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You Gotta Be Lucky to Be Good, and Good to be Lucky

Yesterday afternoon, I got talking with D Stance about my post regarding the future of the Toronto Raptors' GM position.

I noted that beside the lack of quality GM options that jumped out at me, the other thing that really stood out during my research, was just how hard it is to build a contending team in the NBA, especially in a "small market."

I threw up this stat yesterday but I think it's worth mentioning again in this context; only eight different teams have won NBA titles in the last 30 years.

That's a pretty crazy stat.

Now a lot goes into that statistic obviously, but I think it underscores just how hard it is to not only get to that title game, but to build even an upper echelon team, one that gets through a round or two of the playoffs.

Take one look at the NBA draft from 1999 to 2009.  Over that decade, the following clubs participated in the lottery, the number of times indicated in brackets:

Clippers (10), Raptors (7), T-Wolves (6), Wizards (6), Warriors (9), Grizzlies (8), Sonics/Thunder (8) and Hawks (8).

That's eight of the league's 30 teams almost consistently appearing among the league's worst year after year.

You could lump clubs like Cleveland and Milwaukee in as well with five entries; the Cavs saved from appearing much more often by a certain LeBron James, and Milwaukee doing a good enough job with their amassed lottery talent to finally climb out of the league's absolute basement.

But add the latter two to the previous list and that's a third of the league with a spot reserved for them at the annual Secaucus show.

Not good.

But why do the same teams keep appearing in said basement?

Are they simply a consistently mismanaged group?

Or is there some other greater truth here?

To me, and as I noted to D Stance yesterday afternoon, these teams have had a lethal combination of two major factors; bad luck, and indeed mismanagement.  For when I poured over the records of NBA GM's there was one big commonality; most successful GM's had "lucked out" at one point in time, and then built on that luck threw a combination of shrewd personnel and financial decisions.

Everyone praises the Buford's, the O'Connor's, the Presti's, etc, etc.

But Tim Duncan, Deron Williams and Kevin Durant weren't decisions their teams orchestrated out-right.

No, the hand of fate (or as conspiracy theorists may argue, Stern) played a major role in where these players ended up, and while the aforementioned executives then did commendable jobs of surrounding said franchise center-pieces with complementary pieces, the center piece needed to be there first.

Of course "good luck" is no cure-all.

Teams like the Clippers and Wizards have lucked into top or near top lottery picks for years, only to blow them on selections like Kwame Brown and Michael Olawokandi.

And even more egregious, sometimes teams luck into a franchise or All-Star player, but then fail to do anything around said piece, eventually losing him for very little.  The Chicago Bulls are a perfect example of this immediately after the post-Jordan era.  They had a perennial All-Star in Elton Brand after nabbing him with the top pick in the 1999 draft, and dealt him for Brian Skinner and Tyson Chandler after only two seasons, failing to get Brand much help and forcing a rebuild all over again.

So again, to me it's a combination here and I think the old adage "you gotta be lucky to be good, and good to be lucky" is quite appropriate here.

Oklahoma City indeed "lucked" into Kevin Durant, but made their own luck by grabbing Russell Westbrook, who a month leading up to the draft, few people even had in lottery consideration, and then making various other shrewd moves from Nenad Krstic to Kendrick Perkins.

In a league where small market teams have a tough time attracting and retaining "stars," you truly need this "luck/skill" combination in regards to your club's management team.  In fact I was going to write at length about this, but Sportsguy beat me to the punch with one of his best posts ever, a look at the issues facing small market teams, in particular, the Sacramento Kings.

So instead of repeating what Simmons did, let's look at the Toronto Raptors for a second, as they could use some luck.

They had the top pick in the 2006 draft, a weak one by draft standards and one that was without names like Durant and Oden thanks to the NBA's new age stipulations.

Now, they have a nearly 16 per cent chance at grabbing that number one pick again, but it falls in a draft with potentially even less talent than 2006, especially near the top.

Whether Colangelo is running the show or someone else is at the reigns, Toronto is going to have to cross their fingers when the ping pong balls come up on May 17th.

But even if this team doesn't land an Irving or Williams, all is not lost.

The team simply has to do the best job with what's available, continually increasing the club's talent base so when luck does strike, the club is ready to cash in.

Remember, there are two pieces to this puzzle, and if luck doesn't strike on it's own, it's up to this club's management to create their own.