Worrying about being a contender when there are already supercontenders

A long-overdue link is in order,  to this piece at Spurs blog 48 Minutes of Hell regarding the Spurs (and owner Peter Holt's) decision to choose the summer of 2009 as the time to forge into the luxury tax:

The typically spend-conscious Spurs went counter-intuitive in a bad economy–they loaded up on the contracts other teams were resolved to avoid or shed.  Holt bet a couple years of taxes against the hope of more championships. His actions encouraged the on-going high stakes gamble between a tiny band of supercontenders. When the Spurs traded for Richard Jefferson, the language at the table was unmistakable. Holt was saying "We’re going to see the Lakers’ bet. We’re going all in."

The post then defines those 'supercontenders' as those aspiring to win with four stars (instead of three), complemented by solid role players, and financed by a very high payroll. Namely the Lakers and Celtics, two teams that won the past two championships paying the tax.

It's an idea reinforced in this Peter May column over the weekend (ht: CelticsBlog):

The Celtics are going to be taxpayers for the third straight year, but they decided that having Kevin Garnett made it worthwhile. "We won the championship paying a heavy tax,’’ principal owner Wyc Grousbeck said. "We had reached the stage where that investment made sense and we are still there today.’’ So, too, are the Spurs. "Everyone trying to win a championship is spending. You have no choice,’’ said Spurs coach Gregg Popovich. "The way it is now, if you’re going to compete, you have to spend the big bucks. It’s amazing how it has all changed in the last few years.’’ All the preseason favorites for the 2010 title (Lakers, Boston, Cleveland, Orlando, San Antonio) have payrolls over the threshold.

So while these 'supercontenders' are reinforcing,  Jerry Reinsdorf aspires to be a conference finalist while laughing at those spending said money. Though he offered the idea of possibly going into the tax if the team was a contender and a star was available.

Now, the Bulls situation heading into this offseason is not quite analogous, but the point still remains that the Bulls had a tremendous opportunity to drastically improve their talent base by taking advantage of the poorer NBA teams. If not now than at the trade deadline. They were merely an alright team on the court, but they were rich with assets under their control with their best one still on his rookie deal, with several large expiring contracts.

Now the plan is to not only stay under the luxury tax, but get under the salary cap enough to sign a free agent. And if they're very fortunate and the risk pays off, there's another star coming to pair with Rose. And then they'll have to fill in the rest of the roster, a process that can start with Rose and unnamed other star, but would still have work to do to get towards contention (think the fringe, like Nuggets, Blazers, and Jazz) and then even more towards 'supercontender' status, work including going into the luxury tax. I hope Reinsdorf is up to that challenge, though his actions in the past year-plus make me far more skeptical of it than previously.

But what I've seen this summer from the Bulls doesn't inspire me to think of them joining that class of franchise, but instead coming to mind when reading this about the Atlanta Hawks, a tier of franchise aptly described recently by Hoopinion:

The organization has demonstrated, if not an interest in contending for a championship, a willingness to spend sufficient money so as to increase the team's likelihood of making the playoffs and possibly wining a series once there.

(And financially, that actually may be a better way to go. )

Not that I'm completely dismissing the current course of action. It's just a reminder that it's a long road ahead and success is very far away.

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