largely regarded as one of the worst periods in BYU football, especially since fans feel like the elite defense was wasted on an offense that couldn't even score a touchdown in some games. BYU is a middling program with no real shot at relevance nationally.

Situation B:

Al Jefferson is an established starting center in the NBA. He averages about 19 and 8 per game, but hasn't ever been on a real winning team in his entire career. The Jazz end up trading for Derrick Favors and Enes Kanter, both top-five draft picks and widely regarded to have a lot of potential. However, both Derrick and Enes struggle in limited minutes early with the Jazz, clearly not ready to lead the team to wins.

Jazz management make the decision to let Al have the run of the team for two years. Favors and Kanter are definitely bench players, never given major minutes except in the rare case of injury to the starters. The Jazz are a middling program with no real shot at relevance nationally.

Both cases, in my estimation, are examples of management choosing the known, limited value over the potential star talent. And both cases are massive mistakes.

To build a national contender. you need star talent at the core of your team. Miami did this with Wade, and then LeBron and Bosh. The Spurs did it with Duncan. The Lakers did it with Kobe and Shaq. Texas A&M is doing it with Johnny Manziel.

Great teams recognize star talent and make use of it as early and often as they can. They do not latch onto players who may be good, but not great. Smart GM's don't try and build around Luis Scola or Rudy Gay or Josh Smith. These players may be talented, may even make an All-Star team or two, but if they are expected to carry you to a championship, you're in for a world of hurt.

So find the stars. Play the stars. Cast aside the good-but-not-great players that might win you games now, but will never, ever take you to the promised land. Al Jefferson will never be the star on a championship team. Riley Nelson was never going to lead BYU to an undefeated season.

Does that mean Heaps would have? Does it mean Favors and Kanter will? I don't know. But you hitch your cart to the talent as far as it takes you. If it eventually proves itself to be of non-star-quality, start down a different path. But until that point, use it.

BYU gave up on Heaps way too soon. The Jazz have yet to give Favors and Kanter enough room to prove themselves capable or not. Both fell for the trap of wanting to win now rather than be elite later.

Here's hoping Taysom's talent can lift BYU to elite levels. Here's hoping Favors and Kanter are eventually proven stars, and become a fearsome frontcourt in the NBA on both ends of the floor as the Jazz become title contenders.

But if not, it's time to start looking elsewhere for the stars. New ones arrive every year.

No comments: