Tales from the Big House - The Secret of Winning Basketball

Do the Raptors have elite secondary options akin to Rodman and Worthy?

Now 2 weeks into his sentence at Mt. Sinai, Franchise has plenty of time to read.  With a break in Raptors' action he looks at "the Secret of Winning Basketball" as described by Bill Simmons in his latest book...

Don't anger the doctors who are looking after you.

That seems like a pretty straightforward thing right?

Well...during my stay here at Mt. Sinai, I was doing ok with that concept...

...up until yesterday.

One of my best friends happens to be a doctor in Edmonton and over the past few weeks has been a tremendous source of knowledge and insight into my current medical plight.  He's also injected a certain amount of shall we say "hospital humour" into me.  As an ER doc who's looking to specialize in ICU-type care, he noted that there are three stereotypes about various medical specialists:

-ER docs are the cowboys of the medical world,

-Surgeons are the apes of the medical world, the "I fix it" types,

-and the Internists are the "thinkers," the specialists who prefer to think before they leap.

Well yesterday marked the re-opening of the North wing of the section I'm currently residing in and as a result, a new team of surgeon types to preside over me.  So when I greeted them with a resounding cry of "hey, you guys must be my new team of apes!", let's just say it didn't go over so well.

Suddenly, a few hours after my initial encounter with them, it was announced that I would be moved to solitary confinement on another floor.

No TV, no windows, not much nurse attention, and a lack of the basic safety gear found in my previous rooms such as oxygen assistance.  Hell, they even have to use the old-school hand-pump method to check my blood pressure!

Yep, they might as well have stuck me in a broom closet.

However with no TV and not much else in terms of amusement, I quickly dove into a book a friend had dropped off, Bill Simmons' most recent read, The Book of Basketball.  I've always been a big Bill Simmons fan and more often than not find myself in agreement with his take on things.  His new book is built for basketball junkies like myself and while over 600 pages, it's a fascinating read.

One chapter stood out to me, in particular in regards to our beloved Toronto Raptors; the book's initial entry entitled "The Secret."  In the chapter, Simmons discusses making amends to a certain extent with Isiah Thomas, the longtime butt of many of Simmons' "bad GM" jokes.  Thomas and Simmons end up "smoking the peace pipe" to a degree at a topless pool in Las Vegas (of course!), enough that the former Pistons' great lets Simmons in on what he calls "the secret."

Yes, the secret of winning in the NBA.

What is this secret?

Well put simply, "the secret of basketball is that it's not about basketball."

This might seem somewhat cryptic but Simmons takes the reader through various examples of why things such as team chemistry and a winning culture end up deciding NBA champions, not individual talent.  The Spurs and Pistons teams of the late 90's and past decade (sounds weird to say that doesn't it?) are perfect examples and even last year's Lakers and the previous year's Celtics fit the bill.  In fact Simmons notes that four qualities seem to consistently be present in championship clubs:

1)  You build potential champions around one great player.  He doesn't have to be a super-duper star or someone who can score at will, just someone who leads by example, kills himself on a daily basis, raises the competitive nature of his teammates, and lifts them to a better place.

Simmons cites players like Billups, Wade, Garnett, and Duncan as recent examples on Championship clubs.

2)  You surround the superstar with one or two elite sidekicks who understand their place in the team's hierarchy, don't obsess over stats, and fill in every blank that they can.

Again, Simmons cites examples like James Worthy, Joe Dumars, Scottie Pippen and Horace Grant, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili.

3)  From that framework, you complete your nucleus with top-notch role players and/or character guys who know their place, don't make mistakes, and won't threaten that unselfish culture, as well as a coaching staff dedicated to keeping those team-ahead-of-individual values in place.

Players of this third ilk?  Robert Horry, Derek Fisher, Eddie House, Tayshaun Prince...too many to count really...

Finally...

4)  You need to stay healthy in the playoffs and maybe catch one or two breaks.

Again, maybe not rocket-science but Simmons uses some great examples to illustrate how important these points are, and the whole chapter got me wondering about this current version of the Toronto Raptors and how they stacked up against Simmons' criteria.

Does Bosh fit into the first category?  Before this season I would have said no but now you'd have to say that he checks off most of those boxes.

What about the likes of Andrea Bargnani and Hedo Turkoglu; are they "elite sidekicks who understand their place within a team's hierarchy?"

And finally "top-notch role players;" would the Amir Johnson's and Jarrett Jack's of the club count in this manner?

For me, the second point is currently the team's biggest issue in terms of taking the next step.  Put simply, I just don't think that that "second tier" of players has what it takes to lift the team to that championship level.  Forget that none of Hedo, Bargs or Jose Calderon for that matter, compare to the Scottie Pippens or even Tony Parkers of recent champions, but I'm still not even convinced that many of them fit with the team's top dog, Bosh.

That being said, I do think a player like DeMar DeRozan has the potential to be that "elite sidekick" and perhaps with a few moves, some additional sidekicks can be brought in that take this team to the proverbial next level.  How would someone like Joe Johnson look in Toronto next to Bosh for instance?  I can see players like Reggie Evans, Sonny Weems and Amir Johnson being the "top-notch role players," so in my books, it's the second-stringers that need some work.

The problem is, BC has recently re-upped or acquired his second-stringers, and now there's precious little room for change.  He seems quite satisfied with his choices, but their lack of consistency has been a major problem for the Raps so far.  In a season where you essentially are getting 20 and 10 from Bosh every night, I'd argue that it's the play of these secondary types that means the difference between a loss to an injury-riddle Celtics club, and a win over a healthy Spurs squad.

So what to do?

Let's not even talk about what happens if Bosh walks next off-season but to me it's clear that the Legomaster still needs to do some tinkering.  Until then, this club will meander along as it has been, surprising a few good teams here and there, but generally beating up on the league's bad clubs and having a tough time with the elite crews.

For instance, even though Toronto has won six of its past seven, the team still has only beaten four teams with a record over .500 this season.  If the Dinos want to look like a team that not only can get back to the playoffs in the East, but also make some noise, that number definitely has to improve in the new year.

More importantly though aside from simply "beating the league's good teams," I want to see this club start to compete with a hunger and passion on a nightly basis.  It's this spirit that is mentioned most often in Bill Simmons' chapter on "The Secret" and I truly believe it separates the league's best from the rest.

It's this sort of mentality that fans saw permeate even Boston's scrubs two games ago and something that becomes somewhat of a "culture" for successful basketball teams.

Toronto hasn't had much of a taste of that culture in its 15 year history but my hope is that this season is a big first step in that direction.

If not - perhaps it's time this summer for Bryan Colangelo to sit down at a topless pool in Vegas with Isiah Thomas...

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