This year Finals are set, and I'd like to share what I think about winning in the NBA. Winning the Championship is tough. Every year 30 teams want to do it, and only one is raising the banner in the end. Here is how the champions do it:
1. Building a team around a superstar.
The most usual and reliable way to win in the NBA is to build your team around a superstar. There are few precious superstars that are capable to lead their team all the way to the trophy. In last 10 years they were:
Shaquille O'Neal: 2000-2002-2004(?)
Tim Duncan: 2003-2007-2008(?)
Dwayne Wade: 2006-??
Kevin Garnett: 2008, 2010(?)
Kobe Bryant: 2008-2010
So, if you look at the last 10 years, you see very few players who could lead their team to the championship. Those guys are really special. Beside being exceptional players they had something else in them what made them the champions. Also, each one needed a really good team around him to succeed. Tim Duncan was very lucky because he had a great team around him and great coach when he was in his prime. As a result his team was a legit championship contender for 5 or 6 years in a row.
2. Several stars playing exceptionally well together.
Another way to win in the NBA is to have several very good players who fit exceptionally well together. In last 10 years there was only one team that had this: Detroit Pistons 2004-2005. That team didn't have a superstar who would be in MVP contention, but they had the best starting 5 in the league.
3. Finishing close games.
Pretty much every championship team has some close games in the playoffs when they play against evenly matched opponents. One exception was 2001, when the Lakers had 16-1 record in the playoffs. In every other season the future Champions needed to overcome some substantial adversity and win some very close games.
(1) Now, let us look at the Spurs-2010 and compare them with the Champions. In 2010 the Spurs do not have a superstar able to lead them to the trophy. Tim Duncan is a few years past his prime of 2003-2007. Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker are very good, sometimes great players, but none of them is on the short list of players who are able to lead their team to the trophy.
(2) Neither this team plays exceptionally well together. All season long there were questions whether other players (RJ, Blair, Manu) can play well with Parker. Manu played his best ball while Tony was out. I cannot remember one game whole season, including playoffs, when all members of the Big 3 played well at the same time.
(3) The Spurs won very few close games during the regular season. None of their 10 playoff games was very close. In sharp contrast, the Lakers seem to win every game that went down to the last shot or went to overtime. In the playoffs, they won two very close games against OKC that changed the series, they won a very close game against Utah to sweep them and they won game 5 against Phoenix on the buzzer-beater. This is 4-0 record in the close games, and a major reason why the Lakers are going to play in the Finals.
To sum it up, in 2010 the Spurs have no ingredients of the championship contender. They may improve somewhat in the offseason, but they have practically no chance to address their biggest need: to get a superstar that could lead the team to the championship. The only hope is that this group may play well together next season. Even when, the reasonable ceiling for this team would be similar to the this year's Suns, while the Lakers would be still out of reach.