NBA's best teams result of solid programs, not luck
Posted: Thursday March 24, 2005 12:06PM; Updated: Thursday March 24, 2005 1:44PM
Mark Cuban's Mavericks are smooth enough that Avery Johnson had already been named the successor before Don Nelson resigned.
Fernando Medina/NBAE via Getty Images
This is the time of year when the word program is pounded down our collective throat by the likes of Dickie V. But not everyone in the NCAA has a program. Only the power teams get them. Kansas, for example, has a program; Bucknell only has a cute little basketball team. I don't know what it means that Bucknell beat Kansas but Bucknell still doesn't get to have a program.
The word seems to define itself. A program means the university's basketball team is (a) largely successful; (b) has a coach who has at least as much pull with the president as the fat-cat alumni donors; (c) has an (possibly) unruly fan base that lines up for tickets; (d) able to walk in any recruit's door without a brochure explaining who they are.
I started musing about what NBA teams have the best programs -- if, indeed, the word exists in the pro game. Certainly it once did. The Boston Celtics had a program -- the same cigar-chomping emperor (Red Auerbach) running the show for decades; a roster that was largely stable from year to year; a band of Boston Garden loyalists; and, of course, a winning tradition that gobbled up all in its path.
To say it's harder now to maintain a long-term winning program is to say that Bucknell shouldn't be able to beat Kansas. Players leave at the flap of a dollar bill, coaches get fired at the morning whim of a general manager and fans' loyalties are fractured by both of the preceding. Still, some franchises have sustained an admirable level of consistency. So, for this week's five-pack, here are the NBA's top five programs.
5. The Dallas Mavericks
Come on, admit it. Mark Cuban has won you over just a little bit, right? He still walks the Jackass Line, but it seems that he generally wants what's best for his franchise, not what will get him on the evening news.
When the Mavs were ready to end the Don Nelson Era, Avery Johnson slid smoothly into his stead; contrast that with what happens in most franchises when a coach is suddenly fired and a powerless interim is penciled in. True, the Mavs have been searching for an on-court identity and they've heard more than enough criticism about letting Steve Nash go to Phoenix. But there they are in the thick of the Western Conference race. And the extra Cuban perks (the cushy locker room, the gratis electronic equipment) are still a lure for today's pampered player.
Perhaps because they've been around longer, and rebounded after suffering through a rough patch, the Mavs just beat out the Sacramento Kings for this fifth spot.