The Inbounds: The NBA Hierarchy of Needs Part II, the Basketball Collective and success

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In Part 1, we talked about the individual’s needs in order to play at the highest level they can, those transcendent performances that defy logic and make us love the game. But a player reaching a status as self-actualized doesn’t just sometimes fail to lead to victories, it often times does. The ability to play at the highest level you personally can doesn’t always mean it’s going to lead to the most team success. That lesson is maybe the hardest for star players to accept, because if you’re self-actualized, you feel like you’ve given the absolute most you can. You just scored 50 points. What more does anyone want from you? But it’s not even about the individual game, it’s about the season, the larger sample, it’s about the whole record.

So how do you translate those things? We talked on Monday about how star players have to actually de-actualize themselves in order to make the entire team better, specifically pointing out how Kobe Bryant may have to emulate what Dwyane Wade did with the Heat now that he has Steve Nash and Dwight Howard on board. But what’s the framework for a team success? Why does it need sacrifice? And what actually makes up a team that reaches its potential vs. one that has all the talent and falls apart?

Let’s start with what it needs. In Part 1 we introduced Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, in the pyramid form, then adjusted it to the individual. Here’s what a team concept looks like using the same model.

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We’ll breeze through these real quick.

Physiological: Well, if you’re not actually good at basketball, you can only go so far. Long is the list of teams that genuinely liked each other who didn’t win any games because they were inherently not good enough at playing NBA basketball. You have to have talent and ability if you want to win in this league, and that extends to things like athleticism and size. You can have ten guards as good as any in the league but you’ll still be limited if you don’t have any bigs on the roster, even in a league that’s gone smallball. You also need everyone healthy, obviously, but not just because those players are missing, but because their absence causes the other players to adapt to roles win which they’re not best-suited. The Heat are the obvious counter-example to this, but in reality, the injury to Chis Bosh last year helped them understand their team concept much better.

Safety: Teams going through emotional turmoil struggle. We saw it with the Nuggets in 2011 and the Magic in 2012. If there’s a concern about a team being “blown up’ and several players traded, there’s clearly already problems, but it’s also going to make matters worse by affecting the players’ concentration and ability to work together. Players will start working to protect their own interest, or struggling out of a sense of distraction due to the concerns. These effects aren’t obvious, but subtle yet impactful.

Love/Belonging: Chemistry. That rarified concept that is talked about so much. You need the players to enjoy hanging out with one another, or at least be modeled around a central identity. Whether it’s “all business” or the fun and happy-go-lucky Thunder, you need to know who you are and have everyone buy-in. The players at the end-of-the-bench aren’t as important as the role players, who aren’t as important as the stars, but you need the majority to enjoy being there. It’s like any work environment. If you’re unhappy, then time with your coworkers will be less productive and more prone to challenges throughout the course of the day. You want people to feel like they can succeed there, but more importantly to buy into the idea that the team concept is worth believing in.

The 2011 Mavericks are a great example of this. If you talked to the players, they honestly believed that having the veterans that they did gave them an advantage over opponents. Their entire attitude was one built around the strength of their team’s identity. And while Dirk Nowitzki was the sun and moon for them, Shawn Marion talked about getting in Nowitzki’s face in the playoffs and telling him to go to the rim. The team was reliant upon itself, not its individual accomplishments or abilities.

Similarly, the Heat found a similar identity in “create havoc defensively with our athleticism, then run like hell.” That model really became something their team bought into, not just from a tactical perspective, but for a team concept. And that’s pretty impressive for a team with that kind of starpower. They liked playing together, more than they did in 2011, and the success came with it.

Esteem: This is as simple as having the belief that you are better than your opponent and can beat him. You can believe in what you do and love the guys you’re playing with, but without that experience and confidence, you’re the 2010 Thunder.

How many times have we seen a young team come up short because they looked shellshocked. Teams have to believe without a doubt that they can win. Otherwise you’re hoping for a statistical outlier, and no one feels comfortable when they’re thinking of the odds stacked against them.

Team-Actualization: The best example of this? 

A team that didn’t have players who self-actualized, because they were ravaged by injury. Instead, the team believed in what it did, sacrificed to create opportunities for the entire roster on the floor, and won a ton of games.

There has to be a balance between self-actualization and team-actualization, though. You need those moments in the playoffs where one guy takes over. That’s why the Rockets fell to the Lakers in that series after Yao Ming went down. It’s why the Nuggets lost in seven to the Lakers last year despite a much stronger team concept. You have to have those players to lift you over.

So while Kobe Bryant and Dwyane Wade may have to adjust their games to make their squads better, moving off-ball and maximizing their individual abilities inside of the team’s offense, there will still be times for them to take over.

As with anything, it’s a matter of balance.

Watch LeBron James’ top highlight from each of his postseason appearances (video)

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LeBron James and Tony Parker are the only players to play in the last dozen postseasons.

(If you’re wondering, Manu Ginobili missed the 2009 playoffs due to an ankle injury.)

It’s fair to say LeBron was a bit more spectacular than Parker in that span. As LeBron enters his seventh straight Finals, the NBA released this awesome video showing LeBron’s best playoff highlight from each year:

There’s no entry for this year. Here’s betting it comes against the Warriors in the NBA Finals.

David Stern: We thought we could re-work Chris Paul-to-Lakers trade until Mitch Kupchak ‘panicked’

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NBA commissioner David Stern – acting as New Orleans’ owner representative, he says – infamously vetoed a potential Chris Paul-to-Lakers trade in 2011.

But that didn’t close the possibility of Paul going to the Lakers.

The New Orleans Hornets (now the Pelicans and not be confused with the current Charlotte Hornets), Lakers and Rockets tried to rework the three-team trade that would’ve sent Paul to the Lakers, Pau Gasol to Houston and Lamar Odom, Kevin Martin, Luis Scola, Goran Dragic and a first-round pick to New Orleans. But talks fell apart around the time the Lakers dealt Odom to the Mavericks.

Stern on Nunyo & Company (hat tip: Harrison Feigen of Silver Screen & Roll):

In fact, in the course of the weekend, we thought we could re-do the deal. We really thought that Houston would be ready to part with Kevin Lowry, and we had a trade lined up for Odom that would have gotten us a good first-round draft pick – not we, but my basketball folks. But Mitch Kupchak at the time panicked and moved Odom to Dallas. So the piece wasn’t even there for us to play with at the time. So that was it — just about what was good for the then-New Orleans Hornets.

Remember, Stern – roundly criticized for his handling of this episode* – has blamed the Lakers and Rockets for the lingering perception. This could just be him again trying to shift responsibility.

*Somewhat fairly, somewhat not. Owners veto general manager-approved trades often enough, and Stern was acting as New Orleans’ owner after George Shinn sold the franchise back to the league. But Stern had an agenda as commissioner. He never should have assumed such a large conflict of interest. What he did with the Paul trade was reasonable for an acting owner, but because Stern was also commissioner, it’s fair to question how much New Orleans’ interests and how much the league’s interests factored into the decision-making.

But let’s take Stern at his word – that he and the Hornets thought they could re-do the trade and send Paul to the Lakers. That doesn’t mean they were right. Maybe the Lakers and Rockets (who had Kyle Lowry, not the “Kevin Lowry” Stern named) were never going to part with enough to get Stern’s approval.

And maybe New Orleans didn’t properly convey its interest in still completing a deal. Perhaps, Kupchak acted reasonably by trading Odom to Dallas – for a first-round pick, a deal Mark Cuban would ultimately regret – rather than wait around for the Hornets, who eventually sent Paul to the Clippers.

It’s easy to blame Kupchak, but he might tell a different story.

Isaiah Thomas makes it clear he wants to stay in Boston

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It’s been a long time since there was so much discussion about whether a team needs to trade or just let go of an All-NBA and All-Star player at his peak who is clear and away a fan favorite.

Yet that’s where the Boston Celtics and Isaiah Thomas find themselves. After landing the No. 1 pick in this year’s draft — where they will almost certainly take point guard Markelle Fultz — and with the Celtics looking a full couple steps behind the Cavaliers in the playoffs, the question about whether Thomas is part of the future in Boston has come up. He is a free agent in 2018 and are the Celtics willing to pay the big money it will take to keep him?

Know this, Thomas wants to remain a Celtic and win a Celtic. You can listen to his full comments above, but Gary Washburn of the Boston Globe has the money quote:

Outside of chasing Gordon Hayward, this summer the Celtics are going to focus on getter some frontcourt help, someone to help with rebounding and rim protection. They will look to get better, but Danny Ainge isn’t going to push all his chips into the middle of the table to make a gambit on immediate massive improvement. He will remain patient, building this team so that in three years and five years they will be a force in the East.

And the Thomas discussion likely gets put on hold for a year (unless there is a change of course and contract extension talks come up, but that’s only if Boston misses on Hayward and any other big targets).

Stephen Curry says talk of lack of competitive balance “disrespectful” to Warriors, Cavaliers

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This year’s NBA playoffs have been horribly lopsided and they lacked drama because we all knew where it was headed: Golden State vs. Cleveland. They were so dominant that between them they lost one playoff game so far. This has brought up discussions of competitive balance — we have seen the same Finals three years in a row, and we will almost certainly head into next season expecting a fourth. Then maybe a fifth.

Not surprisingly, Stephen Curry isn’t a fan of the lack of competition argument, saying it disrespects the Warriors and the Cavaliers.

“That almost is kind of disrespectful, because it’s not like it’s easy for us to get here. It wasn’t that at all. Us and Cleveland worked our butts off all year to put ourselves in a position to be playing for a championship. The league is as strong talent-wise across the board as it’s ever been. Every night we get challenged. Obviously, we had that one stat I guess, point differential, all year. We had a pretty solid showing in that respect. But, every night was hard. Every night was challenging. You can’t just sleepwalk through a season and sleep walk through the playoffs and expect to be here. You got to do something. You got to come out every night and prove yourself. Granted, anybody who was betting on who was gonna be in the Finals probably picked those two. It’s easy for them to say that and just wake up in June and see it happen. We had to put that work in all year long to make it happen.”

Curry is right in that nobody should question the work the Warriors and Cavaliers put in to get to this point, and that the other teams did not just roll over for them. Also, both teams did get a little lucky with injuries.

However, that doesn’t change the fact that right now there is a dominant team in each conference, and that sucks the drama out of the postseason. (Maybe a healthy San Antonio team could have pushed the Warriors, we didn’t get to find out.) Golden State has four of the top 15-20 players in the NBA, and that makes them a juggernaut — again, regardless of the work put in. Other teams don’t have much of a chance if the Warriors are healthy and focused, not in a seven game series. The fact that it was flukey circumstances that put a dominant team in each conference — there isn’t another LeBron James returning home, and out West it took a one-time salary cap spike to add Kevin Durant to a 73-win team — doesn’t change the fact this season has felt like a foregone conclusion from the start.

Right now we’ve got what we wanted and expected, the trilogy between the Warriors and Cavaliers. But if we head into next season expecting (and maybe getting) round four of this matchup in the Finals, is that good for the league? Why watch the movie if you know how it ends before it starts?