Posted: Thursday March 24, 2005 12:06PM; Updated: Thursday March 24, 2005 1:44PM
4. The Phoenix Suns
New Suns owner would be wise to remember that a steady hand at the top is what made the Suns the object of his dollars.
Barry Gossage/NBAE via Getty Images
Even during the years when the Suns weren't successful in the win column, basketball always mattered in the desert. Jerry Colangelo's ownership was long-standing and consistent, and, when he wanted to step back, his son, Bryan, was there. (Look for the elder Colangelo to get more and more involved with USA Basketball.) Some in the league looked askance at Bryan -- was he just Daddy's Boy? -- but some of his recent moves (drafting Amare Stoudemire, signing Nash and Quentin Richardson as free agents) have been brilliant. With the right man (Mike D'Antoni) now on the bench and an entertaining team, the Suns seem poised to stay near the top for the next few years. Plus, Phoenix has the best public relations operation in the league, led by estimable long-time veteran Julie Fie.
It will be interesting to see what happens under new owner Robert Sarver. He's already jumped off a trampoline and dunked during a game, and recently he joined fans in facing the San Antonio Spurs' bench and flapping his arms like a chicken because the Spurs opted not to play Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili because of injuries.
Memo to Sarver: You know the Jackass Line I just mentioned? It's a very fine line. Continue to think hard and often about it.
3. The Miami Heat
As in Dallas, a coaching change was made so smoothly here that almost no one noticed. Pat Riley said, "I can't do the job anymore," and the next day his assistant, Stan Van Gundy, had the clipboard. More teams should do it this way.
Who knows how often Riley has been courted about a coaching or CEO job? (Magic Johnson said he wants his old coach back in L.A.) But Riley is serious about wanting to stay in Miami and produce a consistent winner. After he made the deal to get Shaquille O'Neal, the team prez was almost in tears as he described his debt to owner Micky Arison, another of those consistent guys who runs his franchise with a sure hand.
Miami faces a big decision -- whether or not to extend O'Neal, whose contract runs out next season. But the Heat already made one of those canny draft moves (getting Dwyane Wade at No. 5) that can define a franchise for a generation, and if Wade and O'Neal can carry the Heat into the Finals, Miami will become the new Buzz Franchise in the NBA. (If it isn't already.)
2. The Detroit Pistons
It's predictable -- but not mandatory -- that the defending world champions are on this list; the Lakers, after all, are only two years removed from a three-peat and they're not here. But though Detroit's history might always be colored by the Malice at the Palace riot in November, they are one of the best franchises in sports.
It starts with ownership. Do you know Bill Davidson? Of course you don't, and he likes it that way. No screaming at the refs or dunking off trampolines for Davidson. For the last two decades he has run the team from the shadows but everybody knows who's boss. He hires tough, confident guys as general managers (first Jack McCloskey, now Joe Dumars) and stands behind them, even when they make controversial moves. McCloskey traded Adrian Dantley for Mark Aguirre in the middle of a successful season; the Pistons went on to win a championship. Dumars fired the successful Rick Carlisle in favor of the mercurial Larry Brown; the Pistons went on to win a championship.
Detroit has what's known in the NBA as a good culture. That means a player with a bent for trouble will come in, play by the rules and produce. The last time I looked, Rasheed Wallace is still blocking shots, making jumpers and not making a complete fool out of himself.
1. The San Antonio Spurs
A no-brainer, right? They do things quietly and efficiently. They are integrated into the lifeblood of the community more than any other franchise in the NBA, probably as much as any team in any sport. They make smart draft picks (everybody passed on Tony Parker and Ginobili). They manage their budget. Two publicity-wary guys, superstar Tim Duncan and coach Gregg Popovich, are the face of the franchise but their reticence defines the just-business aspect that the Spurs like to put forth. Popovich and general manager R.C. Buford are close friends who keep any disagreements out of the newspapers. They have a great practice facility and a new arena. They are a tough defensive team but they're not bullies and, because of exciting players such as Parker and Ginobili, they're never boring.
Personally, I think Duncan should open up and be more of a media-friendly guy, let people see the intelligence and humor that lurks under the surface. But that is a small complaint to make about a great franchise.